Landing in Thailand - Getting stamped

Humans love to travel. All our stories talk about people and heroes travelling from one place to another. People started from a small village in Africa, to Marco Polo who set out to do greater good for mankind. Humans travel. In this grand tradition of stepping out of boundaries, I decided to travel to Thailand. I do not know if there was greater good involved in this or no, but I knew one thing, I needed new socks.

When I planned a trip to Thailand, I had no plan. All I had with me was money that I had saved and a date. Me and my partner survived one year of living together, and it was a moment to celebrate.

With that plan in mind, I found myself sitting in a plush chair in front of a man with dapper mustache staring at me. Gleaning at my plain white cotton shirt and trousers, he, first, did not believe I was looking for an international trip. I was unnecessary nervous, thinking about the hole in my sock and focusing on the package he was throwing at me. When the agent told me about Bangkok and Pattaya, I asked him to add Thailand in the package too. My entire geography mark-sheet flashed in front of me, when the agent explained that the cities are part of Thailand.

Finally, we found an army doctrine in form of itinerary for 6 days in Thailand. The package included back to back site seeing tours that started at 8 in the morning. If I had to get up early on a vacation, I would have stayed home. All my attempts to find a more spacious tour package failed. Most people prefer the no-time-to-breathe package that gives greatest benefit for smallest prize.
After a lot of research (Meaning: Google search), I came up with a website that offered custom packages.
I booked two decent hotels and arranged transport between Bangkok and Pattaya. The website offered a few other things in my 'package' which I gleefully added and thus, I finalized my plans.

Thailand is a visa on arrival country, which means you get a visa when you actually land there. This raised many questions, do they reject people arriving there? What happens when they don't want you there? And so on. A few google searches added more confusion to the question. Although, every time you ask google a question, it offers the diagnosis that you have cancer. Every forum, blog I visited had a different answer to the same questions.

The touts in suit at the Mumbai airport convinced me to buy a Thai Sim Card, which was useless, because you could get the same card for free at Bangkok airport.

I had a lot of questions and fear in my mind, for I was travelling abroad without a visa, hoping they do not send me back. But before I could land in there, I had to cross a very nosy auntie sitting at the immigration desk in Mumbai. Even though I had purchased new socks for my trip, that hole in sock earlier came to haunt me as I stood in the long queue.

The auntie and uncle at immigration table in Mumbai ask all those nosy question, your mother used to ask after a late night party. They are the one who will (if they don't believe you) ask you if you have money before leaving for Thailand.
There is a tremendous amount of confusion about the money that you should carry to Thailand. Every site / forum I visited had different information. So finally, the confusion got clear when we learned that you should carry 650 USD as a family or 1000 Thai Baht.

The flight was pleasant with a 'Oz' movie entertaining us on the way. It was my first trip abroad, and the prospect of free booze, excited me. But when it actually came to order some, the nervousness kicked in and I timidly accepted whatever was offered. With the dexterity of Indian blood we raced to find the carousel that carried our luggage but was politely informed by a sleepy Thai police officer that we need to get my visa stamped.

This was it, the dreaded moment, when I had to figure out if they will let me enter or kick out. Every forum and blog that I had visited, except for those who told me I could have cancer, had a different answer to what you should carry. These were the items we carried,

1. A return ticket within fifteen of your arrival.

2. A hotel stay voucher for the fifteen days you are in Thailand.

3. An immigration form (you will be given these in the plane) and your boarding pass.

The line for Visa on Arrival was filled entirely by Indians (also because this was Bombay- Bangkok flight, I justified) and they were making their country proud by making the worlds worst straight line. The charges for Visa on Arrival are 1000 Baht and there is a separate line for 'Speedy' visa on arrival for extra 200 Baht. A couple over smarted me and got their visa stamped 'speedily' by paying extra and then were sitting for two extra hours outside the airport.

If you are travelling early on, there is no need to go in the speedy line, as the normal line is as fast as a man can work. Getting visa stamped we were welcomed by a Thai Airport hostess who was waiting near the luggage and distributing them by checking the ticket number. There was no immigration, no custom and not even a single nosy and question asking person in Bangkok. We had left all those behind.

The shared taxi (that was previously booked) was waiting for us at the airport along with what seemed like twenty-thirty Indians around us.

As we stepped out of the airport a fresh breath of bad english blew on our face. Sleepy and confused, we attempted to talk to the taxi driver who also was taking in english. Only thing was neither of us was understanding what the other was saying. After multiple attempts we realized we had to wait for the next shuttle to Pattaya from Bangkok. We were trained in depicting and understanding bad english by the locals in Bangalore and for the first time I was proud that at-least one country was competing with India on bad english.

So all said and done, I had left my home country 3000 km behind, got my visa stamped. Now here we were in a foreign country away from the prying eyes of nosy people for a complete week.

Armed with a smart phone, few printouts and a bag-pack we boarded our share taxi to Pattaya.

Coming up next: Landing in Thailand - Bad English, Bars and Barbecue pork. 


The Prophecy of Indian Railways

The thing about prophecies is, they tend to start a war more than prevent it. If Kansa never heard the prophecy of Krishna we would never see the battle. If Voldemort never knew about the potter boy, we would be saved seven horrible movies. But the thing about prophecies is that they exist.

Over the period of time, I have come to believe that someone somewhere is jotting down prophecies about me in an language illegible by human. You know something is amiss, and bam that thing is amiss right then and there.

There is not a single moment of doubt in my mind about the prophecy of railway and me. Murphy had once said, if there is a fifty-fifty chance of getting something right, there is a ninety percent guarantee you will get it wrong.

During my junior college days there are people who sleep on the railway platform who used to watch me run after a train almost every day. Sometimes I even ran after it from front. This made one day, a homeless guy come towards me and said, 'You are never going to reach the platform on time.' Now that I think about it, his prediction would have been different had I given him some more money but that is another matter. But the worlds were etched, I can never reach the platform on time.

The traffic, lazy friends and missing socks helped fulfilling this prophecy time and again. Just when everything was going on time, they were joined by confusing phone calls, flat tires and one time, a cow, yes, a cow sitting in the middle of the street. The Universe does not play nice.

My first job was in New Delhi, which is so far the most confusing capital of the country.

It thus happened on the fateful day, I was busy drinking Ginger Chai dipping cream-roll on the new Delhi railway station, waiting for my train,'Sampark Kranti Express', to arrive.

The thing about Indian railways is that they do not obey the general laws of time. They have their own set of rules, if you arrive at the station an hour early than the departure, there is a guarantee that the train will be an hour late. Following the trend, you decide to relax a little and come a little sooner than the departure time and the train would be on time, causing you to rush inside it. Obeying this law, I had dutifully arrived an hour early. Had judged for fifteen minutes to decide if I should test the capability of my stomach to digest the chinese noodles near the railway station. Stumbled on two passengers sleeping, yes sleeping, on the platform. And finally settled for tea served in a cup that was questionably clean.

My train was busy following its own timetable and taking her own time to arrive. As I dipped the final piece of cream roll in my tea, there was a public announcement. A bored little clerk behind a mike announced, 'Rajdhani express is scheduled to depart on platform number 1'.
Platform number 1 was were I was waiting for my train. If Rajdhani was on platform number 1, where was my train?

There was fifteen minutes left for my train to depart and there was no train. No announcement and no information. I rushed to the train time table on the platform (it occurred to me that I could have done this an hour ago). The train time table, following the laws of railways, has its own laws of motion. It did not have my train on it.

I pulled out the ticket which contained a blurry writing of my train journey. Time of departure, check. Train of departure, check. Time of arrival, check. Platform number, check. And finally it dawned on me, a little late, station of departure, Nizamuddin Station and not New Delhi.

Without thinking a lot, I bolted out of the station to catch a local taxi. The taxi meter calculations in Delhi are done using a complex scientific calculator. And are further multiplied by an imaginary number. He spoke the arbitrary amount which I was not in any mood to argue with (if you argue well, you can subtract an imaginary number from the amount and negotiate it less than 50% of what he says but no time for that). Just told him to press on the accelerator.

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If they are ever looking for replacement for speed racer, this taxi driver could nominate himself. We raced to the street of Delhi and reached the Nizamuddin station in fifteen minutes.

Just when I was thinking I have missed the train, I saw her standing in great majesty at platform number 1. I took a deep breath and put one foot forward, the train started moving on.
And again, the old prophecy hit me, I was running behind a train godspeed.

I did catch it, yet again.