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Bangladesh to Thailand

sunny

Suitably refreshed, an early start allowed me to believe that I might still just manage to squeeze in the Ethnological Museum this morning, but with the rickshaw wallahs habitually not knowing their own city I got another mad runaround from which I had to improvise to extricate myself. Ending up at the boat terminal it was a bit of a trek out to the main trunk road but my golden touch blessed me again, the first bus along took me to the airport past warships, tankers and an incredible number of merchantmen clogging the river in many solid ranks. Check In was painless, happily seeing my name on the manifest despite preparidness for the contrary, and I got a bonus at immigration as I was fast-tracked past the locals and dealt with efficiently. In truth I had overstayed my visa by one day, the first time I had ever done so anywhere, and knowing the consequences I had held back a 500 Taka note to cover the surcharge. It had been pretty unavoidable due to the flight only operating twice a week but had also proved an excuse to surreptitiously bag an extra day. In the end I avoided the payment, one strategy in doing so was that left unchecked I had simply added an extra day onto my self-ascribed, notorious Change of Route Permit and it went passed uncontested. Whether the boy with the exit stamp even cared was beyond perception but suffice to say I exited Bangladesh unmolested. Safely ensconced aboard my nice shiny MD-82 of GMG, I pondered how this was a flight I had anticipated for a very long time. With the land border to Myanmar closed indefinitely, long a bugbear to overlanders, I had always had the intention of just skipping Burma, a view from the air would have to suffice. There were political arguments for and against going there due to the repressive nature of their military regime, but more to the point, interesting though I'm sure the place is, I simply didnt have time to do it justice. I had not always intended leaving Bangladesh from Chittagong however, and Chiang Mai in northern Thailand had long been the preferred Thai gateway, but nonetheless it was an important milestone in my trip. With West Asia and now the Indian Subcontinent behind me, I was entering stage 3 of the masterplan, South East Asia, the Far East. With Australasia still beckoning beyond that and only vague notions as to how I might get home from there, I was also crossing a symbolic half-way point en route to my immediate final destination, New Zealand. It had taken me 6 months to get there. As we taxied out to the runway I got one final peek into the mysteries of Bangladesh, there were some exotic Air Force assets scattered about the airfield in the shape of a couple of AN-26s, some L-39 jet trainers and a rare bird indeed, a Chinese built Fantan fighter bomber. Hadnt seen one of those before. Myanmar slipped by almost unseen through the pre-monsoon haze as I clicked my clock forward another hour, impending Bangkok was reportedly a commensurately cloudy 33 degrees. Coming in to land, what was apparent all around was what I had already heard from other travellers, that 21st century Thailand was a First World country complete with 8 lane highways, neat rows of red tiled houses and mechanised agriculture. There were still taxi and hotel touts aplenty but now they wore suits and gave standard customer service smiles. After breezing immigration despite long queues and hitting an ATM, onward transport proved more elusive than one might expect but I eventually bagged a city bus past the glitzy skyscraper punctured CBD and out to the famous backpacker ground zero, Khao San Road. In the absence of a guidebook there had been little choice in going anywhere else. And if you can suffer from reverse culture shock then this was certainly a test, having expected a slightly grungy but lively street scene akin perhaps to Sultanahmet in Istanbul, what confronted me? Las Vegas. It was incredible. A thousand and one white faces sat out in pavement diners downing beers and slurping noodles, local belles promoted untold offerings in slinky leopard suits and you never saw so much neon lighting in your life. I'd made a point of sitting beside Yankee old timer Steve on the bus into the city who'd been here before, so we elected to split the similarly spectacular price hike by sharing a room. Characterless but pristine, with starchy white sheets, the cleanliness was another something I had forgotten possible. An initial foray revealed everything a traveller needs and more close to hand, like a laundrette, eateries, net cafes, coffee and beer. With Steve wimping out after a quick fried rice, I promptly proceeded to give myself a long promised hangover.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Bangladesh

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