I felt nervous on Monday morning. I woke up at 5:10 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. This was the morning I planned to go to the Burmese Embassy to get my Burmese visa. I had all the required documents in hand: form, photos, passport, copy of passport, fee, even my air ticket to Burma. What made me nervous was my “occupation”. The form required my previous and current occupation, with dates and description of duties. Up until not so long ago, being a writer or a photographer was a sure way not to get a visa to Burma.

The trip to the Burmese Embassy

Since I am not officially working right now, I figured I could write “unemployed” but somehow this didn’t really put my mind at ease either. Which country wants to welcome unemployed tourists? What else could I put in there but “travel writer” since this is what I’ve been doing for the last six months (short of lying of course)? I agonized over it and agonized over it. What if they refused me the visa? The trip to Burma is actually the reason I came back all the way to Asia this year. This is the trip I’ve wanted to take since 2005.

There was also the issue of the protests. The protest leader had called for a general strike of government employees starting today, and I wondered how this would impact my trip to the embassy which required a half hour trip on the boat and a short ride on the sky train.

At 7:50 AM I was on the move. I made a stop at Jaywalk for a cappuccino and some pancakes. I actually felt a little better after the calories and the jolt of caffeine, but still far from relaxed.

I got to the Embassy without problems, and then proceeded to wait in line, and then wait some more for my number to be called, in a plain darkish room that kept getting fuller and fuller. As I suspected, a lot of people are going to Burma this year. I paid 1260 Bahts ($42 US) so I could pick up my visa that same afternoon. I didn’t want another stressful night and didn’t feel comfortable not having my passport in my possession.

A friendly lunch

I got back on the sky train and went to meet Jan for lunch. Jan is a friend of my friends in Edmonds (Washington state) with whom I met up in September. He is retired and lives in the new part of town, near the main artery, Sukhumvit Road. We had lunch in a restaurant on the fourth floor of an office building. It felt good to escape the tourist hordes. All the people I could see on the sidewalk were well dressed office workers going out to lunch.

I had seafood in black bean sauce on wide noodles and a Thai ice tea. Very good , but I could have eaten more. Actually just thinking, or looking at pictures of Thai food makes me hungry!

I had a nice conversation with Jan, and we walked around a bit, eventually stopping for ice coffee. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to get a picture of us.

This part of modern Bangkok is urban sprawl, with highways, shopping malls and high rise towers scattered around, as well as the sky train elevated platforms. A lot of concrete, noise and traffic. Not my cup of tea. In fact Bangkok doesn’t really have a downtown core. Going around this huge city is a lot easier now with the two sky train lines and the one metro line, but they don’t extend everywhere. So far I’ve avoided taxis and buses by using the boat down the river. The sky train looks like a moving billboard with advertisement painted on it, and TV screens playing ads both on the platforms, and inside the trains.

The visa suspense… and another temple

By 3:30 PM I was back in line at the embassy for visa pick-up, keeping my fingers crossed. I finally got to the window, and the lady handed me back my passport with a nice Burmese visa inside. Mission accomplished. I’m now officially going to Burma!

On the way back I got off the boat at Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) for some sightseeing. This temple looks very different from the one I visited on Sunday. Instead of gold and glass, it is entirely covered with Chinese porcelain. Back in the 19th century, Chinese ships used to discard tons of old porcelain as ballast, so this type of decoration became fashionable. You can also climb some very steep stairs for nice views of the river.

It was already dark by the time I made it back to my guesthouse, very tired. I had dinner at The Joy Luck Club, where I tried a Massaman chicken curry (coconut milk and tamarind). Despite asking for it “not too spicy”, it was a little too hot for me. Fortunately I had also ordered a cooling mango juice. Real Thai curries are some of the hottest foods on the planet.

Last day in Bangkok

On Tuesday I mostly relaxed. I started the day with a cappuccino at Jaywalk and read the newspaper to get news of the protests (my new ritual). The police decided to “make friends” with the protesters today, and let them occupy whatever they want without attacking them with tear gas and water hoses. Why the sudden placidity? Thursday is the King’s Birthday, a major holiday here, and they want things to calm down in anticipation. This whole thing seems so ridiculous, at least to an outsider. The Prime Minister has even agreed to step down if it will bring back peace to the country, but won’t agree to the protest leader’s demand of a “people’s assembly” to lead the country, something that is unconstitutional. This protest leader, Suthep, is cruising for a bruising if you want my opinion. But I digress.

I had a wonderful lunch in an open air restaurant with some other friends of my Edmonds’ friends: Jim and Sandee. We shared four dishes plus drinks and dessert, and Jim picked up the tab. Wow!

Moving on

Today Wednesday, I am flying to Trang in the south, the gateway to the Trang Islands. Although on the way to the airport in the mini-bus, I really thought that I was going to miss my flight. We were stuck in gridlock after gridlock, at some point moving by about a metre in 10-15 minutes! It took an hour and a half just to get out of the old centre. Fortunately, once on the toll highway, we made good time. Beaches, here I come!

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