Date: Dec 13th, 2009
(All currency conversions below are approximations as of the date of posting)
My flight landed at 5am at Suvarnabhumi International Airport. My first impressions of the airport? Big.
But sometimes I wonder if it’s too big for its own good. I took a lot of travelators after disembarking and then took a right… to take some more moving walkways.
I finally reached the counter where Visa on Arrival applicants had to queue up. The 15-day Visa on Arrival scheme is only open to a few countries, India being one of them. I decided to opt for Visa on Arrival because before departing, I got to know that up until March 10, 2010, there are no fees. So, basically free. Since my travel was going to be on a budget (‘cos in Thailand, you can do it on a budget) , I figured it was one of the things I could save money on. And I wasn’t the only one. The entire line was 90% Indians with the remaining 10% from countries I couldn’t probably spell correctly off the top of my head.
The form I had downloaded and filled up in advance was of no use as the form given at the counter looked different. I took the new form, filled it up, attached two passport-sized photographs and waited in line.
Annoyingly, there was only one officer manning the counter that time and it was painfully slow. So slow that by the time I got my passport stamped, it was 2 hours that I had stood in line! Very tiring. I probably won’t do Visa on Arrival next time if this is how it is going to be. After that, I collected my luggage fairly easily (I mean, after 2 hours, it was bound to be on the conveyor belt!) and then finished up all the procedures to get out the airport.
Then began the second phase of ‘annoying’. Suvarnabhumi has a network of escalators and lifts that only connect even and odd floors. For example, if I needed to get to the 3rd floor from 4th, I had to take the escalator to the 2nd and then take a lift to the 3rd floor. It was quite confusing but I had to get to the Dtac counter at the airport. I took a local prepaid SIM from them and it was weird how easy it was to get one. I mean, they looked at my passport but other than that, I don’t even remember filling up a form or even giving them photos, an address proof etc. like how it is out here. I even activated GPRS and got my number. Cost me 199 baht (Rs. 277).
Once my number was activated, I then headed to the ground floor to take a metered taxi to Petchburi Road.
I decided to head straight to Petchburi Road because it was where Pantip Plaza was located. But first, I needed to get a room. I asked the taxi driver to stop at First Hotel Bangkok on Petchburi Road. The ride cost me 320 baht (Rs. 440). I went to First Hotel because it was on the main road and it was one of the hotels I had selected based on internet research. The lady at the reception showed me the rate card which showed over 2000 baht for a single room but soon scratched it and said she can give it to me at special rate of 1600 baht (Rs. 2,200) but the check out time was 12pm. I took the brochure and told her that I’ll be back. I stepped out because even though 1600 baht seemed like a good deal, I wasn’t going to be in my room much as my plan was to freshen up and then step out to get my camera. I also intended on leaving for Krabi that night itself.
I walked up a bit and was approached by several taxi drivers who said they could find me good hotels but I decided to go on without their help. Then a Tuk Tuk driver who was posted near Pantip Plaza called me and asked me if I was looking cheap rooms. Now, during my research on Thailand, a common word of advice I came across was to avoid Tuk Tuk drivers. Mostly because they often charge tourists the same amount of money (if not more) the taxis charge. This guy offered to take me around for 30 baht. I thought, what the heck. Couldn’t be any worse than our autos right? But then he told me about his ‘plan’. He would take me the tourism office and there, he asked me to just sit and listen to what the guys had to offer based on my needs. He asked me to sit for at least 10mins so that he would get a “gas coupon”. I went to the tourism office (which turns out was just an authorized travel agent) and the guy there showed me a hotel which would cost 1600 baht. I then told him that was the same rate I could have stayed at First Hotel and I needed a place I could stay without that annoying 12pm check out rule. He then lowered it to 1400 baht (Rs. 1,900) and said it was no problem, I could check-in now itself.
So I paid for it and went to The Best Bangkok House. It was just off Petchburi Road and not very far from the overbridge to Pantip Plaza. The A/C room I got was clean and well equipped with a working TV (& remote), refrigerator, clean bathroom and a twin size bed. They have internet but only at the reception and you had to pay for it.
I took a nice warm bath and just as I stepped out thinking I’ll go shopping, the fact that I was up all night and how painful it was at Suvarnabhumi, the snooze-factor started to kick in. I was sooooo damn tired and just crashed on my bed.
I set the alarm for 12pm but only got up at 1:45pm. Realizing I didn’t have much of the day left, I headed straight for Pantip Plaza.
Pantip is Bangkok’s (if not Thailand’s) most popular IT mall. And by that I mean, the hub for grey market goods and pirated CDs, DVDs, software etc. It’s like National Market in Bangalore, only this is a 5 storey building with escalators and air conditioning. I checked Pantip first because I also had ask around for some stuff my friends wanted. A lot of the shops stocked the Canon 7D and it was available for as low as 52,000 baht (Rs. 72,000). I also asked around for the Tokina 11-16 f2.8 wide angle lens but most didn’t stock the Canon mount.
I then took a taxi and headed to MBK Center.
MBK used to be one of the biggest malls in Asia when opened in 1985 but even though there are swankier malls in Bangkok, it remains hugely popular even to this day. The reason I went there was for a store called Fotofile. When researching for camera shops of repute in Thailand, Fotofile was a name that often came up among photographers. They also happen to manage the official Canon store in MBK.
I got my Canon 7D body from them for 55,800 baht (Rs. 78,000). I also picked up a nice camera bag for 1500 baht (Rs. 2,000).
Fotofile has like 2-3 stores in MBK alone and more in and around Bangkok. I went to the one on the ground floor as they stocked second hand lenses as well. They too didn’t have the Tokina lens so I ended up picking up the Canon 10-22mm f3.5 wide angle from them and since I didn’t feel like going back to Pantip, I picked up a 16GB CF card and a filter for the 10-22mm from the same store.
The good thing about buying from popular stores like Fotofile was that I could bargain (everything I picked up, I bought it at lower prices than what they initially quoted) and they are authorized to offer the 7% VAT Refund for tourists.
NOTE: The 7% VAT refund can only be claimed at the airport upon departure and you need to hand over a yellow form which is filled up at the store and given to the buyer. I saw some Indian tourists trying to show a bunch of receipts at the office in Suvarnabhumi and were denied. The minimum amount is 2000 baht I believe and it can even be a collective amount. For eg: if I bought from 4 different stores in MBK or Siam Center, I can get a 7% VAT refund form from a counter at the mall for the 4 bills totalling 2000 baht or more.
Grey market stores may be cheaper but all they are really doing is excluding the taxes they are supposed to impose on the sale and thereby passing on that reduction as a “discount”. Most stores (the many small ones) in Pantip Plaza do not give 7% VAT Refund.
Coming back to Fotofile, I ended up picking up everything on my credit card, for which they said there will be a 2% surcharge. I decided to reserve the cash in case of emergencies.
After picking up my gear, I went to the food court at MBK to grab something to eat. The food court at MBK works on a coupon system. You pay 100 baht (it can be any denomination) and you are given coupons in sums of 5, 10, 20 and so on totalling 100. They had several counters catering to all sorts of variety but I opted for a sea food fried rice.
After lunch and encashing the remaining coupons, I walked around the same floor and came across a lot of clothes shops. Not branded ones but just small ones selling T-shirts and other gear. I’ll write about all this in detail in a later post. I picked up a pair of shorts because I really didn’t feel like wearing pants in the Thailand heat for the rest of my journey.
I remember the travel agent telling me that the bus to Krabi would leave at 5:30pm but by the time I was done with shopping, it was already past 6pm. I was quite tired with all the running around and told myself that this was supposed to be a vacation and decided to take it easy and leave for Krabi the next morning. Plus, I only needed to check out of my room 9am the next day.
I freshened up and checked out my haul.
I kept the batteries for charging and stepped out for dinner which was mostly deep-fried sausages from a street vendor near Pantip Plaza where an open-air karaoke was taking place and some snacks from a 7-Eleven.
I re-packed and called it a night after that as I had to wake up early the next day.
Other posts in this series: