Our October break ended on Sunday, October 24th. We were slated to fly back to Yangon on that day on an NGO flight from Kuala Lumpur. This particular NGO has been running flights bringing in humanitarian aid I think, since the beginning of the pandemic. It is possible to come in on that flight but you need special permission. However, even before that we needed to get our visas renewed and this has been going on for some time.
As the school sits under the US Embassy they are the ones who apply for our visas. This already happened a while ago but the process moves at a glacial pace so we weren’t expecting a swift resolution. Right before the break ended, we heard that our visas ‘would be approved’. Our next dilemma was then where to go to get our passports stamped with our visas. Since we got to Thailand we have been trying to contact the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok as that would be the obvious place to get our visas stamped and indeed is where the school used to always go to get faculty visas However, this particular embassy is apparently famous for not answering any form of communication and this proved to be the case with us. Occasionally, if you were lucky, they would answer the phone but then they always said to call back.
Eventually, and buoyed by the knowledge that our visas ‘would be approved’ we decided to go to Bangkok and see if we could get it all sorted out in person. We ended up taking all of our colleagues applications and passports as well on the off-chance we could get the whole group done together. Sorting out the paperwork for which was no mean feat!
We left on the Monday night leaving our car at an airport carpark which we hoped was long stay as well as short stay. This was confusing as the price list only went to 24 hours and the person at the entrance spoke no English whatsoever. Once in the airport we checked in with additional hazard that I attempted to do this using my old expired passport. Apparently, if you are flying to get a passport which is being stamped for a visa you can fly internally with an expired passport. Thinking we might have to leave our passports there I wanted to test this theory. There was a lot of hemming and hawing but eventually they let me through. The departure area looked fairly void of any conveniences so we sat in the one poor restaurant that was open before you went through security. We did this only to discover that hiding just round the corner after security was a plethora of modern restaurants and bars. Oh well, as I was once told by an information person in an airport in a similar situation, ‘I have known worse things’.
In the airport itself it was almost impossible to find a single person not wearing a mask. In general the Thai people wear masks most of the time and even when riding on scooters!
The flight was uneventful as was the cab ride to our hotel. This was the Eastin Grand which is where we stayed when we first started our contract at ISY in order to get our visas. The hotel, though open, was a shadow of what it was when we last there. There were very few guests at all confirmed by the greeting we received at the check in desk – ‘Ms. Schubert, I presume.’
After an expensive but very nice breakfast we went to the embassy for it’s opening time of around 9:00 am. There were people who had been waiting to get in for at least 30 minutes as we had seen them when we went by earlier but when it opened there was no order or method of anyone getting in. Eventually we just ambled in and were pointed to a large hall with lots of counters. One of them was for visas only so we sat close to that counter and just stared at the curtain firmly drawn closed. This lasted about 40 minutes until the counter miraculously opened and the person before us was seen to. After that, it was our turn. The woman was very nice, spoke perfect English and knew ISY. Initially, they wouldn’t accept ur applications but after talking to our contact on the phone said that they would call us back to let us know whether they might accept our documents. Eventually, they did actually call back and said that they would accept the applications (but not the passports) and would stamp our visas once we had permission. Now all we needed was the actual permission and as we had planned to stay until Thursday there two full days in which this could arrive…it didn’t and spoiler alert, it still hasn’t. This is all pretty disappointing I have to say as we will now have to go back to Bangkok to get our visas once we get approval but at least we know how the process works now. The NGO flight runs once every two weeks so we live from fortnight to fortnight in hope.
We have never been fans of Bangkok seeing it as just a large sprawling city full of dangerous traffic and pollution and difficult to get around but I have to say that this time around it started to grow on us. This is partly because of the lack of tourists probably but was also helped by a down at heel bar we found on the river. The river front in Bangkok is all pretty much owned so there’s no nice river walk you can do. Finding a public bar (Jack’s Bar) right on the river was a real treat. It was back to beer in plastic cups but at least they were serving beer unlike a lot of places we went to.
Sitting at Jack’s Bar we could see across the river a giant posh looking mall with an obvious Apple store. I am thinking about replacing my MAC so wanted to go but also noted that there was a cinema there. We wondered whether they might be playing the latest Bond movie and lo and behold, they were. The next day we went to the mall and the cinema. They have a fancy touch screen where you can choose your seats and at first it looked like there weren’t many seats available. However, when we got in, we realised that most of the seats were simply blocked off to allow for social distancing. No spoiler alerts but the movie was great – a real Bond classic in my view.
The other highlight was a visit to Lumphini Park which is basically akin to St James’s Park in London. We knew they had some large Water Monitor lizards there as we’d seen them the last time we were there so we set out to see if we could find them. After a while we did and they were huge! One was eating a catfish and having to defend its food which was quite impressive to watch. I would say the largest one was at least 5 ft long – a real monster.
Weirdly, we both felt that coming back to Phuket was a bit like coming home – how long do you have to live somewhere before you can say you’ve lived there? Catface was unamused at our absence and blanked us for a day, but a severe rainfall after a couple of days saw her return to the homestead and reestablish her residency. Oh well, I can think of worse places to be exiled.