We spent a couple days in Bangkok, primarily to get visas to go to Myanmar. If we’d have known how easy it was, we’d have stayed a couple days longer in Luang Prabang and opted for the slightly more expensive same-day visa, but since it was our first experience with the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok (or anywhere, to be honest), we played it safe and gave ourselves a few days just in case something went wrong.
We’ve been in Bangkok a few times now, and strangely it’s still a city we just don’t get. It’s so big and so sprawling, with seemingly no center, no focal point, no place with a concentration of restaurants. Just a huge, sprawling megapolis with enormous shopping malls and horrible traffic. And it’s weird – some things are so amazingly inexpensive, and some things are insanely expensive.
On the really inexpensive side is health care. Recall that we had our teeth cleaned in Bangkok when we passed through in October, for about $22.50 each, one quarter what we paid in the U.S. This time I had to get the third and final shot in my Hepatitis B series, a process I started a year ago. Turns out there is a good travel clinic in Bangkok that was reasonably near our hotel, so off I went. The detailed invoice is stunning. I spent a good 15 minutes discussing our travels with a doctor, after probably 15 minutes going over basic stuff with a nurse. The doctor was very helpful, with useful advice about Malaria and other tropical diseases. Cost? The total cost – vaccine, doctor, the whole thing – was under $15. That’s what I’d have paid just as the co-pay in Boston. Of that $15, over half was for the vaccine itself, while the doctor’s fee was just over $3.00. Crazy.
Also on the really inexpensive side are hotel rooms. We stayed in a really nice place, one of my favorite rooms in a city in a long time, for $150 a night. It would have been more than twice that in almost any city, and probably four times that in NYC. You almost can’t afford not to get a hotel room in Bangkok. The only problem is that I can’t figure out why people go to Bangkok except as a transit hub. Like I said, we just don’t get the city.
Apparently what a lot of people do in Bangkok is shop. And like anyone, we had some shopping to do – some clothes that needed replacement, some gear, toiletries, broken sandals, that sort of stuff. By far the easiest way to do that is to go to one of the giant malls, so off we went. What amazed us, though, is all the crazy expensive stuff there. We could walk for what felt like blocks past jewelry store after high-end clothing store after watch store after designer eyewear store after jewelry store. On and on and on, and all of it at prices that just made no sense at all. Who are these people who pay thousands of dollars for a watch or several hundred dollars for sunglasses? Again, just more of Bangkok that I don’t understand.
At any rate, with visas in hand and with me newly inoculated against Hepatitis B, we boarded a plane this morning for Yangon, the city formerly known as Rangoon. Though no longer the capital of Myanmar (itself formerly known as Burma), it’s still the major city. Our first impression was genuine surprise at how much it feels like India. I’d learned a while back that for most of the colonial era Burma was a part of British India, I still thought of it more as Southeast Asia, more like Thailand. Now, we’ll have a lot more insights after the 13-day bike trip we start on Saturday morning, but so far this sure seems more Indian than I’d expected.
Stay tuned, but first a couple more photos from our last day in Laos…