Monday, October 22, 2012

Destination Cambodia V: Bangkok and back...

When we set off the next morning, we were confident that nothing could go wrong now - we had done it once, we knew the pitfalls, and now we had taken care to make adequate arrangements for the return trip - or so we thought! Our tuk-tuk driver had arranged a taxi for us to go from Siem Reap to Poipet. So far so good. The driver showed up on time, we managed to fit all our luggage in his Camry - we still had 3 bottles of water left, couldn't bear to part with them! En route to Poipet, the driver called a friend of his to arrange a taxi to go back to Bangkok. Totally at ease now, we enjoyed the 2 hour drive to the border!

At the border, things went pretty smoothly - Cambodia departure stamp, Thai passport control - no delays, no hassles! This was going much better than expected. To add to the overall sense of well-being, we happened to bump into the same porter who had brought our luggage over 3 days ago. We were met at Poipet by the taxi agent, who walked to Thailand with us, and introduced us to our driver to Bangkok. There was a car waiting for us - wonderful, we would be in Bangkok by lunchtime! So we started to walk to the car, and we walked and walked, looking hopefully at each van that we passed. A niggling sense of doubt was beginning to make itself felt - where was our van??

By the time we reached an outdoor shelter, and were told to make ourselves comfortable - the van would arrive in 10 minutes - all our cheer had deflated. Not 10 minutes - the van was over an hour away. We had paid an advance to the agent in Cambodia, so once again, we were trapped! This was the absolute pits! It was really frustrating - especially as we had thought that we would get straight into the van, and drive to Bangkok! After an interminable wait, the van showed up. Finally, we were on our way! Now nothing would go wrong! I should have heard the gods snickering!

It was a fairly large van - a 12 seater, loaded to full capacity. And yet, our driver drove it like a Ferrari on a F1 racing track! Could this get any worse? Why, yes! It started to pour - visibility was almost zero. Made absolutely no difference to our Thai Schumacher though! The only concession he made was to drop the speed from 140 kmph to 120 kmph. So there we were, hearts in mouth, fingers crossed - all the way to Bangkok! Did live to tell the tale though - got to be grateful for that!

I had booked a 2 bedroom suite for us at the Amari Residence in Sukhumvit. I didn't know it was a service apartment, so again, was a bit disappointed. Nevertheless, it was decent enough for a 2 night stay - plus, they had provided complimentary bottled water! Were we ever going to finish our water?? Again, we had had a really long, exhausting day. We were to have dinner at Ajey's aunts place - as ever, great food, even better company to end the day!

The next day, I had booked a Bangkok city tour for my parents. The typical touristy thing - Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha, Reclining Buddha and a bunch of other temples. The tour started at 8am - another early start for them - but Ajey, Manasi and I slept in! After a leisurely breakfast, we set off to explore - and found a massage place. Nothing in the world can beat a Thai massage. It is quite brisk - every muscle and joint is stretched out leaving you feeling as light as a feather! Perfect to unwind after a hectic vacation! Refreshed, we headed back to the hotel to wait for my parents!

Lunch was at a local Thai restaurant - Pad Thai and red and green curry and Tom Yum soup - guaranteed to clear out all sinuses, just like our peppery Chennai rasam! Then onto the main event - shopping! We were headed to Fashion mall, a.k.a Platinum mall, which is close to the exclusive Central World. Once again, we walked and walked! Shopping in Bangkok was not as much fun as we remembered from our last trip. Many shopkeepers refused to bargain, and the products also seemed to be limited. The selection of clothes was vast - it was after all, Fashion mall - but the sizes are catered to the diminutive Oriental build! Granted I'm no size zero, but to not have clothes in my size at all is a bit ridiculous!

We were to have dinner with the Heblis once again - they had offered to send us a car, but considering the traffic outside the mall, we opted to take the Skytrain again! As we walked back to the station, we had a very pleasant surprise - right outside Central World is a huge Ganesh shrine. The idol is breathtakingly beautiful - shimmering and yet serene. In the fading dusk, amidst the cacophony of traffic, an oasis of peace! It was gratifying to watch people of all nationalities offer flowers, light incense and bow reverently to this much-loved deity! We spent a few restful minutes here - taking in the quiet - before moving on!

We had to be at Suvarnabhumi airport at 6am next morning. No direct flight - we were to fly yet again through Guangzhou. This time, since it was our port of entry into China, we had to clear immigration and customs here. Due to some quirk in the booking process, even though we were all booked on the same flight to Guangzhou - my parents were on a different flight going from Guangzhou to Shanghai. So we raced through all the formalities, saw my parents to their departure gate, and then rushed back to our gate - which, of course, was at the other end of the airport! Our driver was waiting for us at Shanghai Pudong airport, and we made it back home in good time!

What a vacation! We spent 4 days out of 7 travelling - and the remaining days were no picnic either. The border crossings both ways took quite a toll on us - would have been manageable if it had been just Ajey and I - but it's definitely not something to do with parents and small kids! I would definitely recommend flying into Siem Reap directly - of course, getting tickets on Bangkok 'Mafia' Airways, can be a tad expensive! Cambodia's national symbol, Angkor Wat, will stay with us for a long time!

Now back in Suzhou, my parents are settling in for their short visit. China is nothing like what they had expected - just the way I had felt when I came here for the first time! I'm looking forward to exploring with them, and maybe even planning a trip to Shanghai and Beijing...but that will have to wait for another day, another post!

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