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Getting Situated

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I wake in the morning to still sore feet and a few blisters. In response to this stimulus, I decide to spend the next phase of my trip to Thailand scuba diving.

Let’s rewind a bit. Last year I visited New Zealand on a trip where I booked nothing beyond the airplane trip into and out of Aukland and the only goal was to hike and see some New Zealand sights. This worked extremely well. I hiked, went to museums, kayaked, met people, traveled via bus, boat and plane, and generally had an awesome time. Since this is my first visit to an Asian destination, I have reserved a hotel room in Bangkok for three nights to give me time to get my bearings and learn enough about how things generally work before diving into the unknown. Four days and three nights seems like plenty of time to get at least a tenuous handle and proceed with some assurance that I will not be starve or sleep in the street without previous arrangements.

Koh Tao is probably the world’s premier diving instruction location with dozens of diving outfits stuffed onto an island no more than a few kilometers across. I research a few diving outfits on Koh Tao and select an open water certification program with a good looking outfit which charges 9,800 Baht for the four day course with accommodation. I see that they have an agent in Bangkok and figure that will be a better way to handle the booking than the only other option — email. I call Boyd and set an appointment with his guy, Kevin, at the Thannon Khao San office. To get Blanglamphu, the part town with Khao San, I am told to ride a boat up the river. I head down to the nearest pier and as I arrive a long tail boat is leaving the dock. I say where I am going and they ask for 100 Baht for the trip. I give them the cash, jump through one boat to the one for me, and we speed up the river. The boat was very light and bumped and swayed on the light river waves. Occasionally slowing for what I assume is to regain control of the vessel. We arrive at the pier, I disembark the boat and walk toward Khao San.

All along the way, Tuk Tuk drivers and random people on the street keep stopping me trying to give me a ride to a particular shop or destination other than where I am actually going. Alas, this is a constant theme in Bangkok — everyone wants your money and many have finely honed scams. One fellow tells me that the Grand Palace is closed today and I pass the entrance which is clearly letting people in and out.

I arrive at the travel agent and book the scuba lessons as well as the bus and boat transit necessary which will leave Bangkok on Sunday evening at 19:30 to begin my lessons the following day. With this settled, I relax knowing that I do not have to worry about anything other than winding up at the bus stop on time and can do whatever I want with the next days in Bangkok.

To celebrate, I get a beer.

There is a friendly joint on Thannon Khao San which appears to cater to travelers. I order a local Thai beer, Chang, enjoy it and a second one with a delightful couple, Ben and Charlie, out of Australia. They assure me that one eventually gets the Jedi skills to avoid the scammers and non-stop throng attempting to sell schwag for 10 or 20 Baht.

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Later, after having explored and enjoyed Blanglamphu, I head back toward my hotel. At the pier, I find out that there is a regular ferry which runs long lengths of the river for 14 Baht. This becomes my preferred method for covering North-South journeys for the remainder of my first stay in Bangkok.

Near my hotel, I feel a bit peckish and poke around the neighborhood for a street vendor. I find a woman making papaya salads. She speaks no English. I speak no Thai. We go through a process of her holding up food-stuffs and me accepting or rejecting it as part of my salad with the enthusiasm meant to guide her toward quantities — I give two thumbs up and a serious head-nodding for the peppers. The salad is delicious.

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