Bangkok Archive


Access Denied – Myanmar Visa Adventures

Getting a VISA to Myanmar is not especially hard in principle. Like all embassies it requires an early morning start (pre-9am we were reliably told), […]

Getting a VISA to Myanmar is not especially hard in principle. Like all embassies it requires an early morning start (pre-9am we were reliably told), several completed forms (bring your own pen), a couple of photo’s, a copy of your passport and some money. Mynanmar however, does also requires one addition – a separate form that probes your professional and recent working careers (ie last 3 jobs), this is where we hit a stumbling block.

After a bright and early start, we caught a boat down the Chao Praya river in Bangkok, fought our way through the chaos of a Hindi festival in the process of being set-up and arriving at the Myanmar embassy about 8.45. The embassy itself was basic at best and probably most efficiently described by communicating the fact, that the toilet lacked a door (I have no idea why the surrounding walls are covered in barb wire!).

After about a 15 minute wait, we were diligently issued our paperwork and set to completing our forms along with all the other prospective entrants – not your most typical bunch of tourists or travelers I can assure you.  Then, before I could intervene, I noticed Megumi write the word “technical writer” as her profession and inwardly cringed. Having read a lot about Myanmar’s paranoi, spying and aversion to foreign journalists from my limited preparatory reading (Land of a Thousand Eyes), I could sense that this was a potentially going to be an issue. Immediately distracted and put off my game, I then proceeded to automatically complete my own form by stating my previous company as being “PressArmy”, a social media analytics start-up I had been helping launch before I left.

After waiting in queue for an hour or so, we presented our documents to a very serious looking teller who immediately asked a whole sequence of probing questions on exactly these professional fronts. This really didn’t go too well and as one of those increasingly bad realizations crept over me like a winter chill, our passports were confiscated and we were directed to please sit down and wait. We then spent the next 3 hours watching about 100 other people go through the Visa process, pay their money and walk out. No-one else was asked to stay behind!

With nothing to do, but sit there my thoughts became consumed and somewhat entertained by the idea that someone in a military uniform in the next room was trying to understand what PressArmy did from the limited description on the website and ascertain whether I / we were a threat to national security.

Eventually and after a lot of attempted eye catching with the staff on my part, we were called forward and passed along to the most senior embassy official who immediately announced that we would not be allowed in! “No media”, he said, “you need a special Visa, special permission”. Immediately I launched into a careful planned argument (3 hours is a long time to wait) on why a person who writes ‘software manuals’ cannot be a journalist and how “PressArmy” was a punk internet start-up and not a media organization or involved in military intelligence in anyway at all. And would perhaps an acknowledgment that we are “just plain stupid” count?

After several minutes of this impassioned plea and debate, he paused, looked at us very closely and said we had honest faces and he would trust us – just like that!  Immediately thereafter of course, he embarked on a whole series of casual threats about keeping an eye on us, quick deportations if we were in any of the wrong areas and the classic warning tale about the Japanese journalist who had been shot the year before, after coming into the country on a tourist visa.

Somewhat chided, but still over the moon at the let-off, we proudly marched back to the teller to present our money and get the stamp – the teller looked at us with genuine surprise and gave us a shake of the head and the first smile I had seen him give all day – obviously he thought we had no chance either.

Sometimes you simply profile too well I guess, I wouldn’t have let us in either just on principle – although anyone naïve enough to fill in forms the way we did, they must figure as the perfect tourist and very especially easy to part from our money – through the turnstiles we go!

As a quick addendum, Selena our host in Yangon did a get a mysterious call from someone asking about us several days after we arrived. Could be “health flu” related – they wanted to check that we were there and healthy? But the conspiracy theorist in me likes to believe we were being checked in on…


The Traveller’s Skin…

Comfortably seated, book and beer in hand, trying to re-aquaint myself with the concept of idle time and no fixed agenda.......... I am a traveller too now I realize, but what kind of traveller do I want to be?


September 3: Bangkok – Khao-san Rd

Megumi has been trying to finish up a translation project before we depart to the islands, so we are chained / leashed to a stable wi-fi connection for the first few days of our adventures. Forced off my computer (we are trying to share), I get to spend several days roaming the streets, shopping for essentials, sorting out travel details and just generally kicking back around Khao-san Rd.

For those that haven’t been to Thailand before, the area around Khao San Rd in Bangkok is to backpacking, what I assume the Vatican might be to catholics. It really does feel like a multinational mecca for young and independent travel. Packed with cheap accommodation (Sub US$15), travel outlets, internet cafes, cheap clothes & endless other trinkets. The place teems with thousands of backpackers and travellers from all around the world – shopping, meeting, partying, relaxing and just generally preparing to embark on travels to anywhere in South East Asia or decompressing for the return home.

Back from the main street, past the Buddhist temple, there is an area around Rambuttri Rd that heads down towards the pier where things are a little more settled. Here the guest houses all have downstairs restaurants with Internet access and are quite comfortable, it attracts a little more mature traveler seeking to relax a little more, (vs the drunken chaos of Khao san) before foraging out into the Bangkok or SE Asian ether.

Appropriately I guess this is where I now find myself – comfortably seated, book and beer in hand, trying to re-aquaint myself with the concept of idle time and no fixed agenda. Slowly watching the backpackers in all their curious shapes, stereotypes, ethnicities and varieties stroll past me. And I find myself trying it all on like a new skin I guess – testing each for its different taste and feel. I am a traveller too now I realize, but what kind of traveller do I want to be?

To old for the thrillseekers and party animals, too wise hopefully for the standard gap year, tourist trappings and quite probably a little too cynical & twisted to settle for anything short of the new and challenging. All too quickly, I realize I am seeking experiences and new perspectives, not sights.

While the destinations are important, this journey to me seems as much about a reconnection with the self, as anything else. I am looking at travel as the chance to get out of my shell & break the deskchair evolutionary spiral; push some personal limits physically, emotionally and spiritually. I guess travel is the medium for doing this – new situations, cultures & perspectives of life to stimulate introspection. New environments that allow us to ask the big questions and test new limits or horizons more easily than those that we know.

Perhaps I need to adjust the itinerary to better reflect this I ponder and quickly realize again that I am still very much at the start. All this lies ahead unknown at this point I guess, the magic and unwritten p0tential of a new destination & horizon… Stay tuned!


Auspicious Beginnings..

Sept 2: Bangkok, Thailand – somewhere in Banglamphu / Khao san Rd.


Following a crazy week of packing, cleaning and trying to get things all wrapped up in Tokyo. We arrived at Monday morning having staying up all night with taking care of the last minute details. Monday was then full of symbolic activities – disconnecting the internet that has been my lifeline for the last 12 years; handing in and canceling the mobile phone number that I have had my entire time in Japan; handing over the car keys for shipping to Australia; passing on the house keys to my mate Marc and then the final act of lugging our last meager possessions onto our backs for the mad scramble to the airport. (Alm0st missed it as usual)

We finally arrived at Bangkok at 1am for the start of our travels and after checking into a late night hotel, the plan was to very happily sleep in and make up for several days with no such liberties in the chaos of our Tokyo departures. And as is the case with all great plans, our sleep-in  was in turn interrupted when we were woken up by the most magnificent sound eminating from a Mosque loudspeaker, right outside our room!

“The Azan” is a muslim call to prayer and you would really struggle to find a more beautiful piece of song / music anywhere in the world. A fantastic way to wake up & great omen really – Tokyo this most certainly not…!