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Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 13 (26 June 2009)

Had to get ready quickly in the morning and pack the remaining stuff. Separated the VAT refund items and put them into a different suitcase. Switched on the television and found “BREAKING NEWS – The King of Pop is dead” all over CNN and BBC. Michael Jackson's personal life was rather troubled, with all the child molestation cases on him and his transformation into a walking freak show with all those cosmetic modifications and plastic surgeries. Still, his music united people all over the world and made him a music legend. He'll be missed by many. The King is Dead! Long Live the King...

Went down for the breakfast buffet and all that was left was to get the suitcases and get in the van.

The view out my window is something I'll miss – the blue and turquoise waters, the clean and sandy beaches, the mountains covered with a blanket of forests. And so we left around 1pm for the airport.

Traffic was held up a bit because of an accident (the first one I've witnessed in Thailand on my trip) and the going was slow till we got where we wanted to go around 2.10pm. We through-booked the luggage to Chennai, so that we wouldn't need to identify the baggage once again at Suvarnabhumi. Enquiring about the VAT refund, we found that they wouldn't give us the refund for two of the items we'd purchased (hence a loss of 2000 Baht) because of some silly rule that the VAT forms and the bill date need to be the same. Now this discrepancy had arisen thanks to Powerbuy at MBK not having the requisite forms on the date we made the purchase, and we were asked to come on Monday and collect the same. It wasn't our fault and they certainly weren't willing to give us the refund. Most unhelpful they were, quite the opposite of the experience we had with the VAT refund at Singapore. The Thais aren't ones to give up lightly when it comes to giving away money, so be aware of all this trickery if you ever go to a store that gives a VAT refund for a tourist.

Boarded the flight to Bangkok after browsing through the duty free sections of Phuket (wasn't that much in the way of variety, just a few shops) international. The one hour flight saw us at Suvarnabhumi (the Thais say merely “soovarnabhoom”, they leave the last “eeee”) around 4.30pm. And the flight that would take us to Chennai was scheduled at 9.25pm (local time, not IST), hence there was quite a lot of time to kill. Thus began our sojourn through the enormous variety of duty free shops that Bangkok airport had – and what a variety it was!! All kinds of expensive watches, perfumes, designer items, big BIG brand names, expensive chocolates. It seemed like we'd gone through the equivalent of two full floors of Siam Paragon (on one floor of duty free shopping in Suvarnabhumi) by 8pm when we decided we'd finally head to the gate and wait to board the aircraft;. By then we'd had a snack at an eatery and lots of ice-cream at Dairy Queen (a very taste brand of ice-cream sometimes found alongside Burger King stores) :D . Also bought myself a slightly expensive Fossil watch with a metal strap and brown strips of leather down the strap with a brown dial. This particular design I had seen at a high-end watch store in Bangkok. But we thought we'd get a better deal at the duty free on the way back to India. So I waited. We even saw the same watch at Phuket's duty free but decided to look at it in Bangkok because the boarding call at Phuket had already sounded. Thus, we searched the huge number of stores in Suvarnabhumi's duty free endlessly (most of the similar looking watch and big brand stores stock the same brands but different pieces) until we finally found it at one store. It was well above 5000 Baht, for which all the duty free shops had a discount of 300 Baht. The one where I found it had this sales-person who said “We give discount for coupon only”, until we held our ground that all the other shops run by the same management were giving the discount. Soon she relented and said “Ok, I give you coupon, no wolleee... there discount”. Note again how they will make a profit off you if you're not vigilant.

After that, we headed on to gate D7 and waited for the boarding call that came very late (for an international flight) at 9.05pm. This is really late for an international flight considering the large mass of people that were to board this one to Chennai. On top of that, they let people queue up and suddenly popped a board saying they wanted only Star Alliance and Thai Royal Silk Class passengers first. Then came a board that proclaimed Row 51-71. To top of this, there were two Thai Airways officials going around looking at people, trying to lift their hand baggage and see if it was too heavy. When they found any that they felt were (at random), they'd pull that person aside without a complete explanation. A number of passengers would suddenly get given this atrocious treatment. This resulted in pretty much a rush to get to the gate the moment the other boards went down and they announced “Rest of the passengers please board the flight”. People were scared they would be charged for excess baggage (Later I found it was kind of a customs check as well) and they ran. As you can imagine, the majority of people on this fight are Indians. And several Indians, as always, cut the queues and went around other people in line, and one guy pushed aside an American woman (whose “Hey” went unnoticed) in an effort to get to the aircraft quickly.

The issue of checking people for extra weight in their hand luggage (and there were quite a few who were carrying several bottles of brandy among other crap in their cabin baggage and deserved to be charged), the checking should have been during check-in. Not at the last moment when people are trying to board the plane.

It’s like they do some racial profiling, like they expect that people on this flight to Chennai are trying to smuggle in large quantities of liquor bought from duty free stores at the airport. Initially I thought that there'd be just a few such “Kuruvis”, 'cept later I found that there's a lot of them on this route. Lots and lots. Oh god, the flight was hell. Near us was a bunch of uncouth buggers arguing in Cheri Tamil (all the words you'd expect to be used in slums even) about how only one person had paid the customs official for their “Padayappa” (that's the code word for all the booze the fools were carrying). The way they were talking was as if they were back in their own sweet homes (sweet... hardly). We Indians should really learn to conduct ourselves in a public place. No wonder they treat dark skinned Indians in general poorly on this flight. Sadly, the racial profiling is spot on in this case when it comes to these “kuruvis”. Offensive term you say? Hardly. For the ruckus that they created throughout the flight, the way they grabbed the luggage even before the plane had parked and the seat-belt lights had gone off (in fact, most Indians on the flight did that – not us though, we hate that), the way the air hostesses treated them was justified.

Sigh.... flying used to be something I loved until a few years back when all this crap started getting let on a flight. We Indians need classes in school on public etiquette, perhaps some rules to enforce the same, else I don't see things improving. I'm being elitist, you say?? Nope, just practical.

Anyway, by midnight it was back to the heat of Chennai (not that it was any cooler in Thailand) and the dirt, grime and indiscipline of our roads. We made our great escape from customs (more like Chennai customs is not very insistent unless you act suspicious) with the cameras and the PS3 and the gold and stuff in our bags :D . Coming back home was a bit of a relief, thanks to my buddy Cactus who was faithfully waiting at the door along with the watchman. Paid the Akbar Travels driver in Rupees, and not per person, for a change. The loot could wait the next few days to be unboxed. Needed some sleep urgently.... Ah the comfort of my own bed.

And thus ended our Thirteen Days in Thailand. Certainly something to experience, though be sure to take lots of money along ;)


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