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Thailand - The Journey: Flight and Visa on Arrival

It was our First Anniversary coming up and I was sure that no excuse would work to prevent a trip to celebrate the occasion. The excitement can only be elicited by the fact that I was supposed to land in India after a 25-hour trans-Atlantic flight less than 24aa hours of the planned take-off for the trip. However, I was up to the task without much hesitation and hence the plan for the trip begun building out. Out of many potential destinations, we finally decided on Thailand which was the only place which offered moderate weather along with the right ingredients – beach, calm and nightlife. Once the destination was set, we completed the bookings – flights and hotels. We also planned a day tour to Phi Phi islands and made bookings in advance. Rest of the trip was left open as we wanted to take things as they come, at our own pace. Thus, the itinerary was set and we were ready to embark on the trip. The only thing left was for me to return from the US Trip.

Thailand is an exotic South East Asian country bordered by Malaysia to the South, Myanmar (formerly Burma) to the West, Laos to the North and Cambodia in the East. The Kingdom country is a famed tourist destination in the region and boasts of offering spiritual richness, natural beauty, and vibrant lifestyle. Equally important to the touristic interests is the Thai food and Thai hospitality. Thai people are friendly, hospitable and of a happy disposition. They are extremely proud of the fact they are the only country in the region which was never colonized. About 90 % of the population belong to the Buddhist faith and this has given Thailand, a country of 65 million, a durable continuity through historical upheavals.

Meanwhile in India, wifey had packed the bags with the exception of stuff that needed to shift from incoming bags. Now, limited overlap in the wardrobe for a business trip to the chilling US and leisure vacation to Thailand definitely helped in preparing for the trip in advance. I landed on the night of the 9th of May and was home by about midnight. After few hours of boisterous welcome and exchange of trip experiences, we were quick to realize that a lot had to be done in time for our upcoming trip. Hectic preparations then set in. Next morning we had an early start and finalized luggage – packed, bagged and tagged. All set for the adventure, we booked the cab to leave home, late on 10th evening. But there was something we didn’t have in mind, which occurred before we proceeded for the vacation.

Thai Air Plane Ready to Take us off

The family had planned a small celebration for marking the event and were armed with gifts, cake and enthusiasm right before we were supposed to leave. Spending those moments with the family was definitely worth a ton and we had a nice little family party. There was cake cutting, there were sweet wishes, there was singing and there was enjoyment – all around loads of happiness. Once the celebration concluded, it was time to bid goodbyes. The cab was honking from somewhere below our house alerting us to the ticking clock. We loaded the bags on the cab and thus begun a long looked forward trip.

We were there at the famed T3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport by about midnight and had a good 3 hours before our flight. We checked into the flight and passed through the immigration formalities. Check in at the Thai counter was prompt, courteous and smooth with the smiling lady at the counter wished us a good journey. We moved forward to the customs desk and completed the immigration documentation. Having “departed” stamped on the passports we were officially out of the country. We spent some time in the shopping zone and then headed to the first-floor airport lounge by Plaza Platinum and had a start to the trip in luxury over free food, drinks, and nice seating. This was technically our second dinner in the evening but we were not complaining. By the time we finished feasting, it was time to move to the gates and boarding time was soon approaching. In the meantime, the call from dad mentioning heavy rainfall in the city raised apprehensions of a timely departure of the flight. However, there was no indication of a delay at the departure gates and boarding started on time. The process was smooth and we were allowed to board in sequence based on the row numbers, but only after the premium class passengers boarded the flight. Finally, we were seated, comfortably, on the plane. As the flight taxied off the parking bay and proceeded on the runaway, the excitement of the good times to come rose exponentially.

First Look of Islands Around Phuket
The plane itself seemed pretty new and was immaculate from inside. The interiors were nice and seats were standard – with adjustable headrests and side support for sleeping. The window panes had a novel system of operation rather than the usual sliding panes. There was a grading switch which blackened the vacuum between the glass panes and effectively shut down the external light. The entire arrangement was fascinating as I had seen something like that for the first time. Soon after the takeoff, we were served fresh wet towels to freshen up then a full meal was serviced. The meal was much better than what I had for my flights earlier in the month. The service onboard was brilliant and the attendants were responsive and supportive. The four and half hour flight was smooth and uneventful post the meal service. Before the descent began, the crew distributed arrival and departure card for passport control in Thailand. We landed in Bangkok at about 7 AM local time and raced out of the plane. We had a good 3 hours layover in Bangkok before our connecting flight to Phuket however, we were still to be authorized to enter Thailand – Visa Stamping.
We headed to the arrivals and transfer hall where adequately marked “Visa on Arrival” directions guided us to the right place. There is a help desk to answer all queries and provide support with stationary and other requirements. There is a photo booth next to the helpdesk in case someone forgets to bring their own snaps. We luckily had them ready. The only thing we needed was the currency. The nearby foreign exchange counter of SMB promptly converted our USDs to Thai Bhat. The rate was probably lower than the market rate but then one could expect that at airports. We were required to fill in a form with details of arrival, stay, and purpose of the visit. The passport size photographs went on this form. The helpdesk stapled the photos for us. We already had our arrival-departure card filled in. Ready with the documentation we went ahead to the counters. The entire process is simple and systematic. There are separate counters for those having connecting flights to Thai cities to avoid the rush on regular counters. We had the luxury of avoiding the rush this way. The officer on the counter verifies your documents, collects the fees and provides a receipt. Passports are collected at this counter. You are then directed to a waiting area where passports are brought in batches and distributed after stamping. In all, it took about half an hour for the entire process post which we had stamped passports in our hand.

Landing in Phuket - by the Sea
Once the Visa was in our hands, we went towards the domestic terminal for our connecting flight. At this point, we had enough time on our hands and we took our own time strolling through the airport. We eased through the passport control and officially entered the Kingdom of Thailand. We had a quick lunch at the Airport and reached the boarding gates in time to embark on the aircraft. We had to cross the security check before reaching the gates as we're now using a different terminal from the one we arrived at. This was relatively an empty flight with quite a few seats open after the gates closed. The Airbus 330 was again a well-maintained plane and staff extended the Thai hospitality in its true sense. Soon we were served refreshments onboard which was a nice little sandwich and coffee. IN about an hour the captain announces the beginning of descent and we prepped ourselves for the touchdown into our first destination. After disembarkation from the plane, we proceeded to arrivals and baggage claim. It was only after a short wait that we realized that belt at which we stood by was meant for domestic passengers while we were being considered international passengers and had to collect our luggage from special enclosures. Once we had our luggage, it was scanned on large machines and on clearance we exited the airport and thus began the first leg of our journey. More details about our time in Phuket would be covered as a separate post.

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