After one month in Croatia, temperature had dropped from peaks of ~21C to peaks of ~11C (with lows of 0C!). Winter was fast approaching, and I had only light clothes to wear, so I decided it was time to leave Europe for warmer climates. Many of my online friends are travellers, and they had told me very good things about Thailand, and with the Loi Krathong festival due to start soon, I decided to make my way there.
Have finished my latest project, and not wanting to start another so soon, I decided to spend my last week or so in Zagreb being a bit more tourist-y. I ate some of the more expensive dishes at my favourite restaurant, Green Point, to use up the last of my Kuna. I also started using chopsticks here to be a little more experienced for when I got to Thailand! (I’m terrible with them and end up with rice in my hair.)
I made sure to eat plenty of the foods I had enjoyed that were unique to the Balkans that I knew I would miss - Ajvar and Flips in particular - and exploring some locations I hadn’t been to yet, like Park Maksimir.
The day before I left Zagreb, a Vietnamese guy woke everyone up (after having kept everyone awake by rubbing cream into his legs for hours?!) at a very early time by complaining that somebody had stolen his battery charger. He complained and accused us, before being given a spare one by reception and going on his way. Later, hours after he had checked out, the maid found it in his bed. After I explained what had happened, she told me I could have it. Perhaps she misunderstood my explanation and thought I was saying it was mine due to the language barrier? Not sure - a very odd situation! It was a pretty high capacity battery and would be nice for my travels.
I had been staying in the same hostel for the last 9 days of my stay in Croatia, and another guest, Tony, had been staying for 8 days. He was a Croatian guy who had spent a lot of time in Ireland and other parts of Europe; we’d gotten to know each other pretty well over our time in the same room, so it was sad to say goodbye to him. He had a very quirky personality and it made me laugh when he described himself as an expert mosquito swatter.
I actually got fairly lucky with the date I had booked. I checked the weather and saw that it was forecast to snow the day after I left. A sharp change from the 21C and sunshine I had seen a few weeks earlier!
I was flying with the Russian airline Aeroflot from Zagreb Airport to Moscow Sheremetyevo for a three hour layover, then on to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi. I checked in online the night before, where I was able to pick my own seats. (window seat behind the wing please!) I left the hostel at 7AM; my flight wasn’t until 11AM but I didn’t want a chance of anything going wrong, and leaving this early meant I could walk if I had to.
Franjo Tudman Airport
After taking the 30 kuna bus to the Airport, I booked a fully-refundable-within-24hrs flight from Bangkok to Vietnam whilst in the airport lobby - Thailand strictly needs Proof-Of-Onward-Travel to grant a visa (though I have heard that most of the time they don’t check it for westerners), and this was mine. I didn’t have the intention to use the flight - it just ticks a box for the border security. I’d then cancel it once I was through immigration. This isn’t a shady practice - supposedly Travel agents will do exactly this for a one way ticket holder, and there are websites you can pay to use that are dedicated to streamlining the process too. I just did it for free, and I’m not hurting anyone as I’m going to be leaving before my Visa expires anyway, I just don’t know to where yet.
Passing through the airport security was so much less intimidating when compared to my first time, as I generally knew what to expect now. Flying is actually really easy!
I hadn’t been able to appreciate the beauty of Zagreb airport on arrival, as you mostly go through the downstairs areas. The departure lounge is beautiful and makes me think of something Space-Age. I felt like I was preparing to fly to Mars rather than to Moscow.
Some kind of issue flagged up as I tried to board, and they repeatedly asked if I had a visa for Russia, which I didn’t as it was only a layover. After a tense few minutes, they let me board with an apology. I was now a little paranoid as I felt like I was going to get kicked off or refused in Moscow. I noticed that every. other. passenger. had a piece of paper over their carry-on luggage saying “Approved For Cabin”, whereas I didn’t. (because I had checked in online) Thankfully, I didn’t have any problems!
Zagreb To Moscow
The flight from Zagreb to Moscow was fairly uneventful, at just three hours, on quite a small plane.
There was food on board but I didn’t have any because it wasn’t vegan and they didn’t have anything that was. At one point I looked out of the window and was amazed to see that I recognised Hungary’s Balaton Lake and could just about see the Danube snaking between two pockets of clouds.
Check it out, isn’t this awesome?
There was an in-flight shopping catalogue, and some of the things I saw in there really highlighted the different culture between the West and Russia, or perhaps just the fears that different parts of the world have to worry about. For example, I saw an advert for a spray-on “nanoglass” that you apply to your phone to kill bacteria and block phone radiation. I also saw this four-in-one tester, to help you test your food and water, and measure radiation and EMF levels. It made me think of Chernobyl! I’ve never once needed to test that I have ‘Ecological’ food!
Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport
We landed in Moscow at 4:05PM local time, 18th November 2018. This was just a few minutes before sunset, so whilst it was still quite bright when we landed, it was dark by the time I exited the plane.
It was 0C on the runway, and the cold really penetrated my thin ‘summer’ clothing, and bit into my hands. They provide a bus that takes you from the plane to the airport terminal, and it was interesting to see that the handrails are heated. I wonder if this is true for all buses in Moscow/Russia?
At Moscow I had to pass through another passport booth and a second security checkpoint. I was half expecting to have trouble again (because I had trouble boarding in Zagreb), but it didn’t happen.
Sheremetyevo Airport is just enormous. I was transferring from Terminal E to Terminal D; getting from E to D was quick and painless (maybe three minutes of walking), but terminal D just kept going and going and going… They mix restaurants and duty free shops in with the gates rather than having dedicated areas, so sometimes you will just see five restaurants in a row, whilst other times there will be gates to one side, and shops to the other. After several minutes of walking, I was so impressed that I had to record a video for the rest of the way to my gate.
I mentioned earlier that I narrowly avoided snow in Zagreb. All around Sheremetyevo were piles of frozen snow. It started snowing at around 6PM, which I watched from the gate. It felt weird to be seeing snow and knowing that in the morning I would be hot and sweaty in a tropical country. Air travel is amazing, isn’t it?
When it came time to board, the scale of the plane I was boarding became apparent. I was sitting there for at least twenty minutes watching people board until the queue died down enough that I could sneak on. Again, no problems. I had heard that it was likely the airline will be the one to ask for the Proof-Of-Onward-Travel, but again, they didn’t.
Moscow To Bangkok
The plane (A Boeing 777-300ER) is just huge, the biggest I have been on. There were ten columns of seats in Economy class, and the fact that I passed by dozens of rows and only went around two thirds down just felt insane. There must have been around 500 people on this plane!
It has all sorts of “luxury” features, like in-flight films, GPS location, and external cameras you can look at. I tried to find a place to connect my earbuds but couldn’t, and it wasn’t until the air-hostess saw me struggling and gave me a pair with a proprietary dual-mono connection and pointed to the armrest. I felt pretty upset by this as I doubt they reuse the earbuds (and even if they do, there is surely wastage from the plastic it was wrapped in or replacing the rubber parts), and it’s not like customers can reuse them as it’s a proprietary connection, so realistically it’s got huge wastage and is (presumably) single-use.
As the plane lifted off, I noticed that the girl in the aisle seat was looking out of the window with incredible excitement. She looked quite young to me, I estimated maybe 18 years old, so perhaps it was her first time flying? The guy between us (whom I assume to be her boyfriend) seemed fairly tired and disinterested, and he later put on a sleeping mask. I had heard them talking Russian, so I assumed they were a young couple going on holiday.
I watched the latest Star Wars Movie because it was there. The audio quality (through the earbuds I had been given) was terrible and tinny so it was kind of a bad experience. I was considering sleeping when the Russian couple swapped seats, and the girl started peering out of the window.
I decided to try and talk to her. Unfortunately she didn’t speak any English (and I don’t speak any Russian!), but I was able to communicate with her using Google Translate on my phone to translate to Russian (I’d fortunately downloaded the Russian offline pack for my short stay in Moscow!). Her name is Lena and her boyfriend is Artem. Or, actually, he’s her husband - they got married two months ago! I was surprised to learn that they are 29 and 30; they both look so much younger than that to me!
I ended up talking to them both for hours - we talked right up until we landed, and even wandered through arrivals together.
It wasn’t even Lena’s first time travelling like I had assumed; she is just a very happy and excitable person. They were both surprised to learn I was as young as 22 and travelling alone, so I guess I didn’t match their first impression either.
It’s slow having to type into your phones to communicate, and feels quite clunky and unnatural (especially when there is a translation which doesn’t really mean anything), but it was a great experience and I feel like we really enjoyed sharing our stories. They are from Vladimir, and were travelling to Bangkok for a three day holiday.
Just like the flight from Zagreb to Moscow, there was food on this plane but they didn’t know I was vegan/vegetarian. The lady claimed there was an option to specify it when you book, but I think that because booked through Expedia.com rather than directly with Aeroflot that maybe they don’t show the option, as I would definitely have specified if I had seen. I hadn’t even known there was going to be an in-flight free meal.
Once again, the sunrise was beautiful from the plane. I really love flying. I love the sights you can see up there. It’s sad that most of the flight was spent in the dark, not being able to see much, though I did like seeing the odd town lit up. When it’s day time, I really like matching up the bodies of water and land shapes with the map on my phone.
Here is the Cheduba Island, near Myanmar:
As we landed in Bangkok, we passed over all kinds of paddies, and it was just spectacular.
Here’s a video of the landing:
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport
The gate we arrived through was pretty far from the exits, so we walked a long way on travellators. The airport is very cool ; they definitely have aircon bumped up high here.
Going through immigration is chaotic. You have to fill in this little form called a TM6 Card. There are stands set up where you can get the card and fill it out - except the stands were empty, so everyone was running around like headless chickens trying to find these cards.
Immigration was painless; I just handed her the filled in TM6 and my passport and stamp-stamp-stamp. She didn’t ask for my Proof-Of-Onward-Travel nor my Proof-Of-Funds.
On the way out I needed the get funds from an ATM and I wanted to buy a local SIM card. I could see places to buy the SIM card but no ATM. I asked Daniel and he said to just go straight out the exit as ATMs and SIM vendors are outside.
The lobby is just insane. The whole front wall is lined with banks and telecommunications operators, and food too. It’s rammed with people, many of whom are holding cards to pick people up. I took out just a little money (though in Hindsight this was a mistake as there is a fixed-amount fee), and bought a SIM package with 6GB of 4G data at the TRUE stand for 600 baht (€16,~£14,~$18). Even this was hectic, as there were about six times as many customers as the staff, and phones were being passed between the staff; SIMs, Passports, Phones, and SD cards going everywhere. It was hard to keep track of my things. They needed to take a photo of me, and ended up taking about seven. One of the cashiers kept repeating that the girl next to him “is like The Flash”, and I think he was trying to reassure me.
I had read that taking the Airport Rail Link is the best and cheapest way to get to the city. I would be staying for my first night at a place across the river called The Overstay. The Airport Rail Link went as far as Phaya Thai, which is a lot closer than the airport.
You buy your ticket from an automatic machine and they give you this little plastic chit that you can scan. I think these are reusable, so it’s a much better system than the paper/cardboard tickets provided in the UK and similar western countries.
The airport is fairly remote, meaning the view from the train is quite interesting. I also noticed I was the only white guy there. Huh. I guess everybody else from my flight got Taxis.
I departed from the train in Phaya Thai station (which is confusingly in the Ratchathewi District, not the Phaya Thai District) and the heat just hit me. I hadn’t realised that the train had air conditioning too, as it was warmer than the airport. Daniel commented about experiencing the same thing, but I thought the temperature change when I boarded the train might have been that. I was dead wrong, and Bangkok was hotter than anywhere I have ever been. The hottest place I have been before this have averages of 25C and 23C, whilst Bangkok when I arrived was supposedly sitting at 33C according to weather.com.
I left the train, wandered around the train station (which feels more like the underside of an overpass), took a deep breath, and went down the stairs to the city.