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With an errand to print out various hotel vouchers and airline e-tickets today, along with a visit to the Rawai post office to pick up the train tickets, we are almost ready for our impending trip up north.  We leave early Friday morning — a friend of Tim's is due to arrive at our house at 6:30a.m. in order to drive us to the airport (the flight doesn't leave until 9:40 so we should have a good allowance for the possibility the friend is late in picking us up).

When the train tickets hadn't arrived from Bangkok by Monday, I e-mailed the agency only to receive a reply that they hadn't sent them because of the Coronation Day holiday (any specific holiday in Thailand usually lasts several days BEFORE and AFTER as an excuse to delay obligations).  I explained that we would be leaving town on Friday and needed them ASAP (especially since Thursday is yet another public holiday — Royal Ploughing Day, which signifies the beginning of the rice harvest).  They promised to send them via EMS which is the "express" service of Thai Post.  This morning, we had a notice in our mailbox to retrieve the tickets at the nearby post office branch.  Upon arriving at the post office, we went inside to the counters but were directed to the loading dock in the back.  I gave a clerk back there the notice and he had me sign a ledger and then gave me the envelope (he never checked my ID but I guess I was the only farang with an EMS letter today).  Luckily, all the information on the tickets was correct so we shouldn't have any problems next week when we board the first class overnight train at Bangkok's Hualamphong Station.

I'm really looking forward to the first part of the journey the most right now.  The short (about one-hour) flight up to Bangkok will be Tim's first-ever trip on an airplane.  I'm not sure what the seating policy is for Bangkok Airways (there are no assigned seats listed on the e-tickets) but I hope to get a window seat for Tim so she can watch the takeoff from Phuket and the landing in Bangkok.  At any rate, it will be a fun adventure for both of us.

The six-night stay at Baiyoke Sky Hotel should also prove to be quite the experience.  I first stayed here this past January; I had wanted to "splurge" on my last few nights in Thailand and thought "what better way to do that" than to stay at Thailand's tallest building?  Rising 88 storeys above the flat Chao Phraya river plains, it used to be the tallest hotel in the world until it was eclipsed by one in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  I had received a special Internet rate of USD $55 per night in the peak tourist season and was treated to a huge room in the "Sky Zone" (floors 54 through 68).  I was extremely impressed by the level of service and the many amenities at this hotel.  When I first realized that Tim and I would have to stay in Bangkok at some point for consular and immigration purposes, I vowed I would treat her to a "real" hotel (and I hoped I could, once again, get a decent rate).  I was pleased to find an off-season special rate that was even more impressive than the one I paid in January.  However, this time we are staying in a lower zone (floors 22-50) but it should be the same style of room I had previously even if the view from the windows won't be quite as spectacular.  I found out last night that Tim had never even heard of room service so we'll definitely have to order our dinner in the room one evening.

There are three passport offices for Thai citizens in Bangkok — the main Department of Consular Affairs and two temporary offices.  However, none are in very convenient locations in regard to train or subway lines and all will probably entail very lengthy (and expensive) taxi journeys (the bus system might be a bit too complicated for us to maneuver over such a long distance).  I do have one idea that I might try — the main office is fairly close to Don Muang airport so, perhaps, we can take a taxi there when we first arrive on Friday and then another the remaining distance to the hotel after we finish our business.  Or, perhaps we can have the taxi wait for us (although that could be a lengthy wait if the horror stories I've read about Thai bureaucracy are even remotely true).

The process that a Thai citizen who wishes to apply for an ordinary passport seems simple enough:

1) Presenting the completed application form

2) Checking the identity card of the applicant

3) Taking a photograph

4) Paying the application fees (between 1,073 and 1,573 baht, depending on if you want a 32- or 64-page passport)

5) Making a record of the applicants' signature and issuing a passport application receipt.
The passport is then collected three working days after the day of the application (unless you're applying in a provincial area, then it's 10 working days).  Tim, having been married before, will also need to present a divorce registration certificate and we'll need to show a copy of our lease with our registered address.  All documents need to be presented with two copies "certified true" (I assume this is the same as getting them notarized, although I have no idea where to do this in Thailand — I explained to Tim what we needed and I think we can ask one of her friends to help direct us).

Our other major task on this trip is to visit the American Citizens Services section of the U.S. Embassy so that I may obtain the Affidavit For Registration Of Marriage.  This is a form that needs to be completed and notarized at the embassy stating that you are free to marry (and are not currently married in your home country).  It contains all the information required by Thai law and you need to have it translated into Thai after leaving the embassy.  You then take the original and the translation to a different office at the Department Of Consular Affairs near the airport (necessitating ANOTHER trip up there) where they authenticate the Embassy stamp.  Only after obtaining all of this documentation can you go to the local Amphur (like a registry office) nearest our home where you register yourselves as married and receive a certificate stating same.  The last step in this process (also at the Amphur) is to have Tim's Thai ID card changed — Thai women keep their maiden surname (surnames didn't even exist in Thailand until early in the 20th century) but they need to change "Miss" to "Mrs." on the card.  This is only the legal part of getting married in Thailand.  Only after being registered as married, and when the time comes that you can afford the dowery paid to the family and the fees paid to the village monks, then you can have the wedding ceremony at some time in the future.  Many opt not to do this but I think it important to have the traditional ceremony.  This is all way in the future, however, and I just want to have the affadavit in advance so we have a start to the whole process.

If you think this sounds complicated, wait until I begin describing the process we'll have to go through in order to get a visa so that Tim can visit the United States with me at some point...

Anyway, with the official business out of the way, we can enjoy ourselves with some sightseeing.  I really want to get to the massive Chatuchak Weekend Market this time around.  This huge open-air conglomeration of merchants has over 15,000 stalls selling all manner of things imaginable.  There used to be quite a trade here in endangered animals as well but police raids seem to have shut down the more exotic of these vendors (so, I probably won't be asking someone how much to buy an elephant or gibbon).  This market is easily reached via the Skytrain.  I also want to take one of the famous water taxis and see more of the Bangkok waterfront than I was able to see when crossing bridges over the rivers in minibusses on my last visit.

We also plan one day-trip up to the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya in order to visit Tim's daughter.  The city is about an hour-long trip on the third-class train; the fare is between 15 and 35 baht each way.

On the evening of May 18th, we board the overnight first-class train for Chiang Mai where we will stay in a guest house for a couple of nights before going down to Pasang in Lamphun province where I'll meet Tim's parents for the first time.

It should be quite a trip.