Friday, January 15, 2010

A frantic journey

Our flight was booked from Busan through Thailand to Vientiane, with a 7 hour layover in Bangkok, but we didn't plan to catch the second leg of our flight. We wanted to get off in Bangkok and spend a night or two there before catching a bus up north and getting on a slow boat down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. At the Busan airport we were told that it might be a problem on the way back if we missed a portion of our flight, with an extra charge or something they couldn't specify at the time. They told us to ask about it in Bangkok, which we did, and the Thai Airways ticket desk waved us along with their blessing.

We landed around noon. We made a speedy departure through the airport terminal (Americans don't need a visa to stay in Thailand for up to a month), took a taxi to our guesthouse, put down our bags, and headed straight for Khao San road, Bangkok's famous backpacker street made more famous by DiCaprio in "The Beach". After some pad thai (eh) and a Chang beer we hunted down a tourist office to book a bus or train ticket up north to Chiang Mai. What we didn't realize was that every tourist and their mom was apparently trying to do the same thing, the day after Christmas, and every train until after New Year's was booked solid. The pushy saleslady wanted to sell us a package deal on a "VIP" bus (she was incredibly vague on the details), hostel stays, transfers, and a slow boat ticket for 150 USD each. We declined ever so politely, and made a rather split-second decision to make a dash back to the airport and catch the second leg of our flight after all. Because while we could have booked a cheap bus and found our own place to stay for much less than 150 bucks, there was no guarantee that rooms or boat tickets would be available when we got there. We realized that we had, as the saying goes, planned to fail.

So with the slow boat idea scrapped and 3 hours left til our connecting flight, we decided to make the most of it and buy some crap to prove to everyone that we really did visit Thailand. Before we knew it, we were knee deep in shopping bags and late. We caught a tuk-tuk back to our guesthouse, grabbed our still-packed bags off the still-made beds (we had already paid the 5USD for a night at the guesthouse) and flagged down a cab. We were at least 30 minutes from the airport and it was after 5:30pm already; the time, we soon discovered, that the highway out of Bangkok turns into a parking lot. We were stressed. The cabbie turned off the engine at a couple of different points because it was clear that we wouldn't be moving anytime soon. The dashboard clock mocked me as it blinked, but I realized there was nothing we could do. We decided that if we missed our flight, we would head back into town, go see a ping-pong show (when in Rome...), and salvage the pieces of a bus trip up north. We'd make the slow boat work somehow.

It was 6:20 and we had made peace with our backup plan when the traffic jam broke and we sped up to a blur. We arrived at the airport with 30 minutes to takeoff and ran to the first open Thai Airways ticket counter we spotted. Airline workers, in my experience, are exceptionally kind to panicked passengers that are dangerously close to missing their flight (I have planned to fail before), and though they were sad to inform us that the gate had closed 45 minutes before takeoff, they called the gate anyway to see what could be done. "They'll hold the plane for you, but you have to RUN." But we couldn't run yet - we had to pay a 20USD 'departure tax' to get out of Thailand (it's ironic, and if I really think about it just plain mean, that such an exotic tropical country would add insult to injury and make you PAY to LEAVE their paradise). 5 minutes later, receipts in hand, we were sprinting through the unnecessarily massive Bangkok airport to our gate, which was the farthest gate from anywhere and probably close to half a mile from the ticket counter. I rushed breathlessly up to the gate with hopeful eyes and my prettiest smile and asked the lady if we could still get on the plane. She smiled impatiently. "We haven't started boarding yet."

Everything is so much sweeter when it seems, even erroneously and for a brief moment, that it could be taken away, and then it isn't.

1 comment :

  1. Vacations just wouldn't be as easy or memorable if there wasn't a story to tell, right? Glad it worked out though (sorry you missed the ping-pong exhibition though; whatta pity)


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