I’ve made it to Southeast Asia, but it was definitely touch and go there for awhile. After a day of travel snafus and endless frustrations, I made it. Getting out of Australia was a hellish experience. My own underpreparedness, and a lack of pre-trip research, are to blame for my stressful predicament. In fact, that lack of preparation nearly cost me my flight to Thailand.
Upon my happy and rosy-cheeked arrival at Sydney airport a unsympathetic and taciturn check-in attendant informed me that I could not board a flight into Thailand. I had booked the ticket a few weeks ago and it flew Sydney — Melbourne — Bangkok.
I sputtered out a confused “why?” My heart sank as she explained that I could not board the plane without an onward ticket from Thailand. I have to show proof of exit within the free 30-day Thai tourist visa. Sounds like a piece of cake to fix, I could just jump online, pop over to Orbitz, book a flight and then move on with the situation.
Oh, if only it had been that easy.
The internet in Australia has caused me a good deal of stress as I worked from the road, but never was I more frustrated than at the airport desperately trying to buy a last minute ticket on spotty, slow wifi. In the end, it took $20+ worth of internet credit and a good deal of computer finagling — my laptop’s “h” key chose that moment to break, and yes, my name has an “h” in it. With all of that, I had one very expensive, semi-refundable flight from Bangkok to Cambodia.
Throughout it all, I also shed a fair bit of tears. I aimed for pity when I finally presented my onward flight two minutes past the official check-in window. She called her manager and they overrode the system and let me make a mad dash for my flight. I think they just wanted to be rid of me and pass me off to immigration at Bangkok airport immigration.
Fourteen hours from the time the ordeal began, around 10pm, I arrived vin Bangkok’s backpacker’s district, Khao San Road. I was tired, emotionally drained, and home was sounding pretty good as I passed by one street vendor and push-cart after another. The wafting scent of fried meat permeated the area. At every turn of my head I spotted knick-knacks, clothes, and kitsch for sale.
Although I was starving, I hunted down an over-priced room with A/C and wifi. I had a bag of mixed nuts and granola bars in my bag, so I left behind the pulsing traffic of humans and hunkered down in my room for the night. Mixed into the chaotic jumble of sounds was honking, loud club music, and the sound of tuk tuk drivers entreating drunken tourists to take a ride back to their hotel.
After a decent night’s sleep, I tried to tackle Bangkok in high spirits. First up was the desperate need to fix my ailing laptop. While it seemed a straightforward task, it involved a fair amount of haggling with a tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Won. Eventually, we settled on 120 Baht, which was probably still way too much but I was willing to pay it since I need my computer to work. Once at the enormous Computer Center, I found a man who could perform an emergency surgery on the keyboard. I also shopped around and I bought myself a new travel camera — a lovely Canon point and shoot.Everything seemed to look up. After the hellacious day of flying, I felt like I was hitting my travel groove again. At least, I thought I was until I tried to buy vegetarian food. My exchanges with the food vendors brought back the tears that had been hovering on the edges since the day before. I had my Lonely Planet phrasebook, and I always bookmark and screenshot online information about traveling as a vegetarian, but today it just didn’t get me far. My conversations went something like this:
Sawadee-ka, mangswirat (Hi! I am vegetarian…)
Ahh, yes. Chicken?
No, no chicken. Dee-chan kin jay — mangswirat?
Ah. Yes, yes. Pork!
No. No pork. No chicken. No fish. No beef. Mangswirat?
A blank stare from the guy for several moments, and then:
At this point, I thanked the guy and walked away with tears. I was really hungry by this point, and my blood sugar was tanking. Tears pooled in my eyes and I started shoving more of my almonds into my face.
The entire situation left me feeling defeated, but with a new camera and newly fixed laptop, I headed to the Wild Orchid Villa. Big ups to my cousin for the recommendation, it’s a budget spot with solid wifi and a good location. I had planned to do a good pity-cry in my private room. But the travel gods had other plans for me.
I had just started ascending the five flights of narrow stairs to my tiny room, and I came face-to-face with an unexpected friendly face. Laura is a fellow UCF alumni, and she had also lived in LA for the past two years. She bounded down the steps at just that moment and we collided. Girly, high-pitched screeching ensued and we both babbled out our stories amid the hugs and laughter.I had vaguely heard that Laura might be in Southeast Asia around the same time, but we hadn’t spoken in more than six months. She’d just come up from the Thai islands and had spent two days wandering aimlessly around Bangkok. We were both on an open-ended jaunt and thrilled at the chance to have company. Within 20 minutes of catching up, we both decided to leave Bangkok on an overnight bus into Laos. Before we left, however, Laura wanted to buy a guitar for her journey around Southeast Asia.
What an adventure this will be. While I have loved traveling solo in Australia these past two months, the prospect traveling solo in SEA was also daunting. Laura and I get along well and have been friends for years, so I am excited to explore the region with a friend from home.