Trip to Thailand
I’m pretty lucky. For the past 5 years I have gone to Thailand in November. My husband and his buddies play in a 7’s tournament (7 on the field, 7 min half) in Patong on Phuket. I insist on going along for a number of reasons. Mainly, I want to go to Thailand, too.
The first three years I never went to a game. I sat on the beach (didn’t like being hassled by the Thai guys because I was sitting by myself), went to spas (very nice), went on a snorkel trip (alone because husband gets really seasick and he played soccer, sat by the hotel drinking from coconuts (highly recommend this as no hassles and lovely coconut shakes). Last year was the first year I went to see games. I video-taped them and then made a DVD out of it. It didn’t leave time for snorkeling, but I still had time for massage, and drinks by the pool.
My husband’s team (Tokyo Hibernian) has now won this tournament for three years running. I videotaped it again and I got nice compliments for everything except the penalty kick (worst angle ever seems to be the consensus as I moved from behind the goal to the sidelines). The party at Soi Crocodile was pretty fun. The German team that played the Tokyo Hibs in the final were crazy! I will try to get some video up in the near future but don’t hold your breath.
This year, I was also busy trying to complete my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month challenge to do a 50 000 word manuscript in 30 days). I finished the manuscript thanks to Herculean efforts of writing and a laptop with a long battery life that I used at the soccer pitch when I wasn’t videotaping. I did have a nice session of writing and drinking mojitos by the pool. The guys went to the after party and ended up in Soi Crocodile.
We arrived Thursday an were to leave on Monday and arrive Tuesday morning in Tokyo. Our flight was direct to Phuket from Tokyo. Our flight home went through Bangkok and so we got caught up in the airport occupation by the PAD. One of my husband’s buddies called the airline and they said to get to the airport first thing in the morning in order to get rerouted. Our flight was at six p.m. but we left early in the morning to try and get home. We waited at Phuket airport for over eight hours before getting to U-Tapau. We were routed through U-Tapau and told we were on a waiting list to get on a plane.
Things to do while you wait for your plane...
Play with your herb salad and create and ikebana for photographs...
Take photos of your pencil crayon shavings...
Eat really super, super spicy shrimp paste stuff...
Take pictures of people while they sleep... hold pictures of them drooling for blackmail in future (unseccessful... no droolers)
U-Tapau was a lot of craziness. Lots of people, lots and lots of confusion. For us, most of the confusion stemmed from the fact that we didn’t know exactly what to do. Apparently, being on the waiting list didn’t mean that much. It wasn’t a guarantee that one was leaving that day. What people were supposed to do was to call (in this case) Thai airways to confirm that a flight was leaving that day and to confirm that you’re section of the waiting list could get on that plane.
How many definitions of “confirm” can you think of? We were told to confirm our flight. We got to the airport and saw that flight was going from U-Tapau to Tokyo. We stood in line at the counter and were told we hadn’t confirmed our flight. Great. The ticketing agent in Phuket didn’t tell us how to do that. Neither did the person at the check-in at U-Tapau. Finally someone explained to us that we had to have a boarding ticket before we could check in. This woman gave us a number to call. So I called not quite sure what I was supposed to do. Lot’s of people were calling that number, I never got through and when I did, the message was in Thai. The process as we eventually understood it was that we had to go to Bang-na (two and a half hours away from U-Tapau) and get a boarding pass at some place called BITEC and then take a bus (provided by the airport) back to U-Tapau to get on the plane. Seemed easy, but it seemed like we were missing a step. We were. We didn’t find out the finer meaning of “confirm” until the next day. I don't really have a good picture of the confusion. And I didn't realize the confusion until I looked at the outside of the security entrance (no pics).
This point illustrates our feeling when we realized we weren't going anywhere that night. Our mood was soon changed once we got something to eat.
It was about midnight and we decided we would leave the airport. This was kind of a big deal because getting back into the airport was an iffy deal. The line to get through security was way out the door if you weren’t on a connecting flight. There were many food vendors and we ordered some noodles and curry. One nice couple gave us a lot of their leftovers for free so they didn’t throw them out. Honestly, that was probably the best curry I had in Thailand.
The hero of the day for us was a man working for the Australian Consulate. He and a few others were helping out Australians, translating and giving information. I talked to him while wandering around trying to find a place to throw out our litter to commend him because I was seriously impressed. There was no such help from the Japanese or Canadian Consulates.
He asked where we were going next, and I laughed and said nowhere but told him not to worry because we would figure something out and we figured we’d go to Bangkok. It was about midnight when we were talking. He suggested we go to the place they’d been sending other Australians. It turns out that the Thai government was helping tourists out if they stayed at a Thai Hotel Association hotel by giving a credit of two thousand baht. He said this might cover most of our hotel costs. We hadn’t heard of this. He told us the name of the hotel and we were off! He warned me that he wasn’t sure if it was palatial accommodations. I laughed and said if people weren’t breaking my door down and things weren’t crawling on me I was happy.
Way to go Aussies!
I ended up being pretty happy. The Ambassador Hotel at Jomtien was very gracious and quite nice actually. Between my husband I, we had enough credit to pay for our room and for food. The food was pretty good and the rooms were okay. The pool was great and I thought the staff was pretty helpful and pretty patient with all the stressed out people around. Jill who works at the front desk in the Ocean Wing was particularly great.
Pics taken the next day while calling from our room and later when we finished on the phone for the day. Those two people aren't anyone I know though.
The next day (Tuesday), there was a desk from Thai Airways at the hotel. These ladies were really helpful. One woman clearly explained what confirmed meant and the whole process. It turns out being at the airport meant almost nothing. You had to call to confirm that your part of the waiting list qualified for a seat on the plane. If you had a confirmed seat, you could go to BITEC and then try to get a boarding pass. You had to be there seven hours before your flight in order to check it, and take the bus back to U-Tapau. I was so happy to finally know exactly what to do that I bought all the ladies a latte.
We spent the rest of the next day trying on our cell-phones trying to get through to the numbers we had been given. After calling for four hours, we found that there was no chance of leaving on Tuesday and luckily as I was talking to the ticketing agent on the phone one seat came open for Wednesday. After a short debate my husband and his friends agreed my husband could take the seat. Making the arrangements, one more seat came available for one of our party. This one was for a specific person. As time went on, all four of our party were able to have seat confirmed for a Wednesday departure and my seat was confirmed for Friday (no changing as I found out).
On Wednesday, my husband and his buddies took a taxi to BITEC for 2700 baht and I read a book by the pool. What else was I going to do? Pattaya is not such an interesting place I think for married women. I did have a coconut shake from a real coconut in order to make myself feel better. It worked, too. No picture though. It looks like the picture of the pina colada I had if that makes any difference.
I was pretty lonely kicking around the hotel on my own. Most of the Aussies had already gone by Thursday afternoon and there were a lot of Russians. I guess I look Russian because lots of them came up to me and started talking to me. At my blank and confused looks they would wander away. A group of Italian guys sat on the loungers next to mine one day. They all pulled their shirts over their tummies and rubbed their hands over it. Why do men do this? I would like to understand the psychology involved in this. I got annoyed when one guy pulled his lounge in front of mine so that he would be in the shade (meaning I could not) and did the tummy thing. His buddies laughed at him when I moved to a new location.
It turns out that having a confirmed seat didn’t mean you were going for sure. I heard of one family who went through the process three times. Luckily, by Wednesday, the occupation was officially over so my husband and his buddies still had to leave seven hours early but didn’t have to go back to U-Tapau by bus. The airline provided a bus from BITEC to Suvarnabhumi International Airport. By the time I flew home, it was business as usual at the international airport.
Me drinking a pina colada by the pool just before I left for the airport. Just trying to make the best of the situation.
Okay, actually, I was trying to take a pic with my cell phone and send it to a friend to make him jealous. I couldn't send the picture because the file was too large. Also, I found out I don't like pina colada. I didn't realize that the drink cost more than my 2 hour bus trip to the airport. The pool is pretty nice, no?
It looked much tastier.
Hitoshi told me I was going to have to pay the same for my own taxi. I didn’t like the idea of a 100 dollar taxi ride on my dime only, so on Friday, my departure day, I asked customer service at the hotel what my options for getting to the airport were. She told me I could take a taxi (I just looked at her and smiled) or that I could take an airport shuttle. I asked which was better and she said depends on how much baht I had. I asked her which one she would take. The bus. She told me she drove by the bus station on the way to work and that the busses were air conditioned and looked very clean. At a price of 110 baht I was sold. It turns out that my 10 minute by taxi to the bus stop was twice as much as my two hour ride on the bus to the airport. And the bus ticket included a bag of chips and a bottle of water (value of about 40 baht). The bus was pretty uneventful except for the traffic accident and the thirty minute delay because the driver clipped the side mirror of a truck that swerved in. No one was injured.
My snack courtesy of the bus company. Barbque chicken flavor!
My observation of Thai traffic is that it is pretty loose. Lots of people riding in the back of trucks and flatbeds, no posted speed-limit (as far as I can tell) and people riding motorcycles while not wearing helmets and doubling or tripling passengers makes for some hairy riding. But the accident response seems to be pretty quick. Police and insurance adjuster\investigator was there in about ten minutes.
I have no idea what to make of this sign that I read in the bus, however.
I got to the airport with lots and lots of time to spare so I enjoyed it by getting a foot massage and mani-pedi (total of 18 dollars!) and shopping around in duty free where I bought some books, mags and some nice soaps. It was nicer than hanging out at the hotel feeling lonely. I also had some nice thai food, Burger King and a latte.
Me with a new hat. Ha ha ha.
Cafe at the duty free lounge in the Bangkok International Airport.
It was good to get home. I had a lot of stuff pile up on me and it will be good to get it done. My extended stay was not as horrible as some of the Australians expressed to me but it was horribly inconvenient. Granted, I didn’t have to leave for the airport 7 hours early three times before getting on a plane. I was pretty shocked at some of the attitude. Some people were complaining that the government should do more to get people out because it was a civil war. I thought, “Get real.” I didn’t see any help for Canadians or Japanese and at that point, no one had been injured. As I said, things weren’t horrible, just horribly inconvenient. It grated on some people that China sent seven planes to get people out while the Australian government did not. I just shrugged. As another person put it, “Relax. The hotel is free for now and you can do nothing but wait.”
Still, the airport provided free water and a medical station, the food outside the airport was fairly reasonable and there was a 5 minute free internet for people who needed info or to contact someone. I think that the tourism branch did a lot to help out, but that it was really hard to find that information out. It was really important to talk to the right person who had the combination of language skills and correct information.
No sleep for 24 hours at this point. Me at Narita Airport at 7 am as soon as the Starbucks in the airport opened (after I waited for 30 minutes like a zombie). On the plane I read a book called Thai Private Eye. It's about a Kiwi's experience starting a private investigation business in Bangkok. Generally, I think men are smarter than portrayed in the book. Maybe that is just my fantasy? It was kind of entertaining if a little repetitive by the end.
Ironically, another member of the team decided to sleep in and try to catch a plane out of Phuket later even if he had to buy a new ticket. It turns out that he didn’t have to get a new ticket and he got home earlier because Thai Airways decided to add two extra flights out of Phuket. See? Sometimes it pays to be lazy.
And I actually added pictures to my blog this time. And... shock of all shocks, I actually put up pics of me.