by Alyssa Ramos
I hated Bangkok before I even got there. It all started with the negative reviews I got from friends, plus the teeny tiny little fact that there was a military coup (when the military overthrows the government) right before my trip that was causing a 10pm curfew and dangerous riots. It was all downhill from there when my journey from Africa to Bangkok ended up taking 27 hours and my debit card was stolen within the first five minutes I was there.
I was supposed to go to Thailand by myself after volunteering in South Africa with IVHQ and Dreams to Reality for a week, but luckily one of my sorority sisters from Florida State randomly decided to book a last minute ticket to meet me out there. We had coordinated her flight perfectly so that she arrived at BKK at the same time as me around 8pm, and then we could cab to the hotel, Lebua at State Tower, which I purposely booked because it’s where the notorious Skybar from the Hangover III is, and is open until 1am, meaning that we could stay out and enjoy the night without getting arrested.
Too bad my connecting flight in Johannesburg got delayed three hours, totaling for a five-hour layover. Normally, I’d be perfectly fine with this since I can blog for hours, however there were numerous problems that were impossible to ignore. One of them was that the one nice hotel I splurged on to stay at so I could go to the rooftop bar would be nearing closing time by the time I got there, and although my friend would make it in time to have a drink, she wouldn’t be able to check into the hotel room that was booked under MY name until I got there.
But there were more immediate problems happening to me in Africa still. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Johannesburg, but it doesn’t exactly have the greatest reputation for safety. Have you seen the movie Taken? That being said, you can imagine how comfortable I felt being a blond haired, blue eyed, solo American traveler hanging out in the Joberg airport by myself for five hours.
I would have loved to at least go see the city and buy a souvenir, however I was advised not to leave the airport as if I were a liability because I had an American passport, and any miniscule possibility of getting Ebola would send the media into a frenzy. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate CNN and Fox News?
Instead, I decided to set up my layover-office at one of the restaurants so I could at least have wine while I caught up on my blogs and charged all of my devices. Except, OH WAIT, I left the very specific, South African-only plug adapter in the volunteer house back in Muizenberg. It was a good thing I was in an airport where there were plenty of travel shops, however it was not a good thing that I couldn’t walk five feet without getting cat-called or asked if I was the South African princess. It might have almost been flattering if my mind wasn’t stuck on Taken, or if I knew how to accept compliments in general.
After my poor little MacBook Air got to 10% battery in one hour, and that boomp noise that happens with the warning that you’re “now on reserve battery” pounded my heart, I finally decided to make the dangerous journey to the travel store to buy yet another adapter. Seeing the little green light on my charger was the most exciting part of those five hours, aside from the four glasses of Chenin Blanc I had somehow managed to consume.
I thought it would be fine to just drink wine the whole time, since that’s what I normally do at airports, on planes, when I write, when I don’t write, etc., but of course the one time I’m by myself in freaking Africa trying to get to Thailand, I screw it up.
So, I may or may not have noticed when I landed in Joberg that my connecting flight ticket to Abu Dhabi, my second layover spot, had somehow broke on the way there, but had 0% idea where the stupid piece that they rip off and take when you board was. Being the really smart person that I am, I decided it would be Ok to have my wine first and then figure out the annoying ticket situation, but in no way, shape, or form, was that a good idea.
After getting lost because I couldn’t figure out where the gate was since I had lost the portion of the ticket that had that tid bit of information on it, I finally found my way to the security checkpoint. I figured it would be easy to explain what happened to my ticket and that they’d just let me go since it had the date and flight number on it but, NOPE.
“They won’t let you board with this, you need to go back to ticketing.” The apologetic security guard informed me as my heart began to explode in my chest. My flight was scheduled to leave in twenty minutes, and I had to go all the way back to the front of the airport to get a new ticket. No big deal.
‘I’m going to get stuck in Johannesburg. What the hell am I going to do in Johannesburg?!’ Eight million thoughts ran through my wine-infused brain as my wine-infused legs tried to run to the opposite end of the Johannesburg airport. I’m usually pretty good at keeping calm and carrying on, however the thought of having to find a hotel at night by myself in Africa was about as comforting as seeing the extremely long line of people at the ticketing counter.
Normally I would have been a polite, patient human and wait in line for my turn, however I was now down to fifteen minutes until take off, and slightly freaking out.
“Excuse me? Excuse me? I accidentally lost part of my ticket and my plane is about to leave,” I blubbered to the guy sitting at the closed ticketing desk. My entire face was burning with embarrassment and anxiety from the stares from the people in line who I had just skipped and the unlikely expression on the security guards face. There was no way in hell I was going to make that flight.
“Why didn’t you come sooner?” Another ticket counter worker said casually as she strolled up to examine the situation. “I, I, I, I thought it would be Ok, I thought they could just scan the barcode, am I going to miss my flight?” I was literally on the verge of tears even though she looked slightly amused. ‘Yes, she’s here,‘ I heard the guy behind the counter say into his headset. Somehow by the fate of the freaking universe, the security checkpoint guy had radioed the ticketing guy and told him my situation.
“Thank you SO much, oh my god.” I huffed to the unbothered staff as I grabbed my new ticket and ran back to the security checkpoint. I breezed through the empty line and passed through the metal detector without beeping. I shoved my laptop back into my Harvey’s travel bag, and yanked my rolling carry-on off the conveyor belt and started making a mad dash towards the terminal.
‘SHIT!’ I spun around, realizing that my passport was not in the usual pocket of my travel bag. I ran back as I saw the security woman lifting my passport out of the plastic bin. “Sorry! That’s mine!” I blurted reaching out for it. She of course took her time examining it and even made me verify my address and date of birth. She gave me the same “silly little girl” laugh and look that the others did at the ticketing booth before finally handing it over.
I was literally the last person on the plane but I was beyond thankful that I made it. Of course I was seated next to a guy who was from freaking Congo who kept trying to convince me that although I had just volunteered and gone on a safari in South Africa, I didn’t really experience Africa and should go to the even more dangerous Congo next time, but I ended that convo real quick with some headphones and more wine, then dozed off on the red eye.
When I woke up at 6am we were landing in Abu Dhabi for the second layover. I was a little shocked that they had us exit the plane via stairs straight onto the tarmac where we had to then take a shuttle to the arrival gate. There was a lot of construction going on outside too and it seemed like we were surrounded by desert. I was not impressed.
But then when I entered the main area of the airport my mind was completely blown. I felt like Aladdin when he gets tricked into going in the Cave of Wonders. The bottom floor had more luxury, high-end designer labels than Rodeo Drive, and all of it seemed to have a golden glow. When I went upstairs, I realized the glow was from the giant golden dome that was the epicenter of the circular airport.
After I walked around the circle a few times I finally stopped at one of the souvenir shops to get a few things. Strangely, and very sadly, I had been looking at a genie lamp like the one from Aladdin when my phone dinged with a Whatsapp message from my mother, informing me everyone’s favorite genie, Robin Williams had passed away. I bought the lamp in his honor, and headed off to find my terminal.
I read the sign in front of my gate over and over again but it still never changed from ‘Sydney’ to ‘Bangkok’. I quadruple checked my ticket, just in case I had somehow mixed up my flights, but it had the correct gate, time, and destination that I had originally booked.
“Excuse me? Is this the right gate for Bangkok?” I asked an official looking man. He examined my ticket, and then examined my sad-puppy-dog-face. “Your flight’s been delayed,” he said apologetically, “come with me, I’ll take you to get some vouchers.” He handed me back my ticket then started walking without explaining further. Um, what?!
Turns out that this flight was delayed too…but by six hours. The only vouchers they offered me were for a hotel room across the street from the hotel but I didn’t exactly feel like trekking through the desert to get to it. Instead I opted for my newfound motto, “When in doubt, drink more wine.”
Do you know what stands out more than a blond girl in Africa? …A blond girl in U.A.E. To make matters worse, not only was I the ONLY blond person in the entire airport, but I was also the ONLY person drinking at 11am, which isn’t exactly acceptable to most people there. You’d think I’d learn.
When it was FINALLY time to go, I paid the most expensive tab I’d had so far, and shuffled back to the terminal to board my flight. Of course shitty ass Etihad failed to mention that they use mostly partner airlines, so I was left with no Wifi or power outlets on freaking Air Sechilles, so decided to just sleep like a normal person.
Six hours later I finally landed in Bangkok for a total trip time of twenty-seven hours since I had left Cape Town. I was half asleep and hangry, and had just finally received my friend’s message that there’s no mini bar in the room and to pick up wine from the airport. I shuffled over to the first Thai ATM I saw and withdrew 5000 Baht (about $156 USD), then dragged myself over to the nearest Duty Free alcohol store.
“HA!” I accidentally said out loud when I read the price on the normally-cheap bottle of Yellowtail pinot grigio. They were charging $40 for a bottle of wine that is only about $6 in the States. It wasn’t funny anymore when I realized that all of the wine was around that price. Rude.
I didn’t want to use my cash so went to go pay for it with my debit card but then,wait. Where the hell was my debit card?! I frantically scoured through the contents of my bag and wallet, but it was nowhere to be found. I quickly paid in cash (yes I still got the wine) and ran back to the ATM.
Of course it wasn’t still there, and of course the woman working the money exchange booth next to it hadn’t had anyone turn in a debit card, so that was just freaking fantastic. I felt a little dead inside, and extremely stupid… After twenty-seven hours of traveling to Thailand, I had lost my main source of money within the first five minutes of being there. As they would say in The Hangover…F*cking Bangkok.