I could smell Bangkok as soon as they opened the cabin doors.
The delicious humidity crept into the plane like a phantom mist, as did the smell of exhaust and open sewage. The heat was shocking — May is the hottest month of the year in Thailand. I unconsciously let out a happy, contented sigh at the first whiff; It’s good to be back.
As I stood in the endless queue for immigration, I actually witnessed my beaten Gregory backpack — lovingly sewn back together with fishing line before leaving home — slide down onto the baggage carousel behind the row of stamp-wielding guys in uniforms. The thump thump sounds of them pounding passports was tantalizing.
Just on the other side of no man’s land and those brown-uniformed guys was my favorite country. I watched my bag circulate a dozen times while I was waiting to be stamped in.
When I collected my bag, there was oil and actual, physical tire marks imprinted on the straps. Now that’s something new.
I’ve seen bags fall off the luggage tractors before, but I’ve never seen a guy deliberately back up to run one over a time or two. He must enjoy his corporate job as much as I once enjoyed mine. I’m not the only one with bag damage; a queue forms at the counter with angry people shouting claims about broken wheels and bloodstains.
No matter, I couldn’t be happier standing on my feet with 12 kilograms on my back.
Particularly after being Shanghaied!
Forget everything I wrote in the last post about arriving in Bangkok.
First, had I known what was to come in my journey to Bangkok, I possibly would have considered taking a different course of action, perhaps such as drowning myself in the toilet. After three hours of sleep on the airport floor, and being woken by the polished toe of a policeman’s boot asking if I had a ticket, I was one of the first in the queue to check in for my noon flight to Bangkok.
Then it happened.
Right before my eyes, the giant screen showing the status of flights was suddenly populated with more “DELAY”s than “ON TIME”s. My flight, one of many victims to bad weather in the Pacific, was delayed five hours.
The airline compensated by busing us out to a small hotel, where I shared a room with an Australian soccer hooligan named “Eggy.” Insane but affable, he helped make the best of the delay. The hotel was a nice touch, especially after 12 hours in LAX already.
We were then bused back to the airport, fought through queue after queue of increasingly unhappy passengers, then boarded a cramped flight to Shanghai. Upon arriving in Shanghai, I was lost in the chaos of 300 lost passengers trying to get somewhere in Asia. All I ended up with was a scrap of paper from the airline with illegible handwriting entitling me to a ticket change.
We stood for over an hour to be stamped into Shanghai, where I was granted a 24-hour visa, and then pushed and shoved onto a bus to a crappy, communist-style hotel 45 minutes from the airport. There, we fought another mad queue with pushing Chinese passengers until almost 01:00. After hitting the bed, my alarm went off three hours later for the return trip to the airport.
Having no Chinese currency meant that we had no food or water. Thankfully, the guys at CLIF Bars have been sending me samples, so I relied on them for a few calories to keep functioning.
Literally delirious from lack of sleep and water, I eventually caved in and drank the tap water rather than choose death by dehydration. Yes, I drank tap water in China. I will happily coexist with the parasites now in my bowels. I guess they have to eat, too.
Once again, the hassle was made tolerable by a fellow traveler. I befriended a 68-year-old American guy named Ken who was also on his way to Bangkok, and we fought through the obstacles together. Nice in those kinds of situations to have a sanity check and an army veteran to watch your back.
Following a few more smaller fiascos such as being dropped at the wrong terminal in the airport, the shuttle not running, no one manning the China Eastern counter to change our tickets, etc…we were deposited onto a plane to Bangkok.
Just for good measure and to ensure that our seventh layer of hell remained hot enough, Ken was granted a kid next to him who was wiggling around like Elvis on cocaine, and I had a boy sat behind me training for the World Cup by kicking my seat like a Barcelona striker.
I have calculated that during the 64-hour journey to get here from Kentucky, I literally slept eight hours in total.
For once, just this time, I seriously hope that travel IS about the destination and not the journey. 🙂