31 December 2012

One night in Bangkok

The song from the musical Chess says: ‘One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster’. But that night was at the end of a very long day which went something like this …

Jean Batten's plane and a Lord of the Rings statue - must be Middle Earth!
Alarm went off at 4.30am! Picked up by a shuttle at 5.30am and dropped off at Auckland international airport at 6am.

I had a moment when I thought I wasn’t going to get any further. The young and presumably inexperienced girl at the check-in counter was hesitant about the fact that my return flight is booked for August. ‘What are you doing between now and August? You don’t have a visa to spend 8 months in Cambodia.’ I lied: ‘I’m travelling around Asia but I had to book a return flight because many countries won’t let you in without one.’ She still phoned her supervisor, who obviously said it was fine, because she proceeded to process my reservation and give me the window seat I requested and, by some miracle – the girl was also surprised – the system didn’t charge me for my overweight bag – still 26kgs, even though I’d shed the rug, table runner, throw, winter jacket, jumpers and scarves I’d brought back from Peru!

Departed Auckland at 8.35am for the 3-hour flight to Sydney with Qantas. It was a smooth flight: the Tasman was looking flat, the clouds were minimal and the Sydney coastline looked as inviting as ever. Shame I wasn’t stopping!

Nothing noteworthy happened in Sydney. After 4 hours of walking the halls and using the free internet – Auckland airport authorities take note: FREE internet! – and eating a snack and walking some more and taking a few photos – nice Chrissie decorations! – and buying some little trinkets for Cambodian friends, I departed Sydney at 14.35pm, again with Qantas, for the 9 hour flight to Bangkok.

Congratulations to Qantas for employing a mature crew with a great sense of humour for the long-haul flight. ‘Trays! Trays! Give me your trays!’ called out one grey-haired attendant, and an announcement over the intercom from the customer service manager went something like this: ’Using skills learned years ago in Kmart, smiling Satesh will now begin selling duty-free items from the catalogue in the seat pocket in front of you.’

Surprisingly for an airline, the food was good, and they were very generous with the alcohol. I had a Bloody Mary that was more bloody than Mary, but delicious all the same. The choice of movies was pretty abysmal, though. The blockbuster selection consisted of the latest Jason Bourne film, which I watched, and one another, that was so forgettable I’ve forgotten its name.

My only complaint Qantas, if you’re listening, is that you charge passengers to reserve a seat using your online check-in system. Unbelievable!

We arrived in Bangkok spot on time at 19.35pm local time. Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok’s international airport, is huge, bustling and efficient. Thanks to the baggage man who rescued my bag from going on to Cambodia a day early – and mine wasn’t the only one he rescued. And thanks to the hotel collection process, which seemed chaotic initially – my instructions were to go to the collection point at gate 4 on level 2 – but my name was there on a sign and within a few minutes I was being whisked off to my hotel.

The hotel was fairly ordinary but the bed was hard, the shower reasonable and the aircon working, which met all my requirements for a good night’s sleep. And after that one night in Bangkok, it was a short one-hour’s hop here to Siem Reap, Cambodia, a place familiar and welcoming, and a return to where my world travels began when I first volunteered here in December 2009. Only time will tell whether the world really is my oyster!

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