Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 279 (89)
Flight to Sydney
Sunday 12th December
We’ve been lapse on more than one occasion with respect to our anti-malaria medication and this morning it dawned on us again that we had forgotten to take our daily Doxycycline tablets yesterday evening. There’s little chance of us having breakfast on this a travel day so we undertook to take the tablets at lunch instead – probably whilst at the airport. For the last time here in Asia, we packed our things neatly away into our backpacks and said goodbye to our room. I have a feeling that this is not the last time we will travel in Asia.
Our hotel offers a 70B (€1,35) per person airport shuttle service but this is based on demand and we were unlucky enough to miss out on a shuttle that was going to leave at a convenient time. Whilst out looking for a post-box to send some postcards, Sandy had spotted a small travel agent booth that was advertising an airport shuttle service for 80B (€1,54) per person so I went over to make the necessary arrangements. If all else failed, we could rely on the 100B (€1,92) per person public bus so even though we were leaving this arrangement to the very last minute, I wasn’t particularly concerned.
Just before checking out, it dawned on me that I still had not arranged for our visas into Australia. Oops! Australia operates an electronic visa issuing system. The ETA (Electronic Ticketing Authority) can be purchased over the Internet and can take anywhere up to twenty-four hours to process. We were due to check-in for our eight-hour flight in just a few hours so this would definitely be cutting it extremely close. With lightning speed, I flew over to my favourite Internet café and quickly found a website (www.australiavisas.com) that processed the ETA for a fee of just $15 each. There is no paperwork with an ETA. There isn’t even any need to confirm which flight we are on, other than to ensure that we are flying with one of the ETA system participating airlines. The airline computer reservation system is tied into the ETA system and the check-in staff at the airport should be able to verify that we have purchase our ETA – assuming it is processed in time. Let’s just hope that is goes through before we have to check in later this afternoon – otherwise we might be seeing just a little bit more of Asia after all.
The sharp looking, air-conditioned minivan that was depicted on the travel agent wall was scheduled to pick us up at noon so when a tatty dilapidated excuse for a minivan finally showed up and parked half way down the street at around twelve-thirty, I was none too pleased. He didn’t seem too impressed with my request to back up the vehicle closer to our hotel either but he at least carried one of our bags, mine, out from the hotel lobby. Along with a couple of other backpackers from a couple of other nearby hotels, we were the last passengers to board the rattletrap, after the somewhat less than enthusiastic driver ‘flung’ our bags onto the roof. When we got in and performed the near unheard of ritual here of putting on his seatbelt, I had a horrific premonition about what to expect from the ride – and correctly so as it turned out. I can’t really say if it was his, ahem, driving techniques or the poor condition of the van’s tires and brakes but there were really only two speeds as we screeched through the mid-day traffic: abrupt-stop and flatfoot. Just to be on the safe side, I had Sandy give me a Cinnarizine tablet for the ride.
We eventually made it onto the open highway but it wasn’t long before I was thankful that we had chosen the earlier minivan as opposed to the later one. The engine started to splutter and we began to steadily loose speed. The van came to a halt on the apex of a highway overpass and the driver nervously got out. At first, we all thought that the problem was a flat tire – they were certainly bald enough! After just a few moments, however, things were starting to look very grim indeed with plumes of steamy mist bellowing from the engine compartment. Our driver struck up a deer in the headlight pose and it was clear that this young chap had no idea how to deal with this situation. And so there we all were, stranded in the middle of nowhere and with no means of getting to the airport to make our respective impending departures. At the very least, however, Sandy and I had time on our hands and I was strangely calm about the whole affair. I even caught myself quietly chuckling at the situation. Our luck was about to turn, however, when another minivan with just a single other passenger pulled up behind us. After a bit of chit-chat between it’s driver and our own, we were all offered passage to the airport for just 20B (€0,38) each. What an amazing coincidence! All twelve of us were about to leave Thailand, however, and some of the passengers had no currency left. We were all in it together and between myself and another passenger we made sure that everybody had enough for the driver when we reached the airport. After all, he didn’t have to stop and probably wasn’t even going to the airport to begin with.
Breakdown or no, we arrived at Bangkok’s international airport several hours early and the British Airways check-in desks weren’t even manned yet so we found a place to sit and have a snack along with our Doxycycline tablets. We have to continue taking these for the next four weeks so I’ll have to get Ree-Ree to try to badger us every day to take them whilst we are with her. Our several hours of tedium passed uneventfully and we made our way to the check-in desk twenty minutes before we were told that they were due to open. It seemed that we were lied to about the time the check-in desks opened for there was already a lengthy queue being processed by the half dozen or more now fully functional check-in desks by the time we got there. I handed over our tickets and passports when we finally reached one of the counters but there was a bit of a problem. The computer system was showing my visa having already been processed but not Sandy’s. Perhaps she can catch me up in a few days? No, just kidding. Sandy’s passport lists her as ‘Alexandra van de Poel e/v Morgan’ (van de Poel is her maiden name and e/v stands for echgenote van – married to). When we purchase airline tickets, I always list here as ‘Alexandra Morgan’ but when I arranged our ETA visas this morning, the website was particularly clear about spelling the last name exactly character for character as it appears in the passport so I entered ‘van de Poel e/v Morgan’. I pointed this out to the check-in clerk and she was then able to verify that everything was present and correct using the fully qualified last name. I guest sandy can come with me after all. I asked what would have happened if these ETA visas had not shown up yet and she told me that it would have meant us paying an extra 2,500 (€48) each to process them on the spot there and then – twice the cost but we would at least have been able to get onto the flight.
Once safely checked in and now luggage free, the one remaining hurdle to that preceded our departure from Thailand was the 500B (€9,60) departure tax coupon we each needed to purchase. For the past couple of days, I’ve been carrying around a 1,000B note for just this purpose. This last surprise catches a lot of people at the airports when they try to leave the country. It happened to us also in Jordan when we were suddenly confronted with the need to purchase a $15 departure tax coupon each and we had no money left. Then, I had to dip into our emergency reserves but not everybody is quite so lucky to have such a reserve. When we boarded our flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok a couple of weeks ago, the surprise departure tax was a whopping $25, way out of line with the cost of everything else in Cambodia, and there was a French passenger scheduled to depart on our flight that had no money and no contingency to pay this departure tax, which came as a complete surprise to him when he arrived at the airport. They wouldn’t let him through despite his best efforts to plead with them that he had no money left and no means to pay or even remain in the country. We found him on the plane later and he told me that there was a German passenger that was good enough to lend him the necessary $25 to get out of the country. I wonder how many people aren’t quite so fortuitous.
Today is my brother-in-law Frank’s forty-seventh birthday and he had asked if we could photograph anything and everything with the number forty-seven on it for inclusion on his website. Sandy took this to task and went off waltzing around the airport departure lounge with camera in hand. Frank is a strange character (I wonder if he’s reading this) and if ever there is anything weird going on, he’s usually connected with it. Happy birthday Frank!
I made a quick call to Australia to confirm we were safely on our flight and Sandy polished off the remainder of the balance on the calling card with a couple of phone calls to Holland. Making that phone call to Frank on his mobile phone probably drained the lion’s share of the card, which is now empty and useless. Thanks Frank!
Our boarding call came and, aside from a bit of confusion as to whether we would be allowed to board before the rest of the herd (we weren’t), we got onto the Boeing-747 and took off, bound for another new and exciting part of the world. Goodbye Asia – Australia, here we come!
UPDATE: We left Thailand on 12th December 2004. Just fourteen days later, there was an earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean. It caused the tsunami that utterly devastated many of the places we had been to in Southern Thailand. Had we stayed a bit longer, we would have been caught up in it all.