Airports

Funny old places airports.

If you want to see the full spectrum of human emotion I can heartily suggest hanging around an airport for a few hours.
Which is exactly what I’m doing today.
I’m ‘hanging around’ because I’m not really going anywhere, well I am, but not ‘really’.
I have come to from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to meet my folks who are coming over for Christmas (squeeee). And in a few hours time I will be going back to Chiang Mai. I’m sure that if needs be they could easily have made the transition form place to place without my presence, but the opportunity to see them even just a few hours earlier than could have was just to good to miss. It’s only hours flight each way and the less cost is than I’ve done some similarly timed rail journeys in Europe so I thought, why not?

So here I am in Suvarnanbhumi airport or BKK as I prefer, for obvious reasons, to call it. ( The locals affectionately call it ‘swampy’ as it was built on reclaimed swamp land, but for the sake of clarity I’ll just call it BKK ).

I arrived here stupidly early. I blame my husband, I was always the kind of person who used to screech up at the last minute, usually sweating and swearing, but his traveling habits have finally rubbed off it seems and I have allowed plenty of time for unexpected delays and mishaps. Today so far there have been none.

The upshot is that I’m in no particular hurry, and with no particular destination or deadline I’ve spent the last hour ambling around the airport. And what a fine airport it is. As a passenger I have always appreciated the layout of the airport as it is easy to navigate, well signposted and well provisioned with coffee. I have spent many, many, (many), hours here before when transiting between flights or waiting for connections, but it’s always been with an invariably tired and grouchy small person in tow who wants to do nothing more than find a chair then complain to me how bored she is for how ever many hours we need to sit there.

This time I found myself just mooching about and I discovered the observation deck which I have never noticed before tucked away above international departures. What a find. It’s not that there is anything all that amazing to observe as it doesn’t even look out onto the runway, but it has something which, to me, is airport gold.
It has very few people in it. There was no real noise, there were benches, there was a wide open space. THIS is where I will be bringing small person the next time we have to do any waiting here, this is like an airport paradise. I mean sure it has no coffee, but I can supply that without too much of an issue, so this is where we will be.

The only interruption to my near solitude was a large group of sunburned drunken Russians who had taken the wrong escalator and were frantically searching for international departures. I pointed them in the right direction and once again it was just me and a few airport staff enjoying a quiet lunch.

As I have said the view you are intended to observe is on the mediocre side, but it’s the unintended view that captured my interest more. From high in the roof of BKK you can look down on the entire departures floor and the order it makes from the chaos of bodies that are filling it. From way up here you can’t hear the bustle but watching the snaking lines of passengers overburdened with luggage desperate to be first in like when check in opens, or sitting disconsolately behind a mass of suitcases waiting for news of the flight that cancelled, is a fascinating distraction.

The need for caffeine drew me down from the sky into the madness of departures. Mad, but still beautiful. BKK have done a great job of interior decorating with plenty to keep the eye entertained while you wait. From the impressively large statues that stand guard over the hall to the enshrined relics of lord Buddha with its gloriously scented orchid garden ( with its very own pond don’t you know) it is one of the more interesting airports to wait in. Even the exterior is ordained with 10 metre high portraits of His Majesty the King for you to gaze upon (if you happen to be sneaking out for a crafty cigarette ).
And what better way is there to while a way the time than to watch the whole world ticking by on the departures board in front of your eyes , and dream and scheme of adventures yet to come. But it’s almost time to go to my favourite place. Arrivals.

I find the arrivals hall of any airport to be a joyous place. Not the bored couriers holding up name tags for unknown business men, but the palpable sense of expectation and excitement anticipation as you see people’s eyes constantly flickering to the flight status displays, waiting for the moment of reunion. And when the people begin to trickle through the doors laden with baggage freshly whisked from the conveyer belt, those moments of bleary, sometimes teary eyed reconciliation, of homecoming, of excitement for the unknown, those are moments to treasure.

And speaking of which, it’s my own eyes that are flickering now. In a few short minutes my parents flight will land and we will be having our own magical moment.

Jer Gan Mai

*pictures will be added when I get home and have non stupid internet!!

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Break For The Border

A rundown on my visa run to Laos.

Monday
8am

This is what 8.am on a Monday morning at the Thai consulate in Vientiane looks like.

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Technically it’s outside the consulate as the gates haven’t opened yet. There are probably already about 200 people here. It’s going to be a long morning…… Thankfully I booked myself into the hotel just across the road from the consulate so I had a bellyful of breakfast to keep me contented in the queue. Although even if you don’t get to eat before you arrive there are a multitude of enterprising street stalls to meet your needs for a modest fee. ( you can also pick up application forms, photocopies and photographs on the street outside should you wish to.)
And a side note here- it’s rainy season people, if it’s not actually raining, it will be- bring an umbrella.
We are all here waiting for our magic number. When the gates open we will all patiently file through and wait to be given a queue number, then we will all patiently wait until our number is called so we can shuffle to the numbered windows and submit our visa application. Then we will all go, clutching our magic numbers, to another building where we will all patiently wait until our number is called again and we will pay.

Then we get to leave, but not with our passports, we will all have to patiently wait till tomorrow afternoon to get into another queue to see if our visa requests have been granted and then we can pick up our passports and run to the border. But that’s tomorrow …..

9am

Well the magic number for today is 204 and this is what will determine just how long I have to sit here. At least 2 hours I’d say.

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It is always wise to bring something to entertain yourself with. Thankfully this is something I already know so I have my ipad, my crochet and a book, just in case.

10am

We are still only at numbers 91-100….
It always amazes me how unprepared some people are when they turn up to get a visa. It’s really not that difficult to find out what you will need before you get here and yet droves of people turn up without the first clue.

You need a filled out visa form, supporting paperwork depending on what type of visa you require, 2 passport photographs ( with a white background ), a photocopy of your passport pages and all relevant entry and exit stamps and most importantly the correct fee in the correct currency ( Thai Baht in this case ). I know that you can get the forms and the photos at the consulate but It’s really not that difficult. And as I mentioned above, even if you have none of these things before you arrive the street vendors can supply you with everything before you come rough the gates. And yet in front of me in the queue was a young chap with nothing other than a hangover and a can of beer……

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He had decided that he needed a 1 year education visa but had failed to realise that you have to actually register and pay for the course before you apply for your visa. He quickly decided to try for a 60 day tourist visa instead.

11am

191-200 have just been called, I’m almost there…..
My crochet has been garnering a lot of interest and I have just taught a young Filipino lady how to crochet a miniature top hat. As you do.

12 pm

My number was called at just after 11am. I submitted my application
and went through my supporting documents with the rather stern looking Thai official. He seemed, if not happy, at least content that all was in order and I took my ticket through to the payment hall. I’m still here. This is usually the quick bit. Today it is not. Monday is always the busiest day here and if you have the choice and flexibility on days then I would recommend mid week. This time round I did not and today was really the only choice. Bummer.
Mr unprepared is now touting around the waiting room asking if anyone can change his KIP to BAHT as he thought you could pay the fee in local currency……. He really didn’t think this through.

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12.30 pm

4 and a half hours later and I have my receipt in hand ready to take back tomorrow afternoon and retrieve my passport. That was a long long wait. Last time with small one we were done by 11, but tighter restrictions on the issuing of Thailand visas has clearly added a little time to each application.
I hate being without my passport, it really unsettles me. Particularly when I’m waiting for something as important as this.

Tuesday
1.34 pm

My manicure in town took a little longer than I expected it to ( I know…first world problems, but there really isn’t much else to do in downtown Vientiane in the morning as I discovered when I arrived in an almost deserted city centre after breakfast ), so I hopped out the back of a tuk-tuk and in through the consulate gates long past the time for getting a decent queue number.

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137. Sigh.

2pm

Mr underprepared from yesterday morning has just rocked up at the counter and is trying to explain that he has lost his receipt and is extremely cross that he will have to wait till the crowd has thinned out till he gets dealt with.
There really is no hope for some people.

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2.15pm

The young Filipino lady I met yesterday has just showed me a selection of multi-coloured miniature top hats that she made this morning. 🙂 I have no idea why she would need so many but she seems very happy with them anyway……

2.30pm

137 came up at 2.24pm – woohoo!! There was a slightly nervy moment when it turned out that my passport was not in amongst the general assortment on the desk and I must admit that a little bit of wee nearly came out as I watched the lady go across to a smaller pile all with notes attached to the front. She read the note and scrutinised both my photo and my face. She crumpled the noted and shook her head and advised me that there was no problem just that one of her colleagues yesterday had flagged up that that I didn’t look anything like the picture. She complimented my new haircut, handed me back my passport and wished me a pleasant day. While I was a little intrigued to see how mr unprepared made out it was not enough to keep me from skipping out the gates and across the road to my hotel to pick up my bag.

2.50pm

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I am writing this in the back of a rickety tuk tuk on the way to the Laos – Thailand border. I’m holding on VERY tightly as it seems our journey has turned into a race with another tuk heading the same way.

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I can’t tell you what speed we are going as the vehicle has no speedo, nor any other working instrumentation, but I do know that while we may not have the horse power to beat his friend on the flat when it comes to any incline, however slight, we have him nailed as he has 3 strapping young Aussie lads in the back of his and I am, once again, flying solo.

Jer Gan Mài