Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Amazing Race: Asia

Three countries in one day. Buses and border crossings. Trying to bargain and communicate with drivers of Tuk Tuks (local transportation). Napping in a deserted airport waiting for a flight. Running at full speed upon arrival at an airport. Pleading with a taxi driver who has limited English to drive fast. It all sounds like an episode of the Amazing Race, doesn't it? And it all describes my travel back to China from Laos.

Sunday morning, I woke up early to finish packing before catching a bus to Thailand from Laos. I was checking my email one last time and writing down my flight information for the day. Suddenly, I noticed something a little disconcerting. For my first flight of the day, which took me to Bangkok, I didn't recognize the name of the Bangkok airport. I called over my friend who teaches in Laos (and who frequently travels through Thailand) and asked if indeed this was the same airport my other flight took off from. "" When we had booked my flight, we failed to consider the fact that there were two airports in Bangkok. Suddenly, my two hour layover to go from my domestic flight to my international flight seemed incredibly short. Like falling dominoes my mind went through visions of being stuck sleeping in the Bangkok airport, missing my arranged car that was picking me up at 1:00 am in Beijing, missing my friend who was meeting me in Beijing, missing my already-purchased train from Beijing to stomach turned. But instantly, Sarah and I went into crisis-solving mode. If the taxi drove fast, and I took the more expensive toll roads, I should be able to make it between the two airports in forty minutes. Add in time waiting in baggage claim...too close. Our conclusion: I need to go all carry-on. Luckily, the suitcase I was traveling with was very reasonably carry-on size. (Yes, I was traveling for six weeks. Yes, you should be impressed.) So, after ditching some toiletries per liquid restrictions, and with the hope no one would be strict about weight, I was ready to fly all carry-on. The saddest loss in this transformation was shaving cream from the States. With a plan in mind, and a certain level of confidence from the awareness that the situation came as no surprise to my Father, I headed out for my long day of travel.

I took a three and a half hour bus from Pakse to Ubon, Thailand. Arriving there, I arranged for a red truck taxi (cheaper than regular ride on the back of a truck that has benches bolted to it) to the airport. I arrived at the airport a full four hours before my flight, which was the only flight flying out of there in the afternoon. Consequently, I joined a grand total of two people in the airport--one working a small snack stand and the other a guard. I got some food, napped, and did grad work, trying not to think of the next hurried transition. We boarded the plane and took off a few minutes late, but I figured we would make up the time in the air. I was a little concerned by the old man who sat next to me, not wanting to have to tackle him in my rush off the airplane. Fortunately, though, he wanted more space and moved to the empty back of the plane shortly after take-off. As we landed, I prepared myself for sprinting. As soon as possible I was out of the seat, my suitcase was out of the compartment, and I made my way through the crowds of people up the gangway. I hit the hallway of the airport at a run, weaving in and out of people. The plane landed at 5:05. By 5:11, I was in a taxi. I almost took out a sliding door in the process. A little out of breath, I told the taxi driver, "airport, highway, FAST!". He obliged. We sailed past other cars and I was at the airport by 5:38. There was no line at the check-in counter, and despite the fact that I was in the slowest immigration line EVER (the next line over was moving at a rate of four people to one person in ours; yes, I counted), I still had time to grab one last blizzard before boarding my plane to China. Another day of travel in Asia successfully completed.

I'm now back home in China, spending time with one of my former teammates who is up for a visit. Pictures from my time in Laos are slowly being put up on flickr. I'll post a little more about that trip soon! For now, here's one of my favorite pictures, taken on the Mekong.


Heather said...

Whew! Oh my...that's a crazy day. I'm really impressed you traveled for 6 weeks with a carry on size bag. Nope...I don't think I could do it. :)

Barbara said...

I think I held my breath the whole time i read about your travel back to China! Whew - so glad you made your connections & back home safely.

Ann said...

The photo is incredible, you really have a gift with photography and writing.
I saw a photo of Yangshuo in your sidebar. I am thinking of going there in July. I know you are really busy but if you have any tips or comments about it I'd love to hear them.
You are really amazing to pack in a carry on for 6 weeks!

Christi and Abbey said...

oops! I did it again. My mom is here visiting from the States and was signed into google, so that last post was really from me : )

Christi and Abbey said...

oops! I did it again. My mom is here visiting from the States and was signed into google, so that last post was really from me : )