Friday, December 2, 2016

Almost Missed My Flight Out of Bangkok

Well, I've arrived back in Hanoi from Bangkok and I just got back to my apartment. Before I left, I had washed my sheets and hung them up to dry in the bathroom; now after five days gone, they are dry, and I've just put them back on my bed. So I'm coming back to clean sheets, and a big ol' container of green curry in the fridge that I made before I left.

I showed up at the airport in Bangkok over three hours before my flight, and I barely made it onto the plane in time. It was one of the longest airport processing times that I have experienced yet. I had awakened around nine in the morning, and went for one last walk around an area near the hostel that I hadn't been to yet. Then I went back to the hostel, packed up the few things I had (I brought a very small, light pack, and left most of my stuff in Hanoi), and checked out of the hostel a few minutes before noon, which was the check-out time. Then I headed on the train to the airport, and got there a little after twelve-thirty. I was about three hours and twenty minutes early for my flight. I had not been able to check in online to get an assigned seat, like I had in Hanoi when I was first going to Bangkok. I tried several times to do so, but the Internet would not connect to the the site. It wasn't a problem with signal, because I could connect to other sites. Finally, I was able to connect through a different portal on the VietJet site, but it told me that online check-in was not available for flights leaving from the Bangkok airport. So I would have to check in at the airport.

When I got to the airport, I hadn't eaten yet for the day, so I grabbed some fantastic tofu vegetable green curry and wolfed it down. Then I headed to towards the VietJet airline counter. I was surprised to see on the departures sign that they were already checking people in there. Usually at most airports I've been to in Asia, they don't start checking people in for their flights until about two hours before, but they was checking people in more than three hours before the flight. When I got to the counter, there were four lines for this flight that were really long. And they were really slow. They were taking about ten or fifteen minutes to check each person in. Sometimes it was a little faster, and they seemed to process couples at about the same time as single travelers, but this line was probably the slowest one I had to wait in. Then the next line was for luggage scanning. It moved along faster, but it was extraordinarily long, so it took forever too. There was a third line, also very long and very slow, for passport control. By this time I was starting to get a little worried that things really needed to move along if I was going to make my flight. But then I finally made it through that line, and I headed for the gate.

It's funny; I had a conversation with a guy in a hostel (I don't even remember where) a few months ago where I was telling him I usually showed up two or three hours before my flights because I was afraid that the processing would take too long. He chuckled at me, insinuating that I was a mere amateur, and that the more I traveled, the closer I would get to my flights; he said he usually showe up about a half an hour before. Well, if I had done that for this flight, I would have missed my flight by over a couple of hours. My paranoia paid off.

Once I got to the terminal with the gate for my flight, I thought I was safe; I had at least a half hour. So, since I had a little bit of Thai money left, I got some snacks at a kiosk. Then I headed to the gate. But there was another really long line that was moving slowly. I was thinking, “you have got to be kidding.” I'd never seen a line like that at the gate. So I stood in line again, and it moved interminably slowly. What the hell? Then I saw a sign informing passengers that the gate would close fifteen minutes before the scheduled flight time, and anybody who didn't make it by then would be turned away. Oh crap. I looked at my watch, and it was fifteen minutes before the scheduled departure time, and still many to be processed. I finally got to the boarding pass scanner about ten minutes before the scheduled departure time, and they let me on, as well as the people behind me. It turned out the flight was delayed a few minutes, so that BARELY worked out for me. I couldn't believe I had shown up so early and still just barely made the flight. I guess it wouldn't have been that big of a deal, though, now that I think of it, if I had missed the flight. I would have just taken the next flight that I could take to Hanoi, and even just gone back into town and booked another place to stay if I needed to for a night or two. There was really no reason I had to be in Hanoi today. My letter of invitation for my visa took effect starting the day before, so I could get the new visa anytime after that.

When I arrived in Hanoi, the experience was the total opposite. It was pretty darn fast and I probably got out of the airport in half an hour. But I had gone through a visa agency to get an invitation letter to renew my visa; it was a decent deal and only added twelve dollars to the cost of the visa. Then a few days before I was to return, they emailed me and asked me if I wanted to buy their fast-track service for twenty bucks. I thought, sure, I'll do that, and I paid for the fast-track service. With the fast-track service, they promised the visa in five to ten minutes, whereas everybody else had to wait in line for maybe hours to get their visa processed. And that worked out really well. There was a person waiting there with a sign with my name on it, and the name of one other person who had gone for their fast-track service. They just took my passport, and told me to wait in the passport check line. So while I waited in the second line, they did some kind of insider magic, and got the new visa in my passport in mere minutes. I was still in the line, but almost to the front, when they handed me my passport back, and then I made it out of the second line shortly afterwards. And at the baggage check line, there was nobody even checking; everybody just walked right through it without getting any baggage scan at all; the stations were not even manned. Wow, that was amazingly quick. I was able to ask in Vietnamese where the bus stop for the #86 bus was at the info counter, and they understood me perfectly, and I perfectly understood their answer. I probably would have found it anyway if I had just stepped outside the door; it was well-marked just a few meters to the left of the exit. But then I went back to ask where the bathroom was, and they didn't understand me at all. Rats. One win and one defeat on the Vietnamese communication front. So I had to ask in English; luckily the person I talked to understood a little English.

Then I went outside the airport to catch the bus back into town. I sat on the bus next to a friendly Iraqi guy who was in Hanoi for the first time. Somebody had told him about the bus, but he had no idea shere it went or where to get off. He had changed some money over, but had no idea how much each bill was worth. I explained to him the worth of each bill, and tried to give him a rough guide as to how much some things cost here. Then I had him show me where his hotel was, and I figured out that he needed to stop near the Hanoi Opera House. So I went up to talk to the conductor, pointed out the guy, and told him to tell the guy when his stop was. He was greatly appreciative, flashed a big grin, and said something about an American and an Iraqi working together.

I got off at my stop, and made my way back to my little familiar apartment. Tonight I'll probably just chill and maybe unpack in the morning.

Yesterday I had been walking around Bangkok in the morning, exploring the area, when I found an all-you-can-eat vegetarian Indian buffet, so I stopped in there to eat, and just gorged myself on some fantastic, delicious food. And it only cost about four bucks for the meal. After completely pigging out, I found myself really tired, so I headed back to the hostel and crashed out in the middle of the afternoon. I didn't wake up until after dark, when I headed out for a nighttime walk. I found a little street stand to eat dinner and had some delicious stir-fried vegetables and rice for a little over a buck. I was running out of Thai money, and saved the rest to take the train and eat at the airport the next day. I worked it pretty well on Thai money. By the time I flew out of Bangkok, I only had a few bucks worth of Thai baht left, and I used a couple of bucks to buy a beverage on the plane. It's hard to work out spending the last of your foreign money in a country. You don't want to come up short, because then you have to change over just a little more money, which will be a bad deal because you're not getting a lot. And you don't want to have too much left over, though that it a better scenario, because you can at least always change it over in the next country. But I like to have a little change just as a souvenir.

(Edited note:  Since I wrote this post, I've seen some sites that confirmed that Bangkok is notorious for its long processing time.  Here is a typical account.)

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