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Clumsy departures: what NOT to do when you land in a new country

Point n.2 of my “arrival plan” checklist: know your transportation options -> what they are and how much they cost.

I didn’t plan almost anything about my trip. My highest effort was buying a cheap flight to Bangkok only a few weeks before leaving, despite knowing for at least eight months that I would be going in early October.

I had to google Bangkok because, in my gigantic ignorance, I didn’t even know what country it was located in. I am a tourist from the north; forgive me…

And so, Thailand would have been the beginning of this haphazard adventure: good! So what do you do when you go to a South Asian country, or generally away from home, alone? You try to figure out how not to get into trouble and, among many things, to have at least an idea of how to get to the accommodation you have booked for the first night.

My hostel information says that the airport I would be arriving at is the one furthest out of the way to reach them. Not perfect, but too bad neither; far doesn’t mean unreachable.

A sky train line connects the airport to a stop near my hostel. It was just a matter of figuring out where the station was, how to make the ticket, which direction to take it…where to get off… trivia that you usually do without thinking, but in an unknown country where English is scarce, perhaps less trivial.

So, my journey started with that 11 h flight, in which I should have slept, but that for a pleasant meeting ended in small talk with my next-seat neighbor: an airplane pilot, getting back home in Asia, where he has been living many years. Boris taught me many things about how to behave once in Bangkok and said that taxis are incredibly cheap there. I thought, “oh, come on… a taxi? That’s too lazy. Stick to your plan Lia and take the train!”

But… I was exhausted. I told myself, “Ok, take a taxi, Lia, you’re tired, it will be easier and finally not so much expensive than the train, make it simple for once, be gentle, Spoil yourself a little. Thinking about my heavy luggage, it was easy to give up on the train, at least for this first critical transfer.

He also told me that they wait for the tired tourists to “rob” them at the arrivals exit and that it would have been cheaper to take one at the departures because there are regional companies.

So, after so many up and down with the escalators and “this way, madam,” I find the arrival area. As I crossed the crosswalk, I saw a taxi driver waving for me to join him: too bad that between him and me, there was a one-way gate, some barricades, and two men in uniform. I asked, stuttering, if I could pass, but one of them replied: “for taxi, go down.” I look at him, intimidated, and tell him I want to take it from there. Again: “no, you go down.”

I had landed less than 1 hour and was already trying to break some rules and pick a fight with foreign country security staff.

I almost gave up, but a passerby went close to me, whispering, “don’t ask, just do it. They can’t stop you”. He just disappeared behind the sliding door without looking at me or stopping.

I couldn’t believe it but sandwiched between my two 20 kg backpacks, I climbed on the barricades, and I jumped on the other side feeling very bold while running to the cab. The two men protested (I wonder what they were talking about?), but they let me do it while my brain was freaking out with his Swiss-civic sense policy something like “what the hell, Lia, it’s rude, stop, you shouldn’t! What are you doingggggg!”

The taxi driver was grinning.

“Leave the car if they don’t turn on the counter.”

Boris’s suggestions to get to my accommodation were still in my head, and I was glad my taxi driver didn’t hesitate. We zoomed through the skyscrapers, and I thought, “within 1 hour, you’re in bed”, smiling.

But then, everything stopped. At that moment, the voice in my head changed “get ready because Bangkok is a traffic nightmare, Lia.” It was my uncle Felice’s voice, who shared by phone his limitless knowledge of foreign countries with me just before leaving Switzerland.

Point n.11 of my “arrival plan” checklist: Use the selected transport method to get to your hotel.

Do not take unlicensed taxis; track the taxiway on the map during the transfer.

The taxi driver blabbed something like “traffic! Bad!” starting to deviate from the main road, but it was still in the right direction. Until he began to take nonsense roads. I tried to show him the map, but he seemed not to be able to read a map, and his taxi was without GPS.

Suddenly, he stops in the middle of nowhere, under a colossal overpass, blabbing, “stop, too much traffic! No possible traffic! You finish!”

Essentially, he was dumping me because he couldn’t go on, and with the counter on, I wasn’t a good business for him. Taxi drivers must comply with many rules, two of which are probably the most important: that they will not drop you off in the middle of a riot or on a bridge. But what about UNDER a bridge?

With disappointment and incredulous, I took my stuff and got out. Without having reached the hotel, I paid with bitterness something around 15 Chf I could’ve saved by using the train AND reaching the hotel; but finally:

  1. We were stuck
  2. There was no way to communicate

At least I knew where I was, which was a good thing. I still was a long way off my accommodation, which was a less good thing.

As I often said to my ex-boyfriend, it’s enough to stop and think when you travel and get lost and don’t know what to do. If you admit you have a problem, it can be even more annoying if you’re keen to do everything perfectly on the first try, but there’s no black hole that opens under your feet to swallow you up.

The heat was suffocating, but I was thankful it was daytime and not late night. I cursed the taxi driver through gritted teeth, I found a quiet spot, looking for another option in that Babylon.

There was the “original planned train” not so far! I look for the station; climb many times up and down the looong stairs (if you miss the right spot, you end at the wrong side of the train track) laden like a mule… I snub the ticket machine, going straight to the counter and showing the train stop name many times on my phone smiling and asking every station employee at every turn. I played the super clumsy and anxious tourist, more than just one of them laughed at me, but at least I finally got where I needed to, with the right train.

What I learned: if you have a plan, stick to it. To improvise for convenience could be way less convenient in the end.

What got me out of trouble was:

  • having a local sim for the internet or offline downloading the map on your phone.
  • Fully charged Phone and power bank.
  • Save the hotel position + details to your phone and print it on paper.
  • Having taken a break at the airport (toilet + food)
  • Last resort. Always have some money with you.

Hours later than planned, I crush on the bed, tired as never experienced before, but happy and proud of myself. I still think having been rude on climbing that airport barrier, but stupidity aside for changing plans without being ready, I was able to handle myself. I felt like a new mental power, a kind of reassuring new awareness that you can always do it on your own, with patience. With that perspective, my journey couldn’t have started in a better way.

P.S: dear uncle Felice, I will take more note of your suggestions next time!


1 Comment

  1. Trop coooool Lia!!!! Chloé <3

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