I arrived to LAX ahead of schedule. It still hadn't truly hit me that I was going to Thailand until the shuttle driver asked what me what airline I was flying. In that moment, it sank in. I was traveling alone to Bangkok for two weeks.The driver pulled up to the curb, handed me my bag and wished me a safe trip. I walked into the airport and had to make a decision. I was several hours early for my flight just to be safe and was now starving. My flight didn't depart until 5:55pm so I was debating on grabbing a bite to eat or check in first. I glanced over at China Airlines check-in counter and it was a ghost town. I decided to check-in now and drop my bag while there was no line.
I walked up to the counter and the woman seemed aggravated. I asked how early you are allowed to check-in and a crazy expression grew on her face. "For flight 005 or 007?!"Not knowing the flight number, I told her I would have to pull out my agenda but it was to Bangkok. She asked in a rude tone "Flight 005 with connection to Taipei??" I nodded and she asked if I was late from a connection. I shook my head and told her I drove in from San Diego. She called her supervisor over and he broke the news that the flight departs at 3:55pm and asked if I was checking a bag. I looked at the large clock in the airport and it read 3:15pm. In all my planning, I still managed to mess up the time of departure. My flight itinerary read 1555 and I knew that was 3:55pm when I booked, but then carelessly messed that up between three weeks ago and today. Before I could comprehend all the fun feelings that are supposed to arrive when checking in to a flight to Thailand, I was now being told to run to the gate. I still had to go through security and get to Concourse B. I couldn't help but laugh as I was jogging through the airport. Was I really about to miss my flight to Bangkok? I wouldn't let that happen, so stepped it up a notch and got to the gate a little sweaty just in time for boarding.
I called my mom quickly because I thought I still had three hours to say goodbye. She asked me if I could please consider staying in a nice hotel instead of hostels and I reminded her that this is the way I like to travel. I could tell she was a little nervous but she knows I'll be just fine.
Once I stepped on the plane, I felt like I had stepped into a different era of time. All the flight attendants were dressed so eloquently with form fitting matching lilac uniforms. Their hair pinned back in perfect buns and flawless makeup. There were so many of them on the flight. This was the largest plane I've ever flow on with two levels but they had a flight attendant it seemed for every row. I made my way to seat 50A. The ceilings were a lot higher in this flight and there was more leg room. I was relieved that this seventeen hour flight wouldn't be so claustrophobic. A woman sat down in the aisle seat with a seat vacant between us. I was hoping no one would fill it and sure enough, it was just the two of us. I looked over at her and realized that for the next twelve hours she is the only person I will be talking to.
As the plane made its way from the gate, I started to feel the nervousness you feel when you are about to ride a roller coaster. The whirlwind of events checking in and racing to the gate sidetracked me from the realization of what I was about to be doing. Now as we pulled away from the airport, I looked out the window and for the first time felt uneasy. I felt like everything was moving in slow motion, the luggage cars, the men flagging the plane to reverse. Once we took off, the feeling subsided and I was back to feeling excited.
The flight went by very fast; I feel asleep within minutes of lift off and then woke when they served our first meal. I took an Ambien and then fell asleep with only two hours left in the flight. Ten hours had passed in the blink of an eye. I thought the flight was going to be torturous but instead I was served a second meal and we were landing in Taiwan for my connection in no time.
Once we landed in Taipei, I was shocked at how modern and extravagant the airport was. The terminals were lined with designer stores like Coach, Hermes, Luis Vuitton, and Dior. Every employee was dressed to the nines and each store had an abundance of workers. The airport in Taipei doesn't appear like an airport at all. You would think you are in the Hollywood of Asia.
I got to my connection gate and waited for my flight to Bangkok. Another three hour flight and yet another meal later, I arrived in Bangkok. I left Los Angeles at 3:55pm Tuesday and now it was Thursday at 1:30am in Bangkok. I was fully rested and made my way through the magnificent airport. I felt like I had walked into the future. It was very similar to the Taipei airport with the designer stores, tall ceilings and modern structures. Once I passed through customs, I exchanged two hundred American dollars and felt like I won the lottery. My receipt read ฿5,976 Baht Dollars.
I followed the signs to the baggage claim and waited patiently for my bag. It was now 2am. I had been traveling for nineteen and a half hours. One by one, people around me walked up and heaved their luggage off the belt while I waited for mine. After I was the only one left waiting the belt stopped. My pack was nowhere in sight. I released a deep sigh and made my way to the customer service desk.
The attendant greeted me and asked what she could help me with. I explained that my bag never came out on the conveyor belt so she asked for my baggage claim ticket. Beginning to feel the effects of the time change, the flights and exhaustion, I fumbled to find the ticket in my backpack. I searched every pocket and assured her I had saved it. Right before giving up, my backpack slipped from the counter and everything inside scattered across the floor- along with that claim ticket. I released a laugh as I snatched it off the ground and smiled as I told her that I knew I kept it. She typed into the computer for a minute and then handed me a form. I knew what this form meant; I had gone through this form it seems like every time I travel lately. "So this means you lost my bag?" I whimpered. She nodded yes. Tears started forming behind my eyes, and I caught myself with a laugh. Only I would fly to Thailand and arrive with no luggage. I knew the drill from here; I'd go buy some new Thai clothes at the market tomorrow on China Airlines. She told me my back would not arrive until 1pm and they would deliver it to my hotel. I handed her the address to my hostel and she laughed. "You're staying at Lub D??" I replied yes and asked why and she shook away her smirk and began typing in the computer. I asked again and she ignored the question. I asked just out of curiosity where my bag was and she said the notes read that it got stuck in the conveyor belt in Los Angeles. She told me I could spend ฿1500 on clothes in the meantime. She handed me my claim form and wished me good luck.
I started heading to the taxi stand when a woman approached me and asked if I needed a ride. She was dressed in a suit and had on a security badge. I told her I was going to the taxi stand and she said that she could provide a ride. She asked where I was going and I handed her the hostel address. She read it and laughed. I asked why everyone kept laughing when they saw where I was staying. "You'll have a good time there" she promised. She guided me toward the doors and told me that the ride would be ฿900. I stopped in my tracks and told her no thank you. She seemed puzzled and I remembered that my hostel emailed me the night before giving me a map in Thai to give to a taxi driver and specifically to ask for a meter taxi only and that with tolls and fees it would be at max ฿450. She got on me and said that she was giving me an excellent price and flashed her badge again that displayed she worked for the airport and was not ripping me off. I told her that my hostel informed me that it would be ฿450 and she laughed. She told me that the ride was at least an hour and there are toll fees. She said that ฿900 was the lowest she could do. I told her no thank you and walked away. I remembered that a client told me everything in Thailand is negotiable and that they would always try to rip tourists off. As soon as I turned away, she shouted back "Okay! ฿800, but that is the lowest I can offer you." I turned and said ฿600 with fees. She laughed and said in a condescending tone "no one will drive you to Silom for only ฿600." I shrugged my shoulders and walked away. She shouted back one more time "Okay! What price will you pay for?" I replied "฿600" again and she refused so I walked downstairs, hailed a cab and asked "meter taxi only with fees, how much?" The driver replied,"฿450." Perfect. I got in the cab, bag-less but optimistic. It was now close to 3am and I was finally after what seemed like an eternity of traveling- almost to Bangkok.
I switched my iPod on and admired the city as we drove. It was pitch black out but looked very similar in the dark to a big city in the U.S. Tall skyscrapers, billboards, busy highways. It wasn't until then that I realized the driver was driving on the left side of the road and the driver seat was on the right side of the car. I was so exhausted I hadn't noticed. I looked around his cab and it was lined with Buddha's, crystals, trinkets. I felt like I was in a straw market.
As we approached the first toll road the driver slowed down about five hundred feet from the toll booth and his car stalled. He turned the key and no sound was made. He cursed something in Thai and then tried over and over. Here I was, at 3:30am in car that died in the middle of the highway in Thailand with no bag eight thousand miles from home.. Before I could process an escape route, the engine roared back up. He pulled forward and revved the engine until it was our turn to go through the toll booth. I laughed and thought to myself, how much more interesting is this trip going to get? The cab driver released a laugh once he realized I wasn't freaking out. We pulled up to the hostel at 3:45am which confirmed that not only was that woman trying to charge me double but it was not an hour drive, but would have been more like forty minus the car dying issue.
I entered the hostel and thought everyone in my dorm would be asleep but the lobby was lined with people gathered around playing guitars and talking. I said hello and walked up to the front desk to check in. I handed the girl my passport and she looked at my confused. She told me I didn't have a reservation. I pulled out my itinerary and handed it to her. I knew I had the right hostel. She typed a few things in the computer again and looked up with a frown. "I'm sorry, your check in is August 2nd." I looked at my phone, and it read August 2nd. I was confused. She replied "You are checking in August 2nd, which is today but not until 2pm, its 3:45am." At this point, how could I do anything but laugh? I have been traveling across the world to arrive to a hostel where I don't even have a bed. It didn't even cross my mind to think that when my flight arrival was at 1am that I would need to book August 1st. She apologized and told me unfortunately they did not have any availability until 2pm later today but I was more than welcome to use the computers or hang out in the lobby. I shook my head and spun around to join all the other drunken people in the lobby. If I don't have a room, the least I can do is make some new friends.
I sat down and introduced myself to the group. They were from all over the world, Germany, U.K, Ireland and Australia. The guy I sat down next to asked where I was from and I told him California. He asked what part and when I said San Diego, his mouth dropped. His name was David and he was from PB. I go all the way to Thailand and I meet someone in my very own city. He asked about my flight and I filled him in on the events that led me to the hostel. He laughed and told me that I had a great attitude and as long as you can laugh when things go wrong in traveling, you'll have an amazing trip. We all ordered food and talked for a long time. The group decided that we would be going to The Grand Palace tomorrow and asked if I wanted to join. I told them I would have to go to the market to buy clothes in the morning but to count me in. All I had was my carryon bag and a toothbrush. David told me that he had paid for a single room so I could use the top bunk since I was homeless.
So here I am in Bangkok safe and sound. I cannot believe I have finally arrived- bag less maybe, but now at least with a bed and a few new friends.