Notes from plane seats and the odd airport lounge part ii / Back in summery Tasmania

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January 29th 2020
Published: August 19th 2020
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Having checked out of our Vientiane hotel (Family Boutique Hotel) in the mid-afternoon, we shared a light lunch just around the corner at Makphet, the same place we’d lunched the previous day. We were quite taken with the place, as it is a vocational training restaurant for young Laotians, and it is achieving life-changing results.

We walked back to the hotel and settled in the lobby for an hour or so, then jumped into a taxi and headed to Wattay International Airport at 6pm. We were leaving Laos.

Free face-masks were being handed out by officials at the airport in a half-hearted attempt to protect against the rampant coronavirus that had flared in China in early January. However, the masks really only offered a placebo-induced peace of mind. We were certainly not fully protected, and my continual need to adjust the flimsy mask with my hands was probably putting me more at risk of infection than if I didn’t have the mask on in the first place.

Anyway, we wore the masks! We checked in and made our way to the international departure lounge, exhausting our last remaining Lao currency on a small bottle of elephant balm from a tiny souvenir stall on the way. We boarded our flight around 8:15pm, and within minutes of lifting off Lao soil we crossed the Mekong and entered Thai airspace.

Our flight to Bangkok was short – a mere 55 minutes – but the cabin crew still managed to serve us a delicious pad thai with shrimps and a glass of red. We landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport around 9:30pm, clambered onto a bus waiting on the tarmac and headed to the sprawling terminal. Once inside we walked for quite a distance until we arrived at Gate C1, sampling a few duty free colognes along the way. We settled outside the gate at 10:15pm, with just under two hours until we boarded our nine hour flight to Melbourne. We were still wearing our flimsy face masks from Vientiane, only removing them to eat and drink.

The gate opened at 11:15pm, and after breezing through another bag inspection we walked straight onto the tarmac and boarded a bus. When the bus was full with tired and grumpy passengers, we sped off across the tarmac towards our plane, which was quite a distance from the terminal. After being kept on the bus for about 10 minutes, the doors were finally opened. We rushed across the tarmac and boarded the plane via a set of stairs, and we were in our seats by 11:45pm.

We sped down the runaway a little after midnight, and it was a good feeling to be on our way home. Dinner was served relatively quickly, and we enjoyed a tasty spicy chicken with rice and a fried egg. After a few glasses of red I was asleep, and I slept for most of the flight. Sleeping on planes is rare for me, as I typically use the time to catch up on my writing. However, I didn’t even get the laptop out of my bag, let alone turn it on! I even tried to listen to music for a while, but not even music could keep me awake. I did manage to watch a movie during the dinner service. An elderly woman sitting in front of me was watching 4x4, an Argentine-Spanish crime thriller, and I managed to watch enough grabs of the movie through the gap in the seat to get a general sense of the plot. It was an interesting movie – filmed almost entirely inside a stationary four wheel drive.

About an hour out from Melbourne we were served a very ordinary breakfast. It was the most synthetic omelette, hash brown and sausage I’ve ever seen or tasted. Luckily there was a warm croissant and a small tub of yoghurt that were okay to eat.

We touched down at Melbourne Airport at 1pm. Relief turned to panic when an announcement over the intercom system informed us to not leave our seats, as there had been a ‘medical incident’ during the flight, and that a passenger had to be assessed by border security staff before anyone could be released from the aircraft. A silent gasp went through the plane. The coronavirus had been all through the news, and we were wearing our flimsy face masks as protection, but we didn’t expect a woman sitting five rows behind us to be a potential carrier! With an incubation period of between two and three weeks, we were a little worried. And I’m sure she was too!

As she was being checked, an old Asian man sitting nearby started taking photos/video of the whole process on his phone. The flight attendant had to ask him to stop. In a world of live news and media immediacy, privacy has gone out the window.

Luckily she was given the all-clear by border security staff, so we were allowed to disembark. Phew! The ePassport system at Melbourne Airport is fantastic – we literally breezed through customs, and our packs were some of the first on the baggage carrousel. We had marked on our declaration card that we’d been walking near rivers and agricultural areas, but the customs officer did not think we posed a risk. He asked us if we had washed our shoes, and when we said yes, he waved us through.

We checked into our 4pm flight to Hobart, then headed straight to McDonald’s in the domestic terminal for our favourite airport breakfast – a Sausage & Egg McMuffin. My body clock was convinced it was morning (as Vientiane and Bangkok are four hours behind Melbourne), but my mind knew it was early afternoon. Luckily McDonald’s was offering an all-day breakfast. 😊

We settled at our gate lounge at 2:30pm, and we were exhausted. We were also conspicuous, as I was the only non-Asian in the entire domestic terminal wearing a face mask. We boarded our flight to Hobart a little before 4pm and discovered we were flying into a heatwave – it was 40 degrees in Hobart, and a total fire ban was in place!

As we approached Hobart Airport, it was clear the cross winds were pretty strong, because the plane was jolting all over the place. We landed at 5:30pm, collected our packs, loaded them into a trailer attached to a shuttle bus and made the short trip to our car (which we’d left at a very handy undercover security parking area just outside the airport). We collected some bread and milk from a nearby servo and headed home.

In terms of door-to-door travel (i.e. the time taken from leaving our hotel in Vientiane to driving through the gate at home), we had been on the go for just over 20 hours! We desperately needed a shower, but we had to wait four hours until our hot water cylinder had heated enough water for two showers. We unpacked as best we could and generally tidied up around the house, then fell into the shower. It was great to feel human again. Ren went to bed soon afterwards, but I was wide awake, so I stayed up until just after midnight reading Norman Lewis’ A Dragon Apparent – Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

We collected Jasper and Oliver (the dogs) at 9am the next day, then drove into Hobart to pick up Mia (the cat). After a quick grocery shop we headed home, picking up my mountain bike on the way (I'd dropped it in for a service a few days before leaving on this trip). It was great to have everyone together again.

We’d checked out of our Vientiane hotel room at 1:30pm and had been hanging around since having our lovely late lunch at Makphet Restaurant. We got bored of sitting in the hotel lobby, so we left for the airport 45 minutes earlier than intended. We ordered a hotel taxi for the set price of 80,000 kip, and were at the airport in 15 hassle-free minutes.

We’d been reading all the news reports about the coronavirus taking hold in China and how it was spreading into other countries quite rapidly. We were slightly nervous about being in the confined spaces of airports and planes at this time, but we didn’t really have a choice.

We knew the Wattay International Airport was small, but we hadn’t expected it to be so tiny! Our check-in counter hadn’t opened, so being in full people-avoidance-mode, we walked to the least populated lounge. On the way we noticed airport staff handing out free face masks, which we gladly accepted. The coronavirus had scared many of the Southeast Asian counties, as they get many Chinese nationals visiting, and if the epidemic were to hit any of these counties, I don’t know that their hospitals would be able to cope.

The last time I'd checked, Australia had five confirmed cases of coronavirus, and they were all people who had travelled from affected provinces in China. None of their fellow plane passengers seemed to have been affected, so I’m not quite sure what the incubation period and /or infectious period of the virus is. In light of the fact that airlines are never going to refuse fares and impose restrictions on passengers, all we could do was cross our fingers and hope that we don’t have anyone travelling from the affected areas on our flights.

After saying a final goodbye to Dave, we checked-in and went through immigration and security within minutes. If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you’ll know that Andrew plays this game with himself where he tries to get the local currency down to 0 before we depart… Well we had 38,000 kip left, and given our 2020 rule of only buying things we love or need – our choices of things from the souvenir shops in the departure lounge was quite limited – until I spotted a local balm that I loved the smell of.

My Mum has long been a fan of balms… my childhood memories of being sick involves being smothered in Vicks and being bundled into bed with my sippy cup full of hot Horlicks. Mum later started using a Sri Lankan ayurvedic balm and successfully passed that addiction to me (and recently to Andrew too). I have since expanded my collection of balms to include herbal ones from countries we visit… and so far have various balms from Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, India and now Laos. My favourite of the lot is a nutmeg balm from Penang, Malaysia.

We eventually made our way to the hot and sticky gate lounge where we waited until our flight was called. Our Thai Air flight to Bangkok was only 55 minutes, but they managed to serve us a hot meal of pad thai with shrimp, and a delicious almond brownie. They also squeezed in an alcohol and hot drinks service. I was extremely impressed with the food and the service.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport was busy as usual, but we had ample time to wander through the transfer desk to our gate. Also as usual, there were very few seats available while we waited for our holding lounge to be opened. Why is it so hard to provide enough seating in such large and busy airports? Although if I’m being honest, I preferred to stand and not have my face inches away from the potentially germy people sitting around me.

We had to catch a shuttle bus for quite a distance to get to our medium haul Thai Air plane. We were on the first bus, and the plane took ages to fill with waves of people coming on with each subsequent bus. It didn’t feel like we’d leave on time, and we didn’t. By the time all four buses came out, it was already late, and then the pilot started taxiing before everyone was fully seated!

As with the short flight we’d just had from Vientiane, the Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Melbourne was very good and the service was very efficient. It was a huge improvement from the Thai Air flights we’d caught on the way over.

I meant to do some writing for a bit of the 8.5 hour flight, but I fell asleep just after dinner and slept for most of the flight! The dinner was jasmine rice with a fried egg, and spicy chicken and basil stir-fry. I loved the meal, but then had a slightly dodgy tummy for a few hours which didn’t allow me to sleep as deeply as I normally do on flights.

I was still feeling slightly sick when they served breakfast, and I only managed the small croissant and a black tea. However, by the time we landed at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport and breezed through immigration and customs, we were feeling peckish again. It was afternoon in Australia, but our brains were telling us it was breakfast time. We had our usual airport breakfast meal (Sausage & Egg McMuffins), then parked ourselves at the gate lounge and waited for our flight to Hobart.

We'd worn our face masks for the entire journey from Vientiane (except when moving through security, and to eat and drink), and I’m very glad we did. When we landed in Melbourne we had to remain seated while border officers boarded the plane and checked out a sick woman sitting about five rows behind us! However, nothing seemed to come of it, so we were allowed to disembark shortly afterwards. It was a daunting thought that we could have been asked to go into quarantine in Melbourne for a while!

We finally removed the masks when we entered the domestic airport. It had been very uncomfortable to wear a mask for that length of time, and it was a relief to get it off. I’m not sure how effective the masks would be at stopping the virus, and I was concerned that it made me touch my face (whenever I had to move the mask) far more than I normally would. However, we were prepared to take every precaution possible to minimise the risk to us and others. We were also washing our hands obsessively whenever we saw a bathroom, and our hand sanitisers were also getting a vigorous workout… my hands were starting to get dry and scaly and looked like they belonged to Mr Montgomery Burns!

On finally boarding our Virgin flight to Hobart, we both promptly fell asleep for the whole one hour flight. We got sniffed by the biosecurity beagle (who we always look forward to seeing), picked up our backpacks and were driven to the long term car park to pick up our car.

We were home by 6pm, and were seriously glad to be home – but the furry ones weren’t home yet and it was really weird driving through our gates and not having two excited kelpies wagging their tails in greeting.

All things considered, it had been a fairly smooth journey back home, but we were extremely exhausted. More exhausted than we normally are when we fly home from Asia. The fact that we barely took any photos, and ones we did take are quite lack lustre is a sure sign of this fatigue. 😉

We still managed to clean the house and unpack, and even got the first load of washing done! I had a shower by 10pm and was out to it shortly afterwards.

We spent our first day back picking up Jasper and Oliver from the kennels, picking up Mia from the cattery, doing a grocer shop and trying to get back to the rhythm of home life on a 40 degree summer day. I needed a short nap to get through it, but I still managed to deal with the pile of mail, bills and 290 emails!

As always, we will gather our thoughts on our short trip and post an epilogue shortly. I’ve already got itchy feet and can’t wait to decide on a destination and plan our next trip in 2021! 😊


19th August 2020

Fur babies
Your three (or four) fur babies are gorgeous. They would've been super excited to see you back :-)
20th August 2020

Re: Fur babies
Nathaniel is our look luck charm at the Hobart airport :) Our three were very happy to see us, but as usual, had to deal with a hyperactive cat for a few days afterwards :)
19th August 2020

Home time
It is sad that I won't have anymore of these to read anymore :-( But Thank you muchly for the regular escapisms to S-E Asia. You guys sure do the the travel life well :-)
20th August 2020

Re: Home time
Thanks Josie. There's one more trip summary blog to post. It has been escapism for us too - the editing process and picking photos makes us re-live and enjoy the trip in the best possible way :)
19th August 2020

Good to be home
As much as anyone, I love to travel; but in the end, it's always good to be back home too. Love to see those happy little fur faces too -- Jaspar, Oliver & Mia!! Sorry to see your posts are almost over though as I really enjoyed them. So glad you two had a wonderful trip, safe flights home, and did not pick up the virus during your travels and flights!!
20th August 2020

Re: Good to be home
We were extremely relieved that nothing came of that woman's check-up and that we got home in one piece. I really can't imagine how people thought it was ok to keep travelling for months after this... if governments had acted decisively and travel restrictions had been put in place in February or even March, we'd be living in a very different world right now. I totally agree with you - we are truly addicted to travel, but also love that coming home feeling... especially when you know those furry faces are waiting to see you! :) We have one more post for this trip but I wanted to say thanks for following our trip and for your lovely comments Sylvia x
22nd August 2020

The power of words
Even though you're clearly alive and well I was sitting in that plane and worried for you! Goes to show how much work could have been done with our borders since back there in Jan. Never mind, we can only take care of right here and now. Welcome home.
24th August 2020

Re: The power of words
Thanks Brodie. Yes we really wish Government decisions had been more proactive rather than reactive (after the horse had semi-bolted), however we are grateful that Australia did finally make that difficult call to close our borders. We appreciate you worrying on our behalf :)
23rd August 2020

Home sweet home
You must have been happy to return when you did, and not having to change travel plans or curtail your trip.
24th August 2020

Re: Home sweet home
Hi Chris, yes we were extremely happy to return back home when we did. I would have been very uncomfortable and felt irresponsible travelling later on...especially if we had in any way contributed to spreading the virus! Thankfully it all worked out well :)
24th August 2020

Plane seats and the odd airport lounge ...
Hi Ren and Andrew, Like you, Andrew, I can also relate as, I too, use long-haul flights and hanging around airports killing time, to catch up on my notes and journal although, there have been times when I haven't even taken my laptop out either, let alone do anything with it in-flight, even though I normally don't sleep well on planes. I always think that, whilst it is lovely to be able to travel and see new and wonderful places ... it's always nice to come back home, too - there's no place like it .You must have been really relieved to get back home this time and, can certainly understand your fears whilst travelling. Hope you are both managing to stay COVID-safe, as we are here. Janxx
24th August 2020

Re: Plane seats and the odd airport lounge ...
Hi Jan. We were inexplicably tired on that flight... and given everything that was starting to happen around the world, it was nicer than normal to get back home. There really is no place like it! We are both well and very grateful for our freedom in Tassie (especially relative to all our friends and family in Melbourne). Hope you both are well too xx
29th August 2020

She's glad you are home.
30th August 2020

Re: Mia
She certainly was - as evidenced by the zoomies around the house and being very vocal! :)
29th August 2020

Enjoying home
Being on the road fulfills us in many ways. Arriving home to loving family is so comforting and what grounds us. Now you have time to plan all those future adventures. Where will this travel lust take you next?
30th August 2020

Re: Enjoying home
It certainly does Merry! We were thinking of Colombia for next year, but that has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. We've been very busy with work, so luckily haven't had much time to get sad about it. And we are very grateful that we can travel unrestricted within Tasmania (and hopefully eventually Australia) :)

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