Bangkok to Sydney... via Wellington and London

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November 10th 2006
Published: August 7th 2007
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After a few lazy days spent trying to increase my freckle coverage (which is about as close as I get to a tan) on the beach at Koh Samet, I headed up to Bangkok for a mad day of shopping - well, I had a few more kg of baggage allowance to use up ;0). With Helen arriving that afternoon fresh from her Cambodia/Laos trip, the rest of the night was lost catching up on the last few weeks of gossip, interspersed with some food, beers and a bit more shopping! Next morning saw us up early and on a flight to Koh Samui - we hadn't organised any accommodation so made the most of the airport bus we booked when we got there, getting the driver to take us to a few places before we made our minds up. OK so it wasn't quite that unplanned... we'd already decided to stay somewhere on the north coast before we arrived and ended up having a few nights at quieter Mae Nam beach before moving on to Bo Phut. We did venture out a couple of times to Chaweng, a bigger resort town on the east coast, to shop and watch some Thai Boxing but to be honest our biggest activity was snoozing on the beach and our toughest decision - whether to go for that swim now or later. Very hard life ;0) We'd opted for Koh Samui because you can fly there straight from Bangkok and I only had four days before I left for Wellington - if we'd had more time it wouldn't have been our choice and I don't think we were taken with it enough to go back - the parts we saw were very developed and I dread to think how busy it is in peak season - but as somewhere easy to escape to in the few days that we had it was exactly what we needed. And for me, having spent most of the last 6 months travelling on my own, ending this part of my trip with a mate chilling out on a beach was perfect!

Unfortunately the time came for me to go, so leaving Helen behind with a hard day of sun bathing ahead of her I was up by 6am and in an all to familiar position - standing on the roadside with my bags, desperately hoping a taxi would pass... one day I'll learn to book ahead :0) I left that morning with mixed feelings - sadness that this part of my trip was over, excitement about what was to come and completely chilled out from a week of beach life..... several nervous breakdowns and a lot of swearing later I arrived in Wellington feeling stressed and in need of a drink! Finding that taxi proved to be the easy part of my journey, the trail of bad luck starting when my Bangkok flight was delayed. No worries, loads of time I thought, as I spent my last few baht on breakfast and settled down with my book..... except it got later and later, the plane was delayed again and again and I realised I was in serious danger of missing my connection to Singapore. Feeling rather relieved when we finally took off and hearing the airline provided transfers for passengers with connecting flights I was hopeful I might actually make it! Ha ha. The comedy continued when I arrived at Bangkoks Don Muang airport to be transferred to the wrong terminal, the airline rep realising the error and rushing over to herd me back onto the bus just as I was about to enter the building. Another terminal later and I was packed off to check in at row 'X'. As I approached I saw row 'X' was strangely quiet compared to the mayhem of the surrounding check in areas.... in fact it was completely deserted.... except it seemed for a piece of A4 paper stuck to the end of the row with the words 'All flights now depart from Suvarnabhumi Airport airport'. That was it??? A pink highlighter and some sticky tape??! With just over an hour till my Singapore flight left I queue jumped at the information desk to ask how one gets to Suvarnabhumi (a small minor detail that wasn't on the A4 piece of paper).... great news, there's a bus, bad news it takes over an hour to get there. With that nasty sinking sick feeling creeping over me I needed to make a snap decision (never something I've been good at)... either head for Suvarnabhumi and hope that a miracle happened or ditch that flight, get the credit card out and try another airline, all of whom it seemed were still going from Don Muang. I decided to pray for the miracle. God wasn't quite listening at that point because none of the airport staff seemed to know where the blimmin bus went from.... or even that there was one.... 5 people later I found the bus and hopped on seconds before it left. I now had my only piece of luck, for today was the day of the military coup and the streets were empty... which meant the normally 60min plus journey took about 40mins!

I fairly threw myself off the bus when we reached Suvarnabhumi, rushing into the terminal only to be stopped by two security guards with a dog. 'Take you bags off please and put them on the floor'... arghhhhhh. I opted for plan B, leaning over as far as I could to wave my rucksack in the dogs face... the guards fell around laughing at that point but got the idea and let me hurry on through. The terminal building was empty, the new shiny polished floor playing havoc with my balance as I ran/slid across in my flip flops, bags flying everywhere, desperately trying to find my check in desk. Fortunately few flights were leaving from here and several security guards stopped, said 'Singapore?', and waved me over to the right row as I skidded past them. I finally reached check in @25 mins before departure. The check in lady smiled at me, I started to launch into my 'no one told me the airport change, no information at the other one, no one knew where to get the bus' rant in a bid to try and get myself on the next flight or swapped to another airline or...... and she smiled again - 'passport please'...... I guess there'd been a few irate passengers pass through and they'd decided it was easier to let people check in late, plus empty planes probably don't look to good!

So finally it was bye bye Bangkok, hello Singapore - altogether a much less stressful experience... some food, a bit of duty free shopping and a flight that left on time. I wish I could say my welcome to New Zealand was the same - I love the country and had an amazing year living there but the attitude/incompetence of the Auckland customs staff was almost enough to make me think again.... I'll come back but it won't be through Auckland! It all started well enough - stamp, stamp on the passport as I passed through passport control - that part was easy. The customs guy didn't like the look of me though, sending me off to the 'Goods to Declare' queue even though I'd marked my form 'nothing to declare'. Once I got chatting to others in the queue I didn't feel quite so picked on..... it seemed none of us had anything to declare and we were all in the same very slowww boat. We watched on as a surplus of customs staff milled around, chatted, drunk coffee, wondered round some more.... but actually process any of the 25 odd people now standing in the queue?? After an hour, during which maybe 5 people had been taken out of the queue to be processed, I started to get a nasty feeling of deja vu, realising I was now in danger of missing my Wellington flight. I tried to explain this to one of the loitering customs guys... 'you need to contact your airline' he said, 'where can I call them from?' I said.... 'you can't' he said. Helpful.

Some 45 mins later I was called over to have my bags searched. We got off to a bad start when the guy didn't understand why I couldn't produce boarding cards for every flight I'd taken in the last 6 months. Huh? Then he wanted to see my round the world ticket itinerary. I tried to explain, ohh a good 5 times, that a round the world ticket didn't suit my plans so I was travelling on singles and returns instead but he just didn't get it. But where is your itinerary? Why do you not have a round the world ticket?? Arghhhh. So we went through every one of my visa stamps to check the dates matched up.....that's a lot of stamps. Then he decided to wave what looked like a bit of paper over my bags.. I knew from my 1hr 45mins watching from the queue that this was to test for explosives but he didn't bother to tell me that. Next he was flicking through my passport again. After a quick deviation back to 'Where is your round the world ticket? it was 'You worked here? Where did you work, what did you do?' He then disappears off for 30 mins without a word, comes back and hands me a telephone. No explanation, just gives it to me.' Who is this?' I say. 'The customer contact centre at BNZ' a lady replies. I couldn't believe it - he'd not only called the place I used to work he expected them to freely give out former employee information!!! Sure enough she went on to explain that she'd had some guy call her claiming to be from customs and asking about my employment history and that she'd told him she couldn't give that information out to someone she couldn't verify. She offered to put me through to anyone that could vouch for me, but it being 1pm everyone we tried was away from their desk. Well he didn't like that at all, why there was no-one there who could vouch for me?? 'It's lunchtime' I said. 'Hmph' he said. Next he asked for the details of my Sydney flight and headed off to call Qantas to confirm I was on their Tuesday flight. I have no idea if they gave him that information... by that point I was long past caring - after 3 hours stuck in customs I really was getting rather peeved. Finally though some sanity prevailed!!! A supervisor who had just started his shift came by to discuss my case with the boozo who was processing me. 'Does she have any drugs?' he said 'No' said the boozo. 'Does she have any explosives?' he said 'No' said boozo. 'Does she have any undeclared goods?' he said 'No'. 'So why is she still here?' he said. Hurrah I said!

I reached the Air NZ desk at the domestic terminal slightly stressed and, given my luck so far, fully expecting to be told I'd have to buy another ticket to Wellington and that the next availability wasn't till the evening. Fortunately the guy was a real sweetie - I explained my customs nightmare and his response... there's a plane leaving in 25 mins, I can put you on it. Arriving in Welly I headed straight to Megan E's (who was putting me up on her sofa bed) with just enough time for a quick cuppa and a well needed shower and change of clothes before going out for Bruce's leaving drinks (who was heading off to London) - a chance to try out a few new bars and have a well earned glass of vino! The next few days continued pretty much along that theme - catching up with friends and six months of gossip over food and drinks. Friday night saw me out in a bar on Cuba Street with Megan B and Liz from work, with the rest of the usual suspects turning up later. Saturday night, more drinks with Helen who'd arrived back from Thailand. Sunday....;0) Monday was my last day in town and after a morning of packing (v organised for me) I had lunch with Christine, Megan B and Liz from BNZ and squeezed in some shopping before heading home for a final book club (I don't think we ever really read any books...) with all the girls round at Megan E's... it was great to have my last night in Welly doing our traditional thing - wine, cheese and lots of gossip! Tuesday morning saw one last early start as Megan E dropped me off at the airport for my 6.30am flight to Sydney. A few hours later having breezed through Sydney customs I dashed into town to meet Pam (a friend from Welly who's now living in Sydney) for lunch before heading back to the airport for my afternoon flight to London.

Three weeks at home fairly whizzed by and I soon found myself back on a plane to Sydney, all ready to start my year living and working in Australia. I just had time to squeeze in one last holiday though.... Megan E was in Australia on a work trip and had a week off and.... well, it would have been rude to leave her on her own ;0) I arrived in town on the Friday evening too tired to do the straight out for drinks thing again, but we made up for it the next night when we met up with Pam and ended up doing a mini bar crawl around the Rocks area. The next few days were devoted to shopping, talking 3 zillion photo's of the Opera House views, meeting my friend Gemma who was over on holiday from London (I'll see you on the steps of the Opera house at 2pm sounds so much better than meet you at the tube station;0)) and having lunch at Jo's (a friend of Megans) who has the most amazing views from her lounge - out over the harbour to the Opera house and down to the bridge a few doors along... v jealous! Both Megan and I had been to Sydney before though so after a few days in the city we hired a car and headed off on a mini road trip!! Our first stop was Palm Beach where Home and Away is filmed. They weren't filming that day so we didn't get to try and sneak on as extras :0( Instead we took the obligatory photo's of the Surf Club and lighthouse then sat on the beach with a coffee and breakfast just taking in the view... the sun was shining and the beach empty apart from one other family - it felt great to be away from the city again.

Back in the car we made our way to the Hunter valley, where I was surprised by how few vineyards we saw from the road - signposts to them yes but not the rows and rows of vines we're used to seeing from driving round the Martinborough or Marlborough regions in NZ. Whilst the Hunter is perhaps the most well known wine region in the area it's not actually the biggest producer - rather its proximity to Sydney and tourist infrastructure have enhanced its reputation compared to other nearby, bigger producing but less known regions. Both being big wine fans we were keen to do some wine tasting and, coming up from Sydney, the obvious choice initially seemed to be the Hunter. All the locals we'd spoken to though had recommended a place called Mudgee instead. So after a quick lunch it was back in the car for the drive to Mudgee... the drive was interesting not least because we didn't have a proper map, rather 3 free maps from tourist magazines that didn't quite match up so that for the last hour or so we were driving completely 'off map'.... in the middle of nowhere with only the odd signpost saying the next town was in +100km. Perhaps buying a map would have been a good plan ;0) Finally we arrived and ended up checking in to the pub... there were lots of motels in town but the pub was lovely and we spent the evening sitting on our balcony and relaxing with a nice glass of.... cold beer. Now that's something new I've discovered in Australia.... the concept of a drive through bottle shop! You just drive on in, collect your beer and drive on out again. Mad.

The next day we'd booked ourselves on a half day tour and spent the day being chauffeured round to different vineyards, tasting wine and eating cheese and biscuits. Heaven! Megan and I possibly gave the impression of being minor alcoholic's..... approaching one particular vineyard we were told that they had 23 wines to taste... we managed 19 of them.... perhaps with hindsight that wasn't quite the idea!!! ;0) Needless to say we bought a few bottles for tasting later though! As we drove back into town the driver was a real sweetie - pointing out places to eat and advising us not to go to a certain pub because it was 'rough'.... by Mudgee standards I think because when I ended up there later it seemed quite nice!

That night saw us out on the town in Mudgee..... well, at least in the bar of the pub we were staying at. As well as being a wine producing area this is also a mining region and, having just finished a large job, the guys from the local mine were all out celebrating with rather a lot of beer.... they were easily spotted by their matching orange jackets with their names stitched on. It wasn't quite the evening spent sipping wine with a cute vineyard owner I'd imagined but it was a v funny night and the miners seemed to like having us out drinking with them... ;0) The pub owner won the pool competition that was going on and put the winnings behind the bar.... so a few free rounds of beers, shots and tequila's later and oh dear. All was going really well until Megan and I went different ways - Megan to bed at around midnight and me to another pub with the miners. We only had one key so Megan was going to leave the outside door open so I could get in later. A perfect plan... except someone else then shut the door! No worries I thought when I arrived home at around 2am to find myself locked out, I'll call her on my moby. Except my moby was in the hotel room where I'd left it charging. So there's little old me standing out on the street, my aim not being its best given the beer and vino, throwing stones up at the window and desperately hoping she hadn't meant it when she'd said she could sleep through anything. I had a plan B, albeit perhaps not a v good one, that involved me climbing over the roof and down onto the balcony... it seemed like a good idea at the time but I think that last tequila may have affected my agility....

The next day saw us driving down to the Blue Mountains (via one last vineyard stop) where the plan was to burn off some of the vino we'd consumed with a few walks. We checked into a hostel in Katoomba and headed straight out to see the nearby Three Sisters... easily the most photographed sight in the Blue Mountains, these three huge pinnacles jut out from Echo Point. We'd stopped off at one of the tourist info places on the way through and the lady there had recommended taking the Furber Steps down through the rain forest for views of the Katoomba falls, across to the Three Sisters and out over the surrounding Jamison valley. The views were amazing and the walk down an easy one... we had a couple of options for getting back to the top though - walk, or take the train..and well, it was getting late so.... Back at the top we still had some daylight left so headed off for a cliff top walk. We were on our way back when we met a guy who asked where we were off to.... it sounded a bit dodgy initially but it turned out he was a camera man filming a promo video for the cable car and they were looking for people to star in the film... OK so they needed bodies to stand in the cable car and look like passengers. They'd rounded up some locals but wanted a few extra bodies - I'd love to say they chose us but the truth is by that time there really weren't that other many people around ;0) But we did get a free ride on the cable car!! Looking through the see-through floor of the cable car to the forest below as we slowly moved across the pulley system was a little unnerving to begin with but the views of the Jamison valley were fantastic.

The next day was our 'big walk'... the 5km Grand Canyon track. OK so not a long distance but there was a steep climb at the end! We parked the car at Evans Lookout and followed the track from the cliff top down to into the valley below, the vegetation noticeably changing from drier climate plants to rainforest as we descended. We spent the next few hours walking through the canyon, cliff faces towering above us, past waterfalls, ferns, moss covered rocks and bright red blooming Waratah's (the floral emblem of New South Wales) before finally starting the climb back up to Govetts Leap lookout with its amazing views over the Grosse Valley. The perfect spot for lunch!

Back in Sydney, with just minutes to go before we had to drop our hire car off, we discovered that the centre of the city is a bit light on petrol stations. I wouldn't mind but we'd passed heaps on the road into town! Several stops to ask some locals later we finally found one, topped up and raced back to the car hire place, half expecting to find the door being shut in our face. Fortunately not! The next morning we were up early again for one last day of shopping, starting at the Saturday morning market in Paddington which is packed full arty gifts and clothes type stalls.... most of which were out of my price range :0( Sunday was Megans last day, but we just managed to squeeze in a walk through the botanical gardens and a beer in the sun by the Opera house before she left me on my ownsome again :0(

Next up.......... too much partying and crashing back to the real world - getting a job, finding a flat and living in Sydney.

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