Hard Landing

06 Apr 2009

We're coming in too fast. The thunderstorms are over, but the air around Sydney airport is still turbulent, and we're bounced around as we head for the runway. We hit it with a BANG, and Lyn lets out the short scream of real panic. We speed down the tarmac, the little 737 taking longer to stop than the massive superjumbo that flew us to Adelaide.

The cabin crew are tight-lipped as they farewell us from the plane, and we're more than a little shaken.But an hour later we board, again, for a long-haul flight to Bangkok with a talkative English flight crew, free champagne and a gentle landing.

In Bangkok things turn nasty. This is our third trip to Thailand, and we've gone from overprepared to dangerously complacent. We have a transit hotel booked for the 11pm-6am layover, but I have only the name and address, not a direct phone number or a map. My phone is nearly out of credit. I don't have much cash. And we're tired.

Bangkok Grand Residence Hotel staff are meant to meet us at the airport, but they don't. Rather than waste time calling them, I opt to jump in a taxi and head out there.

Bad move. Navigation doesn't work in Bangkok. We tear confidently out of the airport, but ten minutes later our driver is asking 'You know?', looking for a hotel sign without slowing down. I read him the address and we pull a fast u-turn.

I'm starting to think about all the backup plans we don't have. On the back of a month without enough sleep and seventeen hours in the pipe, I'm too tired to think straight; Lyn and I are still getting along only because we now make allowance for exhaustion.

Half an hour. I run my phone to empty waiting on hold. Our driver uses his, waits, and eventually gets a direct hotel number from the booking agency. No one answers. We do another lap of the road. I show the driver the printed address in case I'm pronouncing it wrong, but he's too longsighted to read anything in the dim light. He doesn't want my glasses.

One hour. We pull over and ask a couple of motos. They don't know either. On Lyn's direction, we swing back down the airport road to find the Bangkok Great Residence Hotel. Not us, and they don't know where ours is.

Back down the road, and we call in at the Bangkok Grand Pinnacle Hotel. The sympathetic receptionist gives us detailed directions in English and Thai. With a cheeky smile, she adds a business card for next time.

Fifteen minutes later we find the hotel, buried down the end of a side street we looked at an hour earlier. It's deserted and locked. The only right move I made all night was to keep the taxi for long enough to find this out.

It's only four hours until check-in opens for our flight, and we're thinking about heading back to the airport, but our driver mentions that he knows a place nearby for not much more money. Normally this would be asking for trouble - in fact, that's why I hadn't asked him earlier. But his choice is honest, and we're checked in within minutes.

I give the driver 500 baht, or about the price of a roundtrip airport transfer to anywhere in Bangkok. He's earned it. If we'd done this in Vietnam, or Cambodia, we'd have been in real trouble.

Four hours later we're back at the airport for an easy flight to Samui, and this time our driver meets us. We check in and crash out. We've made it, but we've come down hard.