I was advised that travelling doesn’t really go to plan. So far, for me, it had gone very smoothly.

But when I left Hong Kong for Thailand, it wasn’t the smoothest transition I had imagined. I learned plenty from it though.

I can’t recall exactly how, but a couple of months ago I found out that when flying into Thailand, my airline could check that I have proof of onward travel booked to prove that I won’t do a runner in Thailand. For most tourists who fly in and out for a one or two week holiday, it’s not a problem. You have the return plane ticket. My plans, however, were to fly into Bangkok, but ultimately leave by land (bus) at the Thailand/Laos border. You can’t buy a ticket for these buses online, which means there’s a bit of a problem.

I posed the question to the ever knowledgable Lonely Planet forum and the advice I got back was that it’s pretty rare that the airline will even ask or check. The takeaway was something along the lines of “it’s not happened to me, but I know this person I met in a hostel once and it happened to them”. To be on the safe side, I emailed Hong Kong Airlines and asked them. Thankfully I got a response saying that I’ll just need my passport and my visa. With British citizens being exempt from visas in Bangkok, I figured this would be enough proof should it be called upon.

When I arrived at the airport check-in terminal, lo and behold I was asked for proof of onward travel. I explained my story and showed the attendant my iPhone with the email from HK Airlines. I had to (nicely) argue my point and use the dated Vietnam visa I had further proof that I’d be going somewhere else within the 30 days. She then asked for my visa. “I don’t need a visa” I explained. Not convinced, she ran off with my passport and my iPhone to check with the management. Thankfully she returned with both and waved a form in front of me.

“Release of Indemnity” – basically a form stating that they’ll let me take my flight, but if the Thai immigration decline me entry, they’re not responsible for returning me to Hong Kong. I signed it and hoped for the best. A copy of this piece of paper was taped to my boarding pass and haunted me at every check point. I had to explain the story every time.

Thankfully, on arriving in Bangkok, immigration didn’t question my entry or ask for onward travel.

 

Once through with Bangkok airport, I had planned to get the train into the city and buy an overnight train ticket for the following day to Chiang Mai, before finding my hostel for the night. I had planned to go to the end of the line airport train line and get a taxi to Hua Lamphong station. After one look at the traffic, I realised a taxi was a no go in Bangkok. 3 trains later I arrived at Hua Lamphong and headed to the counter to buy my ticket.

I had asked the Lonely Planet forum a while ago of the likelihood of getting a ticket for a train on the day. The summary response was “if it’s not a weekend or a holiday it’s almost certain to get one”. So I thought there wouldn’t be a problem trying to get one for the following day that isn’t a weekend.

Sadly, there were no tickets for the train I wanted on ANY class. I asked about the next day too. The same. All I could get was a train that would take 3 hours longer, stop loads more times on the way, I’d be 16 hours in a cabin without air conditioning and arrive at 4am in Chiang Mai. Probing some more as to why there are no tickets, I found out there were around 50 still left for today. In fact, the advice I got back was to come back to the station at 10am when loads of people change their tickets and more come up available. I took the slow train ticket as “insurance” and decided to come back the following day.

[forward wind to the following day as I write this and more tickets DID come up so I changed to the right train]

 

From Hua Lamphong station, I took a cab to the hostel. Usual story, I had to ask the driver to put the meter on, so immediately I had little trust. The guy didn’t know the hostel, so I named a couple of streets close by and used my CityMaps2Go (offline maps) on my phone to make sure we were actually going in the right direction. When the driver stopped the cab, the meter said 62 and I gave him a 100 note. He looked strangely at it and said “no change”. Although I’d have probably have tipped him the rest anyway, I didn’t like the fact he was trying to fleece me. I had 70 in change and gave him that instead.

After dumping my bag, at the hostel I went to grab food from a restaurant nearby. Being hungry I ordered two mains and gobbled them down. I was thinking to myself, how I probably looked like a hungry traveller who’d eat as much as they could and do a runner. When it came to paying for the bill, I gave two 100 notes. After a funny look and enlightening me with the fact these weren’t Thai Baht notes, but rather Cambodian Riel, equivalent to 20 pence. I had pulled these notes out from my main stash in my bag without checking what they actually were.

I realised these were the notes I had tried to give to the taxi driver before – he was trying to tell me the notes weren’t Thai Baht too, but I was so focused on him trying to fleece me, I completely missed what he was telling me. Unfortunately I didn’t have any more notes in my pocket, so I gave the restaurant all the coins I had and explained that I would run back and get some. They were so trusting and didn’t look concerned at all. As I ran out, I realised I had literally become that hungry traveller doing a runner. I returned with the right currency and left a tip for being idiot.

 

Lessons learned:

  • Sometimes you can’t prepare for bumps on the road as you travel. Just try to take them in your stride. It will probably be fine.
  • Don’t let people trying to fleece you take too much of your focus. Side step it and move on else it can cloud your judgement of more important things.
  • Take time to familiarise yourself with the currency of a new country.