Post 202: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The transit lounge of Abu Dhabi International Airport was awash with people; people coming, people going and people trapped by circumstances that were not of their own making. I was one of the lucky ones, a holder of a United Kingdom Passport, I could at least choose my next destination without worrying about visa issues. A group of contract workers returning to Thailand were also there, possibly thirty in number, … thirty people who simply because of their Nationality, could not leave the airport, could not re-route to any other destination, ….. simply caught in the ‘no mans land‘ of Abu Dhabi until normal service is resumed.
Information on the situation in Thailand was sketchy, the Air Etihad staff insisted that the airport closures were due to ’industrial action’, ……. ’normal services would resume in the very near future’. More flights were arriving and the airport transit lounges were beginning to resemble refugee camps. After 24 hours of inactivity and the BBC reporting further violence around the Bangkok Airports, it was clear that Etihad’s optimism was clearly unfounded, ….. it was time to make a move.
Overnight I’d found several fellow travellers in exactly the same predicament, all heading for different parts of Thailand and all keen to leave the dank surroundings of Abu Dhabi behind them. After a full day in a windowless transit lounge you soon decide that you can only take so much fun. We persuaded Air Etihad to transfer our onward flights from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur and from there we‘d make our own way North and into Thailand. At around 3am, eight of us were confirmed on the 10am flight with Air Emirates and whisked by fast car to Dubai International Airport. It wasn’t the airport that I remember from my days of travelling here, it was new and impressive, only twelve days in service and working like a dream. In fact, their services were so slick and streamlined that within five minutes of arrival they were able to confirm that Air Etihad had not in fact booked any of us onto it’s flight, ……. ’they knew nothing’ , ….. and to add insult to pending injury, the flight was already full. After a little smooth talking, a hint of blagging and the gentlest touch of bribery, all of us managed to board the flight, …. all happy to be moving again.
At around midnight we arrived at Kuala Lumpur and it soon became obvious that no flights to any Thai destination would be available until the main Bangkok Airports were opened and fully operational. Nobody knew when that would be and thousands of people were already on ’Stand By’ for the first available flights, …. it was another waiting game that none of us wanted to play. A kind taxi driver offered to take us to the border for the princely sum of $1,400, … we politely declined and instead boarded the express train to Kuala Lumpur’s main rail terminal for another uncomfortable night on floors and benches.
At 7am, we were informed that all trains heading North into Thailand were fully booked for the next 72 hours. We moved on, …. there was only one alternative left open to us. Our group had now grown to 14 plus one small child and together we raced across Kuala Lumpur. At the main bus terminal, we took the last 14 seats on the express coach to the city of Alastor someway south of the Malaysian/Thai border where we were promised a connection all of the way to Bangkok. As you‘ve probably guessed, …. there was no connection, it was a ‘dead-end terminus‘. However, within 10 minutes of arriving, a convoy of local taxi’s had been commandeered into driving us to the border and thankfully, like the Malaysian coaches and trains, … they were amazingly cheap.
We arrived at the Thai border around dusk, waved farewell to our respective drivers and crossed the border on foot. With everybody now safely inside Thailand, we found two mini-buses willing to drive us North to the town of Hat Yai from where we could take buses to our respective destinations. Things were beginning to come together and this time the promised coaches did actually exist. Tired and weary, no sleep or change of clothes for five days and nights, we said farewell to those folks heading towards Phuket and boarded the coach bound for Bangkok.
Five days and four countries later than planned, we’d Arrived in Bangkok. It was shortly after dawn, the enlarged group had reduced to just four, the original four members who had come together in Abu Dhabi, …. It hadn’t been planned that way, …. sometimes things just turn out that way. We headed for the sanctuary of a guest house off the lower end of Sukhumvit Road, …… and slept.