Travel Stories : some are of inspirational, magical moments, some of absolute fear, exhaustion, and challenge, but all are worth telling.
THIS IS THAT TIME I WAS STUCK IN BANGKOK SANS PASSPORT SANS VISA.
What happens when the one thing that is most valuable to you is suddenly gone and you’re left standing the middle of a bustling, foreign airport dumbfounded, in tears as you kiss your flight home g’bye. If you want to know keep reading, I was the lucky one experienced it.
Hit rewind to about 15 months earlier as I wished my family and friends farewell and headed to India with a one-way ticket. My plan was simple. Backpack through India, maybe spend time in SE Asia, and when my funds hit a dangerously low amount, head to Australia to find work. After five months of falling in love with India, I bought a cheap one-way flight to Melbourne, my home for the next six months.
I worked, played, drank [too much], explored and saved as much as I could in the pricey country. Before heading back to the States for a few weddings, I took off to Southeast Asia for a four month, island-hopping holiday. From Thailand to Malaysia, Bali to Taiwan, the Philippines to Cambodia, and making a full circle ending the last few weeks of my world tour in North Thailand with my mate, Ryan. We worked together in Melbs and he decided to meet me for my last 10 days in Asia. We bathed elephants, drove scooters through torrential downpours, swam in waterfalls, learned Thai cookery, and wrapped up the trip with a fabulous suite at the Marriott Hotel in Bangkok courtesy of my Aunt Kathie.
On our last night we explored the luxury side of the city for a few hours, but we ended up back in our suite drinking cheap beers, ordering room service, chatting about our travels. The next morning was rushed. Ryan chucked his belongings in his small backpack and took off for the airport. My flight wasn’t until 11pm, which gave me hours to shop, swim in the sky high pool, and repack my massive 60L backpack one last time.
(Me relaxing by the pool reminiscing of my amazing trip and looking forward to seeing my family and friends again. Silly me.)
I jumped on the Skytrain en route to BKK airport. Walking up to the check-in counter smiling like a fool, I reached in the inside pocket of my small pack aka where my passport lives to find an empty passport holder. I felt my stomach drop. I threw off my pack and dug through the bag while panic set in. No passport. Tears started falling down my face as I approached the airline employee “my passport’s gone,’ I managed to stutter out. The lovely lady told me I had 30 or so minutes before check-in closed, re-check my bags, call the hotel, try and find it, if not come back and we’ll sort something out.
In the middle of the massive hall, I emptied every last item out of my backpack. Deep down I knew it wasn’t there. I had just re-packed, re-organized everything I was carrying. I had no Wi-Fi, therefore I attempted to use the pay phone. I first called my mom and sobbed my way through a message about not boarding my flight. Next I called the hotel in case they magically found it. Every possible scenario went through my head. Could it have been stolen? When did I last see it? My mind raced at an unsettling speed. I wiped the tears away and reproached the airline clerk. She said I must go to the Thai Police station on the floor below for a police report of the incident to then bring it to my embassy. Then, god bless her, she booked me a flight two nights later at no extra cost and wished me well.
Defeated I made my way to airport police who said it may take up to a week for a new passport. I cried harder. I should have been mid-flight heading to San Fran to stand up in one of my best friend’s weddings, not sobbing in front of a bunch of Thai police who didn’t give two sh*ts. Since I couldn’t figure out what actually happened, I told them it must have been stolen in order to obtain the report. Somewhere in the middle this mess another tourist walked in. Hugo, from Mexico, had his wallet nipped on a bus which included his visa card for entry to the states. We buddied up for the night choosing to crash at the airport until the Skytrain started running again. I don’t think I slept more than an hour, constantly worrying about my situation and watching a crazed older man push a trolley up and down the terminal for hours. Around 6am, we peeled ourselves from the poorly carpeted floor and headed to the hotel. Still no passport. Hugo and I left for the US embassy in hopes of a better outcome. Through the metal detectors to wait in a plain, simple room for my name to be called. I told my sob story and the consulate looked at me as if I lacked brains. Here’s this dumb blonde American who probably drank too much and lost her passport, he must have thought. He sent me off to find a passport photo shop and advised to return afterwards. I came back to wait for what it seemed like a life-time. Half-delusional from lack of sleep, I laid down on the chairs until he called me up. I brought up everything needed for the emergency passport and I assumed I was in the clear. Wrong. He said yes, you’re set for the passport, but would still need proof of a Thai visa. In reality, I was illegal without this and he told me I could be put in jail for not having one. His suggestion was to return to the border I entered the country from to find record of the visa. The tears came again, I immediately refused stating that I would not return to one of the most corrupt borders in Asia without a visa, not to mention a 12hr bus ride each way. If I did, the corrupt cops would exploit me for every last penny in my bank account and who knows what else. The expressionless American shrugged his shoulders without a care. After more pleading of what other options I had, another consulate in the office heard my predicament and walked over. He simply asked me to explain what the border crossing looked like then jumped on his phone. He had proof of my visa entry within minutes. I thanked him repeatedly and left the embassy with higher hopes. My passport took just four hours to produce for a cost of $135. After my third or fourth entry, the security guards and I were on a first name basis. They let me in one last time and I left happily with a brand spanking new passport.
After a rough night in the airport, I decided to treat myself to the Marriott’s cheaper cousin, the Courtyard just next door. The next morning I would ring in 26 with Thai immigration. It was a drive outside of the city, but only took a few hours and thankfully went smoothly. They asked me a few questions, made a few notes, and stamped me onwards. Back in Bangkok, Hugo and I celebrated my bday and passport/visa success with street food and Chang beers. Around sunset we visited one of Bangkok’s best sky bars where the lovely bar man gave me a “monkey brain” shot on the house.
That night as I sat in the hotel lobby killing time before heading back to BKK airport, I met a nice, English businessman who offered a spot in his company-paid taxi. “Why not”, I replied and the entire ride we chatted about Harry Potter and how he was throwing a surprise 16th HP themed birthday party for his daughter and he had been practicing his Snape impression. It was a lovely chat. We parted ways at the departure hall and I finally checked-in to my flight and waved farewell to Asia.
But wait. What actually happened to my passport? Let’s rewind back to Ryan and I checking into the Marriott. Upon arriving we were quickly shuffled up to the Platinum check-in, a remote room a few floors up where we sat and snacked on treats. The concierge handed the passports to Ryan and the room keys to me. That’s the last time I remember seeing the bloody thing. Fast forward to Ryan rushing out the door, packing too quickly to notice my passport slide in his bag. Fast forward to his layover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when he discovered my passport in his carry-on. He panicked and for the next few hours he ran around questioning tourists, flight staff, airport workers what could he do. He begged flight attendants to fly it back to Bangkok, but they had to refuse. The airport Wi-Fi wouldn’t connect and he had no way to contact me. Eventually he persuaded a VIP lounge to let him access their computer and photocopy my passport to my email. Then he had no option, but to board his flight with my passport. It was an endless, horrible flight for him worrying about my predicament [well deserved I’d say].
Sometime after I spoke with embassy and had access to internet, I opened his email. After all this, I couldn’t walk in and say “hey, just kidding my mate flew home with it.” I stuck with my story knowing it was my quickest way out of Bangkok. Fast forward to three years later where this story is now laughable. He eventually sent my passport home which still has the visa stapled in from Thailand. Chalk it up to a story, I’ll never forget! And a warning to those traveling. HOLD ON TO THAT DAMN PASSPORT.