Welcome to part #2 of The Ugly Truth series- a mini series documenting the sometimes very ugly, very stressful side of travelling! Check out The Ugly Truth #1 for more details about why I started writing about my anxiety inducing experiences, or if you just fancy hearing about someone getting their flight dates wrong and realising they have 13 hours to pack up their entire life in New Zealand- and sell a camper-van...
But today's woeful tale takes place in Thailand. My boyfriend and I had only been travelling full time for about a month at this point, and had so far only visited Dubai and Northern Thailand. We had spent about a week in Chiang Mai, which actually ended up being one of my favourite places in Thailand!
We were planning on heading to Vietnam next, so we tried to book some flights ourselves but because we were still quite new to travelling, we still weren't really sure what a 'good deal' was. So we decided to head into a local shopping mall, and pop into the travel agency to ask for help.
We headed into the shop, and two ladies helped us find some flights cheaper than we had found ourselves. We were happy, so we booked it in the store, and received the flight confirmation itinerary which gives you confirmation of booking, your flight number and booking reference.
Early on the morning of our flight, we checked out our hostel and paid for a taxi to the airport. We arrived, and tried to check in on the self check-in machines, but it didn't seem to be working. We headed up to our airlines help desk and the lady there had a look into it for us.
"There's an issue with the booking." She said finally. "I can see that you've made a reservation for the flights, but no money has been transferred across for them."
She explained that she could see that the branch of travel agency we had visited had 'reserved' the flights for us, but the money we had paid to them had not then been transferred onto the airline. Unless we got the issue sorted out, we weren't allowed to fly.
At this point for us, panic just set in. Despite having branches all over the world, there is only one emergency helpline for the travel agency and it is based in London. It was currently early morning in Thailand, which made it around 3am in England, so we couldn't even call our families for help.
I had to put my English sim card back into my phone, and try to call the the emergency hotline. I would be on hold for about fifteen minutes, finally speak to someone and frantically explain my situation. They would then transfer me to another department, at which point my phone contract would always freak out at the cost of the long distance call, and would cut me off. I did this unbearably frustrating cycle about five times before my phone stopped letting me place the call at all.
Meanwhile, while I was trapped in this vicious vortex, Keelan went back to speak to the airline help desk to see if there was anything at all they could do. The lady there asked to see his passport, at which point he produced his Irish passport, and she asked;
"Can I see your visa as well please?"
Keelan and I are both born in England, but his Mum is Irish, so he's always had an Irish passport. We had googled visas for Vietnam, and all the online sites had said we could get a visa on arrival. Confused, Kee told her this to which she replied,
"No, if you have an English passport you can get a visa on arrival. If you have an Irish passport, you need one before you fly. They usually take about a week to come through," she added helpfully.
I don't think I have ever seen anyone look as stressed as Keelan when he walked back towards me. Overhead, the intercom was announcing our gate was open- we still hadn't even checked in for our flight, and Keelan now didn't even have a visa to enter the country.
While I switched to my Thai sim and tried to check if my phone would let me call England on that, he googled, 'emergency visa for Vietnam'. He found this one random site that promised a visa within two hours or less and seemingly without thinking about it or even considering the implications, he just shoved his bank details into this very dodgy looking website. A second later, a notification popped up in very poorly written English, promising that his visa would 'be with him soon.'
There was literally nothing we could do. We waited while our flight was called for boarding, and then final boarding. I was still desperately trying to get through to the travel agency, and Keelan was refreshing his emails every five seconds waiting for his visa to come through, but both of us were getting nowhere and by this point, I knew it was too late.
Our flight finally announced the gate had closed, and we literally just sat there and looked at each other.
We had officially missed the flight.
We didn't really know what to do next, so we just got a taxi back to the hostel we had left about four hours earlier, and checked back in. We tried to look up new flights for the next day, but at that short notice they were all so expensive, so we ended up booking one for about a week later. For us, this felt like a massive blow because we already had such a limited time in Asia. We had only given ourselves two months to do Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia so every day was precious. We had also already booked accommodation and experiences in Vietnam, which were now going to waste!
In the end, with this kind of thing you just have to try to be positive. So we allowed ourselves to mope for a few hours and then we picked ourselves up and walked to a swimming pool I had found online, which was on the top floor of a fancy hotel. All the comments said it was open to the public, but when we arrived (sweaty and irritable from a much longer walk than we had anticipated) the guy at the door said the pool was for guests only! I honestly think our faces must have dropped so much, that in the end he snuck us up anyway and we spent the evening drinking Gin and Tonic's and watching the sun go down from the most gorgeous infinity pool.
It was one of those weird experiences that actually ended up being one of our favourite evenings from the whole of travelling. I think the contrast of going from such an overwhelmingly stressful morning to such a perfect evening made us really sit back and appreciate everything. Yes, we had missed our flight, but at the end of the day we had survived our first real travelling nightmare and as we watched the sun go down over beautiful Chiang Mai, I couldn't help feeling there were worse places in the world to be stuck in for another week.
(By the way, the visa came through! The dodgy looking website paid off).