If you travel frequently you'll be aware that sometimes the unexpected happens and there's nothing you can do about it. No amount of planning, no amount of travel insurance, no amount of anything you can do will actually prevent things from going horribly wrong. You just have to cop it on the chin and keep going.
I had 48 hours like this with my fiancé on our recent trip to Thailand.
We had met an older Aussie couple at our resort that we had been spending a lot of time with. They had two spare tickets for a boat tour around Phang Nga Bay (including Panak, Hong and James Bond Island) as the couple they were meant to be travelling with had to cancel at the last minute. We were happy to go in their place, not to mention it saved us the time and effort of organising our own trip around the islands. My hidden lazy person was secretly chuffed.
The day got off to bad start. My fiancé and I, excited like little kids at Christmas were up bright and early at 8am waiting for the transfer as arranged with Neil and Mandy. By 8:30 we were starting to panic. Where the heck were they? Surely they wouldn't have left without us? We went to their room and knocked on their door, we ask reception to ring them and we raced around the hotel looking for them. Just as we're about to give up on the idea of going all together we spot them casually sitting at the breakfast café having a coffee. They'd decided to organise the transfer to come a bit later.
I guess they assumed we were magical mind readers and we would just know this information. I mean, I have a lot of talents. I can do the sprinkler dance move like its no-one's business, and in year 6 I was the best Sandy from Grease that Eglinton Public School had ever seen - but unfortunately I've just never been able to read someone's mind. I have never been able to fly or become invincible either which is both equally as disappointing.
So now the four of us are all sitting out the front. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Alright transfer guy... Anytime you feel like rocking up would be awesome!! An hour later and after several unanswered phone calls we're just about to jump in a taxi when the transfer finally drives up to the entrance. He had gotten lost and turned up to the wrong hotel.
We jump inside the transfer and I'm feeling pretty relieved to be heading towards the pier. The driver knowing very well we're running extremely late thinks this is a great time to test out his racing car abilities, often hitting speeds of over 160kms. Even the sharp corners and dirt roads aren't enough to discourage him nor the fact I am huddled in the back praying to God that if he lets us actually survive this I'll stop sinning, start going to church and be nicer to my siblings.
Forty minutes later and through some miracle we arrive at the pier and a quick body check shows all our limbs are still in place. Once we're out of the car though, we soon realise that there are only small boats here when we are supposed to be catching a large cruise boat. It's the wrong pier. Well that's just bad manners if you ask me. If you're going to put us through a near-death experience you should at least have the courtesy to drop us off at the right location afterwards.
We find a taxi to drop us off at the right pier which luckily is only about five minutes away. When we arrive at the right pier we soon learn that nobody has heard of us and no one has any idea of what boat we are supposed to be getting on.
At this point I've started to really doubt Neil and Mandy's' ability to organise. They reminded me of my parents and I just assumed they were responsible people who were going to take care me. Even I would have double checked all the details like the correct pier name, the boat name and the time it was departing (all things they had no idea about).
There are over twenty big boats on the pier and we have to run around and talk to every single one. No one knows anything about us or what boat we're supposed to be catching. We try ringing the number of the boat tour again and again but to no answer. After about 45 minutes of going around in circles Neil has managed to communicate to someone, who figures out they're missing four people on their boat tour. Hooray! We have found our boat! The details they had were for "Phuket Free Day" and the boat was actually called Sea Lion. Close enough I guess.
As soon as we're sitting comfortably on the boat I'm thinking I can finally enjoy my day. I couldn't be further from the truth. This was just the beginning of the day from hell.
After taking off from the pier it takes us about an hour and half to get to Panak and Hong Island where we go exploring through the caves on canoes. I don't even fall out of the canoe or become submerged on a rock or anything. Good times! We go for a swim, eat some lunch on the boat and have a couple of beers before we head to James Bond Island.
To get to the Island you need to get in a long boat and after doing so we're left there for only half an hour, which trust me is all you need. I'm not overly impressed by James Bond Island. What is quite a beautiful natural landscape is ruined by the amount of shops selling cheap crap and the amount of tourists flocking to it. I'm quite aware of the irony of that statement considering I am one of those tourists. Half an hour can't go quick enough.
We're soon picked up on the long boats and taken back to our boat. When they start the engine to take off for the next leg of our journey it starts to make some pretty funky noises. Apparently it's a gear box problem. My many talents also don't extend to gear box mechanical knowledge and neither does anybody else's on the boat so it looks like we have quite the situation.
The tour guide informed us that we'll need a rescue boat and this will be here in half hour "Thai" time. From experience "Thai" time means anything from half an hour to two days. Three and half hours later we're still waiting and I'm hot, tired, and hungry. The worst part though wasn't any of these things, the worst part was that the boat had run out of beer!!
About four hours later our rescue boat finally arrives. This boat doesn't have beer either so it becomes obvious these guys are just monsters who are clearly enjoying torturing us.
On the rescue boat they decide to try and tow the original boat on the back. Not only does the rope break twice- but it takes us three hours to get back instead of one and a half as it can't get its speed up because of the extra weight. People are starting to get tired and cranky and just when I've nearly convinced them to join me in a mutiny- we arrive back on the shore.
My sense of relief is very short lived.
We jump straight back in our transfer and head for the hour journey home and just as I'm daydreaming of curries, cocktails and a comfortable bed the traffic all of a sudden comes to a complete standstill. It's not moving an inch. Just what we need- a traffic jam. After about an hour Neil, Ben and I head up to try and gather some information whilst Mandy waits in the car.
The first Thai's we speak to know very little English. They tell us there has been a terrorist attack-which makes sense because there are sirens and police everywhere. I'm starting to think we could be in real trouble here. I'm not equipped to handle a terrorist attack-I struggle not to trip walking up the street sober and my hand eye coordination is seriously lacking. No way was I leading us into battle.
We later find some younger people and we communicate with them through a small amount of broken English and mostly a very complicated game of charades. It turns out that there wasn't a terrorist attack but that a pregnant lady was attacked by two male twins in the village up the road. When the police arrived they had used brutal force against villagers who weren't even involved in the attack. They were angry.
The village people wanted justice for the men who were attacked by the police, and they wanted a public apology by the twins who attacked the pregnant lady. The police refused to accept responsibility for their actions and knowing the villagers would tear the twins apart they also refused to bring them out for a public apology. So the village people decided to protest. Confusing right?! Still with me?
Four hours into this debacle our driver is determined to get us out of the car. He just wants to get back home to his own family and as far as he was concerned it wasn't his problem. We had no idea what to do, or where to go but we did know we didn't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere on the street in the rain with no shelter and no options. So we just refused to leave the car. Sorry not sorry!
The funny thing about the situation is that the Thai's who were also caught up in it weren't bothered at all. They set up picnics in the medium strip, carts magically appeared on the side of the road selling anything from crepes to selections of beer (thank you Beer Gods!) and the people were laughing, cheering and generally excited about the whole situation. That just sums up Thai people perfectly.
Eventually we crept close enough up the road to reach the police blockade and the police direct us to a small dirt road that they say is a detour. I'm doing the happy dance and thanking my lucky stars. Finally we are on the home stretch! And things are going well and travelling along smoothly- for about ten minutes. Once again we hit a total stand still.
There are hundreds of people walking back from the direction that we were heading and they tell us not to waste our time as there is absolutely no way to get through. They have all decided to head to the international airport to get something to eat and sleep on the floor if necessary. Our driver wants us out and enthusiastically suggests we do the same.
The airport is about five minutes from our original traffic jam. When we arrive there is security and police everywhere there too and they are refusing to let anyone in. It seems everyone else also had that same idea.
We drive up the road looking for some hotels-But yes, you guessed it every single one we come across is fully booked out. We find a pub and a lady in there tells us that there is a decent hotel a little way hidden up the road. When we arrive at reception there is no one there. I'm about to give up on life and crawl in a ball in the corner shaking myself when our driver, is all too keen to find a way to get rid of us comes to the rescue and rings and rings and rings the number on the door until he finally gets through. He arranges two rooms for 800 baht each and we are beyond relieved to have somewhere to sleep for the night.
These rooms are really not too bad - they have air-conditioning and a decent bathroom which is quite a magical thing for a random cheap hotel in Thailand. The one shining light is that there was a Thai restaurant opened till very late just a short walk up the road. For about five Australian dollars I had the best meal I'd had in Thailand, and one of the best I've had in all my travels.
I'm not even going go into the fact that I spent the night being ravished by bedbugs, that the air-conditioning stopped working halfway through the night or that I couldn't sleep a wink. Or when it was finally sunlight when I went for a mission to find a shop I got followed by two wild street dogs who seemed pretty determined to eat me for their breakfast. Or in the morning when I found a fridge full of beer which I could have been drinking instead of creepily staring at my fiancé every second of the night.
The next day on our return we are told that it was the worst traffic jam Phuket has ever seen and one of the worst riots in the country. The rioting didn't stop for over 8 hours, and even when they started to let the traffic through it didn't get back to normal for over 24 hours.
We were part of the lucky ones who had found somewhere to stay and something to eat. We were told of hundreds of people not being able to get to the airport to catch their flights including pilots and we heard tales of people who were left on the streets in the night, in the rain with no-where to go. And at least we were away from the danger.
To me this was all part of the experience. Hell yeah it was frustrating. Hell yeah I was tired and hell yeah I was even panicked at times. But the thing is we all kept our head up and just laughed at the situation because what else could we do?! Truthfully, I wouldn't change it for anything. Thailand is a truly beautiful place full of the happiest people you will meet and I'm already planning my next trip there. It doesn't matter where you go sometimes, stuff just happens. It's how we cope with it that make us the people we are. Besides, surviving Thailand's biggest traffic jam and a mob riots makes a pretty wicked story to tell all our friends back home.