That’s (Not) the Ticket!

Asia, Family & Kid Travel, Getting There, Hotels & Resorts, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Myanmar, Planning, Thailand — By on April 27, 2007 at 9:44 am

The morning of our flight to Myanmar dawned very, very early. We were all bleary eyed and exhausted, having stayed up most of the night trying to track down Dad and Nadine’s missing baggage (a quick call to the Bangkok airport revealed that their suitcases were still half a world away). According to the airline experts, there was a good chance the bags might not make it from Vegas to Seoul to Bangkok to Yangon to Bagan in time to meet us before our seven-day cruise up the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar. I felt horrible for Dad and Nadine…they’d been anticipating this trip for months, and now, there was a very real possibility that they’d be touring Myanmar in some overpriced gear purchased at the hotel gift shop.

Our troubles, apparently, were just beginning. After arriving at Bangkok’s jam packed international airport and making our way to the front of the Air Asia ticket counter, we were all shocked to learn that through an internet error, Holly had booked her tickets to Yangon for the wrong month.

“I’m sorry, miss, but you’ll have to buy a new outgoing and return ticket, as both legs were reserved incorrectly,” said the guy behind the counter with genuine sympathy. “Please hurry to the sale counter…we only have two seats left on the plane.”

I could hear my Dad instructing the agent to reserve one of those last seats for Holly as she and I hauled ass across the massive check-in floor, dodging and weaving our way through towers of suitcases and tight clusters of passengers. We pulled up to halt at the front of the sales counter and breathlessly told the woman that we needed a single ticket for that morning.

“I’m so sorry, but the last two tickets to Yangon have just been taken.”

“What?! That can’t be right,” I remember saying in a panic. “We just reserved a ticket for her!”

Just as the woman started to shrug her shoulders and give us one of those grating “there-is-nothing-I-can-do” speeches, the other Air Asia ticket agent hung up the phone he’d been using and instructed his colleague to sell Holly the seat.

Her smile never budged as she looked back and forth between her co-worker and Holly, then wordlessly carried out the transaction.

Inside, I did a little handspring and silently thanked the travel gods for giving us yet another break. Turing to Hol, I could see she was struggling to deal with spending another $200 on a ticket that she’d already bought a month ago-for half the price.

“At least the cruise is already paid for,” I reminded her. “We’ve got free breakfasts, lunches and dinners coming our way for a whole week.”

Those words might not have consoled her, but I couldn’t wait to chow down. Doing anything while I’m exhausted-especially traveling-turns me from a normal girl into a ravenous she-beast who can (and will!) eat anything in sight.

Good thing that Nadine and Dad had remembered to ask the hotel for a boxed breakfast.

Together we nibbled muffins and bananas as we passed through security and waited to board our little red and white plane.

*****

We had a day to recuperate at in Yangon before taking our next short flight to Bagan, where we’d meet our ship.

I made the most of my exhaustion and wacked-out blood sugar levels by vacuuming up half the contents of the hotel’s enormous breakfast buffet, then consequently feeling sick to my stomach.

Across the table, my Dad was explaining to Nadine that he’d checked in with the airline once again and that if all went according to plan, they’d receive their luggage the next day before the ship departed.

Nadine, now outfitted in my faded (and probably slightly stinky) backpacker gear, was just starting to get concerned that their luggage might not make it.

“But Bob, what should we do if the suitcases don’t get here? Don’t you think we should go out today and at least try to buy some clothes? I don’t even soap or a change of underwear.”

“Don’t worry. I know that our stuff will get here,” he tried to assure her.

“Okay, but just in case they don’t, I’d really like to get a few things.”

“Honey, I know that the bags will meet us at the ship. Everything will be fine.”

This went on for a few minutes and eventually, Dad agreed to accompany Nadine to the hotel’s small gift shop.

Hol and I decided that this would be an ideal time to check our email and perhaps, post a blog entry.

She went ahead to reserve us a computer while I ran up to the room to grab my daypack. When I returned, she was already walking out of the business center with a strange look on her face.

“There’s no internet,” she said flatly. “No email.”

“No email in the hotel?” I asked, about to suggest that we leave the hotel to find an internet cafe to do our work.

“No. There’s no email in the whole country.”

Holly would later tell me that this was the only time on the entire trip that she’d seen me rendered completely speechless. I could feel my own jaw flapping in the wind, trying to come up with a good suggestion or solution to our web-less situation, but I couldn’t think of any.

Incredulity gave way to utter disbelief. Myanmar had to have internet. Every country in the world did. To me, saying that a place didn’t have internet was like saying that it didn’t have air to breathe or water to drink. How could locals survive without Gmail? Yahoo? Skype?!?

We quickly learned that the militaristic government, well known for repressing the rights of its citizens, had all but banned web-based email in an effort to control the flow of information in and out of the country. The internet itself wasn’t illegal (there were plenty of cafes which offered online services), but email was strictly monitored by the government.

While I wasn’t sure if this was the whole truth (who could I ask without stirring up trouble?), I did know that this was my opportunity to accomplish the very thing I’d set out to do eight months ago…

Unplug. Disconnect. Log OFF.

For the first time on our entire trip, Holly and I would have no cell phones and no computers and no communications devices. We’d be forced to just hang out, absorb some culture and not check in with anyone for an entire week and a half. 10 days. 240 hours. 14,400 minutes.

Once the shocked wore off, I felt excited and up to the challenge. But, like a dieter who starts cutting calories after one “last supper” or a smoker who quits cold turkey after that last cigarette, I needed to go online one final time.

I had to find someone in Yangon capable of logging me on to my email so I could, um, turn on my “away” message.

Rest assured, the irony of this task didn’t escape me.

Holly and I were just about to dash out of the hotel when we bumped into Dad and Nadine. Almost immediately, I could see that after days of flying and no sleep, both of them were about to collapse, so we offered to pick up a few supplies like makeup, a sun hat and a pair of sandals for Nadine. Dad, still convinced that the bags would show, insisted that we not buy him anything.

Out we went into a midday so sun-scorched, we might as well have been walking on another planet-Mercury, to be exact. Having forgotten my own hat and sunglasses, I wrapped my long-sleeve shirt around my head and stumbled out in to the heat.

Looking for web-based email in a country that has banned it can only be compared to looking for drugs in a nice, upscale suburb (I’m guessing). You know it’s there, and someone has the inside scoop on where to find it, but no one really wants to ‘fess up to two complete strangers. We were basically asking strangers, “Hey man, you know where I can get some Gmail? Some Yahoo?”

We finally got our fix at an upstanding internet and long-distance calling shop outside the center of town. By asking the right guy the right questions, we were able to sneak into our respective email accounts without alerting the suspicions of the internet police.

That was the last time either of us logged on for two weeks.

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    3 Comments

  • Dellie says:

    I remember. It was like you had disappeared off the face of the earth. Culture shock all around. I’m glad you’re back. You make cyberspace a better place!!

  • Tiara says:

    What currency is the $200 in? Air Asia is a budget airline, the flight can’t have been US$200…for that price you might as well go on MAS or Thai Airways…

  • The Lost Girls says:

    Hi Tiara–The ticket prices were in US dollars. Holly ended up paying so much because she purchased her new seat about an hour before the flight. She chose to stay on Air Asia, rather than switching to Thai Airways, so she travel with my family and me. Hope that clears things up!

    Amanda