After a grueling 27 or so hours of flying, made more palatable by extravagant spending to acquire upgrades for business and first class seats, we finally made it to Bangkok (traveling together on the same airplanes as far as Bangkok). At Bangkok, unfortunately, we were forced to split up. Via the Internet, prior to leaving the States, we had gone through an exhausting and futile attempt to obtain a ticket for me on the Bangkok-to-Kathmandu flight with Margaret on Royal Air Nepal. It seems that Royal Air Nepal is known only to Royal Air Nepal. It doesn't exist in the cyber sphere. Mabe that's good, considering the quality of the airlines.
Ever Heard of Royal Nepal Airlines?
We overnighted in Bangkok, having arrived at midnight. We had to get up early the next morning for Margaret to catch her flight on Royal Nepal Airlines, and for me to attempt to purchase a ticket on the same airline. I searched for anyone who had heard of Royal Nepal Airlines. I found an office in the dark bowels of an adjoining airport building. Business hours were clearly posted on the locked door – opening at 9:00 A.M. I positioned myself in close proximity to the locked door so I could pounce on the first person who entered.
Royal Nepal Airline’s hours of operation are, however, not precisely adhered to. I eventually gave up waiting, decided to follow an alternative course of action – the telephone. Their telephone number was clearly posted on the locked door – next to the sign that provided its hours of operation. Noting the number, I headed back to the hotel room with the intention of solving this problem. Alas, Royal Nepal Airlines had apparently not paid its phone bill, the recorded message intoned, "that phone number is no longer in service".
The hotel reception desk was very helpful, making a series of calls until they were able to find a Royal Nepal Airlines employee. I was grateful to have someone I could talk to who had not only heard of Royal Nepal Airlines, but claimed to actually work for them – they exist! That was the good news. The bad news was that the only way to buy a ticket was to take a taxi all the way into downtown Bangkok. I am sure you appreciate the unlikelihood of taxiing into town, through that traffic, purchasing a ticket and returning to the airport in time to meet a flight on Royal Nepal Airlines that was scheduled to take off in less than two hours. The person I was speaking with said, "Yes, you have time. We will wait for you". Only an airline that doesn't exist in cyberspace would make an offer like that.
We were doubtful that Royal Nepal would honor their promise to "wait for me", so we decided I would take the next available flight, which was Thai Airlines leaving the next morning. We headed to the check-in counter to get Margaret on her flight to Nepal – on Royal Nepal Airlines. Chaos is not an adequate descriptor of the mass of humanity accompanying their huge boxes and burlap bags of belongings. There was no use trying to join any cue to the ticket taker, so Margaret plowed her way, using sharp elbows and knees, to the front of the crowd standing before the "business class" counter. Not looking forward to traveling cattle car with this mob, she attempted to upgrade her ticket to business. Couldn't be done. She would have to take a taxi into downtown Bangkok to make the upgrade. I'm sure they would have waited for her to get back, but she opted not take a chance on that. I kissed her goodbye as the masses and their mountain of carry on goods swallowed her up, wondering if I would see her again.
I returned to my hotel room and attempted for the rest of the day and night to sleep off my jet lag, wait for the next (and only) flight to Kathmandu. There weren't many. My flight was on Thai Airlines, by comparison to Royal Nepal Airlines, it was like traveling a royal flying carpet. The contrast between my mode of transport and Margaret's was – what – laughable. My check-in was as smooth as an oiled baby's behind. I expected to be strip-searched, a la USA procedures. With the exception of a half-hearted wave of a wand around my crotch, I popped out of security into the shopping frenzy of the airport’s extensive duty-free area. I was on my way.
A Great Trip – until…
It was a great trip – until I arrived in Kathmandu. I had not been able to acquire a Nepal visa prior to leaving the States, but I had chosen to attempt to get an airport visa on arrival. Filling out the application and attaching a photo, I approached the Immigration desk. No problem. They only wanted the $30.00 visa fee. Easy – I thought. Pulling out my wallet, though, with dismay and a sinking feeling, I discovered I had only $17.97 in cash. My offer of paying with a credit card was looked on with astonishment. Credit card? What do I do, I asked, feeling certain that I would have to spend 24 hours sitting on a dirty cement floor awaiting deportation back to Bangkok.
Try Getting an Airport Visa on Arrival
Their suggestion was that I leave my carry-on bag as security, walk through the airport immigration, customs and security, find an ATM machine, somewhere outside the airport. I have gone through immigration, customs and security in a lot of airports around the world. I knew that you just don't walk through these areas without proper stamps in your passport. What was I to do, though? With rattled nerves, I walked tall and purposefully, like I knew what I was doing and had every right to be doing it, right through all of these people, out the front door, never looking back. I found an ATM machine. I suspect you know what happened next – the words on the window said in several languages "out of order".
Going back inside was not going to solve my problem. I approached one of the masses of beaten up, broken down taxis, found a driver who spoke a bit of English, asked if he knew where an ATM was. He said "sure", just a 10-minute drive. Some 30 minutes into the trip, I was beginning to doubt I would ever make it back to the airport, or anywhere else – alive. Ten minutes means one thing to an American, something totally different in other cultures. The ATM worked, but only in the local currency. I had no idea how much 25,000 rupees was in dollars, but it was the maximum you could withdraw, so I picked that one. I was fairly certain it would be at least the equivalent of $30.00 U.S. Another 30 minutes, I was back at the airport.
Success – but…
I had been successful walking out of the airport, but could I walk through the gauntlet in reverse order? I didn't think so. It was a process I had no choice but to take, however. With the most authoritative look I could muster, I marched forward, eyes focused ahead. Nobody noticed. I wandered through the airport, trying to find a way to get back to where I had started. At one point, I had to pass through security, against the flow of people. Sure enough, I was buzzed. I kept walking, with a little more determination. Someone called, I kept going. They lost interest. Back at Immigration, I reminded them of my circumstances. Oh, yes. Welcome to Nepal. At this point I was one of the few people left in the airport. Jet lag and stress made it almost impossible to keep my eyes open during the long trip into the chaos of Kathmandu.