Better to travel than to arrive?

The trip didn't start well. I hadn't noticed what a short connection time the Dakar travel agency had given me in Paris - too short, in fact, and I missed my onward flight to London. No problem, they said, take the next flight in 30 minutes.

At Heathrow there was a tannoy announcement asking me to go to the Air France desk; my luggage was still in Paris, and would not get to London for another five hours. Credit to them for announcing it, I suppose, and not leaving me to stare hopelessly at the baggage carousel for hours, but it threw out my plans to check-in for my Bangkok flight that morning.

So I went into town, pottered about, and had a lovely lunch at my friend Annnbel's flat. Back to Heathrow late afternoon to collect my luggage - what a performance! First to the Air France desk in Departures (as instructed), show my baggage receipt, passport, etc, then redirected to a small counter in Arrivals. Show my passport again and telephone Air France to tell them I'm there. Finally their rep came, only not carrying my bag as expected. Oh no, to get that I had to go into the baggage hall, first passing through security. Off with the coat, the boots, the belt, and a full search of my hand luggage including taking all the contents out (binoculars and camera out of their cases, purse opened and all compartments searched), even though the woman knew I was only going through to collect my bag and then coming back out. Really, what she thought I would be trying to smuggle just into the baggage collection hall (and then back out through customs) is beyond me.

Having done all this I transferred to Terminal 4 to check in. The flight was overbooked.

If I'd been able to check in during the morning as planned this wouldn't have affected me, but now I was unable to get a seat number so joined ten other people at the coffee bar to wait our chances - to see if all booked passengers turned up. I don't understand why anyone turning up after us would get a seat and not us, after all we all had 'confirmed' tickets - I'm not impressed with BA's policy here. But eventually, half-an-hour before take-off, we were all allocated seats - with the advantage that then we had to be fast-tracked through security to make the flight, so avoided the usual queues.

On the plane I found myself seated next to a very talkative Englishmen, on a last-minute get-away to Thailand (after another row with his soon-to-be-ex third wife) bought that morning (no wonder they have over-booking problems!). He soon mentioned his luggage of prescription pills for stress and anxiety, then later dropped into the conversation that he was on six months' sick leave for stress.

When they came round for drinks orders, my neighbour asked for wine with the meal plus two bacardi and cokes. I slept for some of the flight (having got no sleep at all the previous night) but still heard him order at least five more double bacardis. As they were closing the bar for landing he was still trying to persuade them to serve him another couple; I'm not sure by this stage if he even realised that his glass was on its side and one such drink was spread all over his tray table. I think his soon-to-be-ex-wife will be better off without him...

On arrival in Bangkok I took the Airport "Express" bus to the train station. This took nearly two hours and I got to the station only half-an-hour before the train left. It was for this reason - the possibility of not making the train - that I had not purchased a ticket in advance over the internet - but it meant that I got there to find all the sleeper seats taken, indeed all the seats taken... I was sold a 'standing' ticket for the 11-hour overnight journey, my third night in a row with no bed.

I hoped it meant I could sit on the floor on the corridor, but the train was packed so it meant trying to fight for space between people's feet. & even that seemed pointless as food and drink vendors pushed their way through the train every ten minutes or so forcing me to get up and move out of their way. Even so, I think I snatched two or three minutes' sleep now and again - just enough to make it through to morning.

On arrival I took a tuk-tuk and two 1-hour bus trips and finally I was at the Laos border. To celebrate I went into a little food store for a bowl of noodle soup and bottle of water - and a chance to use a toilet!! The first chance since Bangkok Airport 18 hours earlier, though I had avoided eating and drinking during this time so as reduce the chance of needing to 'go'! (yes there probably was a toilet on the train, somewhere, but all signs were in Thai, no-one in my carriage seemed to speak any English, and in any case, in the cheap section of a train that packed I think it was better avoided...)

I crossed the border, took three different pick-up trucks, and finally, three days after leaving home, got to the Kingfisher Ecolodge in the Se Pian Protected Area of southern Laos. Some say it is better to travel than to arrive, but in this case I had to disagree.

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