Early in the morning on May 28, 2015, I woke up to get to Madrid Barajas airport for a terrible, ridiculous, no-good, very bad plane-hopping marathon.
Here’s just a little bit of background on the trouble I went through to figure this trip out:
Back in January, I found a super cheap ticket from Spain to Shangai that would go out just before my E.U. VISA would expire and took it, intending fully to go to China for a whole month.
I was invited to volunteer at a guest house for that month in Xi’An, then that fell through. Next, I was invited to teach at a rural school, but that fell through because they were not willing to help me obtain a visa. Then, I was admitted to aim internship program in Guangdong while I was in Iceland and found out later that I would need to pay over $450 just to be in e program. Excuse me? You want me to work full time for a month and you want me to PAY? No.
And then, I got fed up. There are supposedly easy ways to obtain a Chinese tourist visa, which I will not outline here, but because of my budget and the extra money it would cost me just to BE IN China, let alone travel from Shanghai to Laos over the course of a month was simply too great. Another time, I figured.
And so the next problem presented itself: how to get to Thailand? There were cheap tickets to Bangkok from Shanghai the day that I landed (which was important, because if I waited more than 72 hours after landing in China to leave the country, I’d need to apply for a transit visa). I attempted to buy tickets directly through the airline because it would have cost me $38. But the website was not functional in English, required me to register with all my personal information, and only accepted Chinese methods of payment.
Of course that’s the simple version of the story, because I had to call them several times, sign up, download an app, etc etc over a period of four days to find this out…
VERY long story short, I bought the ticket through a Spanish travel agency/ticket resale with a $100 markup (ugh), which was STILL cheaper than just being able to stay legally in China. But this was an extra twelve hours of layover in Shanghai and another four hours on a plane, not to mention it would be landing in Bangkok at 3AM…
Oh, and I forgot to mention that there was no information online AT ALL about the second leg of my trip to Shanghai; it was like it didn’t even exist, so I was worried it was fake after all the trouble of finding the ticket. It was really, really, REALLY cheap so I thought it may have actually been fake the whole morning. With the added stress of my breakup, it was enough to bring me to the edge of cracking. It was only when I checked in at the desk for Aeroflot, a budget Russian-based airline with a history of unsafe flights, handed me two tickets and verified I had seats on both flights and that yes, they did actually run the flight to Shanghai, that I was finally able to relax a bit.
Aeroflot’s history wasn’t so great until a few years ago when they updated their planes and procedures to get up to standard with the rest of Europe/Eurasia. And to be honest, the flights I took on Aeroflot were the most comfortable I’ve ever flown, and were by far the cheapest for the number of hours I was in the air.
From Madrid to Moscow it was 5 hours, and then after two hours of layover and a shitload of coffee, a 9 hour flight to Shanghai. They served (delicious, huge) meals on both flights for free, gave us as much free stuff to drink as we wanted, provided a pillow, slippers, and sleeping mask, and had in-flight entertainment installed on the back of every single seat in the plane.
The strangest part of flying this particular route is that we curved far enough north that the sun never even set. I checked the time after a short nap at 12:25 AM and I could still see the sun out of the window. I always thought my first midnight sun experience would be in Iceland or something, but oh well.
Spending thirteen hours in China was a nightmare. I was soooo tired and so dysfunctional but managed to find some WiFi and sat down to watch some TV in the most uncomfortable position on the floor (there was a plug there).
The entire outside of the airport is covered in smog. The water in the machines that dispense drinking water must boil the water first before it can be consumed.
The wifi doesn’t allow access to any type of non-Chinese social media and even blocks all Google-related content, news sites, and video streaming sites. I don’t know China even functions. But being the tech-geek that I am, I connected through a couple of proxies and bam. Facebook for dayyyyyys.
After managing a couple hours of ‘sleep’ in a gross leather arm chair (are you starting to get a picture of how much I love the Shanghai Pudong airport?), walking around aimlessly all day and living on bread I’d bought the previous day, it was 11:30pm and finally time to board my plane to Bangkok. Except it wasn’t.
First the plane was delayed coming in (okay whatever), then we boarded at 12am (still okay so far…), received news from the captain that something in the computer of the plane had broken and had delayed our flight, canceling it in the system for another hour and a half (omg why do I have to be alive right now), and finally as 3am rolled around we were ready to get into the air. But this point I was delirious from an utter lack of sleep and it was looking like I wouldn’t be sleeping any time soon due to the turbulence and the unfathomable discomfort of the seat (Spring Airlines: the only thing worse than RyanAir). We also weren’t allowed to turn on ANY electronic devices for the duration of the whole flight, and all of my sources of entertainment are electronic, so that sucked some more.
After what seemed like a lifetime, we landed in Bangkok. It was time to make quick work of this city and find a damn place to sleep.