The Journey Back to Phuket

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a post like this, but it’s not for lack of stories to tell.


This one in particular brought me back here because it just honestly has to be released. Strap yourself in for the journey back to Phuket.


From pretty early on in the year I was certain that I would come back to Thailand for my summer holiday. I had some concerns about having to confront my past but I knew it was a trip I needed to take to see if I could move back permanently and to, again, take Thailand back for myself from another relationship. (We’ve been here before, haven’t we?)


Although it was far from a bad break up, I’d been excited about the idea of experiencing Thailand on my own, since my entire experience of Phuket was wrapped up in my relationship. I also knew I needed to go back into silence for a bit, to reset and to remember. Plus, I mean, I loved it there. And my sense of adventure for new and unknown has shrunken over the years—replaced by a desire to go places where I know my way around or where I’ve got people to be that for me. With all that, Thailand was an easy choice. And once my landlord in Cayman pitched me the idea of having my place rented for the summer so I don’t have to pay for it—I was sold on the idea of leaving. I knew that with that saving and the little I’d spend in Phuket, it would actually work out financially better than staying even in Miami. Thus, the planning begun.


By planning, however, I don’t mean buying tickets. I thought my trip through and all the things I wanted to do, even down to going to the dentist, the night market for sunglasses, and ordering those vegan spicy hot dogs from the J food market. The ticket was the last piece of the puzzle, but still purchased more than 2 weeks in advance. It tickled me so to remember that I had a travel credit with an airline that I was able to use to pay for my flight from the US to India. I only needed to pay for the leg from Miami to New York and Delhi to Phuket. Which cost me little to nothing.


So when the date to fly came around, I had all my things packed and ready and off to the airport I went. The flight from Miami was smooth enough. I had originally booked with 2 hours in between flights, but after having a dream of missing my flight I decided to go earlier and try to get on the earlier flight. It was easy enough to get on the earlier one via standby and I thought this would set the tone for the rest of the journey.


I was wrong.


After I landed in New York I had about 3 hours to get my baggage and check-in for my flight. I knew it would be OK because since the flight was domestic, I wouldn’t have to clear immigration. I was glad I opted for the earlier flight still because it took 1 hour for the baggage to start coming off the airplane. Finally I grabbed my bag, all the while thinking why can’t I just travel with a carry on, and headed off to the AirTran to the proper terminal. When I got there the line was ridiculous but there was time, and plus I felt comfortable knowing I was already in front of them—so they couldn’t leave me for sure.


Again, wrong.


When it was my turn to at the check-in desk they asked me my final destination. I told them Thailand. This is where the confusion began. Their flight only took me to India. I had a separate booking from India to Phuket. They told me that’s not possible. What? Yep. You can’t transit through India to another country. They forbid it.


Umm. Since.. when?


COVID.


Well. I was speechless. I had no idea what to say or what this meant or why I hadn’t seen any information about it when I did my entry requirement research. The check-in manager, who had been there helping the agent, decided at this point to ask me if I have a visa for India. Because I guess if I have a visa it wouldn’t be unforbidden anymore? So I said well, yes. I do. I have an e-visa that I got when I went to vipassana in 2019 and it was for 5 years. So I pulled up that documentation thinking ok I’ve found my loophole. Only to remember that the visa was put into my Jamaican Passport, which expired in 2020. Still, I had both passports, and I put both my of them on the application for the visa. I showed him everything. But he had made up his mind already that I wasn’t getting on that plane.


I was dumbfounded.


I was also confused. Wondering if I would get to India and get stuck there. He offered no help. And apparently he also couldn’t rebook me. Or do anything, really, except stop me from checking in. I needed to call the call centre to figure out my next step. But there were no more flights out that night. And I had no working phone for phone calls. I was stranded in New York. It was 10 pm on a Tuesday night.


It’s times like these when I am grateful for the internet. And in particular, for my iPhone. I Facetimed my friend who lives in NY, who I hadn’t really spoken to for 4 years, and told her I didn’t make my flight. She was there within the hour. No questions asked. Friendship.


Ahead was a night full of phone calls, waiting, pleading, and loads more contradictory misinformation that led to nowhere safe and comfortable but rather unsettling and utterly disappointing. It seemed I was going to have to open a case against them, in which it would be their word against mine.


At some point, we decided it was time to give it a rest and go to bed. I would pick it back up the next day, but not allow it to take over the day. Big emphasis on the latter. Sure I needed to make a decision, but it didn’t need to make me. So we went for breakfast at this really old school veg/vegan diner in Queens, which was the beginning of a really lovely unexpected and unplanned trip. Three hours turned into 3 days in NY and I have to say I really enjoyed them. Even being in Manhattan for a few hours was exhilarating, and it made me wonder if the big city is something useful to tap into every now and then.


When time came to leave, I was grateful but ready. Excited but also a bit anxious. I had gotten a different ticket with a different airline that would stop in Hong Kong very briefly and then take me to Bangkok. I didn’t tell anyone about it until after I had successfully checked in. It was the longest flight I had ever taken, a whopping 17 hours, but somehow it didn’t feel like it at all. I’d gotten way better customer service and an entire row to myself, so even though I hadn’t enough time to request a vegan meal, I still felt pleased. They accommodated me as best they could and it was a smooth flight over to HK, which by the way is a really gorgeous city.


The layover was short, but since it was with the same airline I wasn’t too concerned about missing the connecting flight. Going through screening in Hong Kong was easy enough, and before I knew it I was in Bangkok. I thought, yes, my country. All will be well now. Then, I got to immigration.


It happened before where all the stamps in my passport confused them and they sent me aside for further inspection, so I already knew what was coming when the woman started to look for a place to stamp and realised I had lived there before. She called in a reinforcement and he took me to a special area where we sat and he asked me questions. Then I started to panic because I had just 2 hours until my flight to Phuket, and I surely didn’t have any more flexibility left in me to spend another night somewhere other than where I’d planned. Thankfully, though, it wasn’t too long.


After the questioning, he took me to another officer who then decided to give me less than a month in the country—despite the fact that my passport earns me 3 months. Plus, the stamp is 6 days earlier than my already booked return flight, which I showed him.  His response to that was “well go get an extension.”


Jerk.


It was at that moment that I realised, all of these problems could have been avoided had I simply relied on my Jamaican passport. What’s the message here?


Anyway, I didn’t have time or energy to argue, and the way the logistics were working on this trip, I didn’t want to push it. So off I went in annoyance, grabbed my bag, and made it up to check-in. I looked at the screen, found my check-in area and headed there only to find nobody. Neither staff nor queue. Uh oh. Have I missed it? Not possible. I still had over an hour before departure. I started to ask around until finally someone pointed me in the right direction. But when I checked the screen again, it said the flight was cancelled.


What? This has to be a joke. I refreshed my phone and didn’t see any email about cancellation. I thought well if so, surely they’d have another option for me. So I headed to the check-in area anyway. When I arrived, there wasn’t much queue and I was at the desk in no time. Thankfully, the flight was not cancelled at all.


I was going to make it. Finally. Back to Phuket. Immigration and any other possible blockade behind me.


I was back.

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