Posts Tagged With: visa

Home Alone, Made In Chelsea and Those Three Little Words…

After listening to someone behind us in the queue who will undoubtedly be involved with the next series of Made in Chelsea (“I’m going to see grannie in Sussex and then go for dinner at Alesandro’s.” “It’s a bit cold in Alesandro’s.”), we were sent to the “Premier Check-In” to help get the queue down. It was much nicer – carpets, no cattle market barriers to keep us in the herd of the queue…and some grumpy Italians with too many bags.

Then it happened. VISA NOT REQUIRED. Those three little words nearly made my heart skip a beat! The happy smiley check in lady didn’t know what it meant for me to be getting on a plane first attempt from Heathrow Terminal 4 as she wrote that on my boarding pass!! No moody travel agent phone calls, no rush to find a new ticket, no repeat journey to Heathrow the next day! So far, so good.

In fact, the whole process was a breeze in comparison with my first attempt back in August via Saudi Arabia. Sadly though, Aeroflot planes don’t quite match Emirates. I’d been spoilt. The first flight to Moscow was 4 hours, which I thought would be the “cut off point” – the point at which it’s not quite long enough to get a TV, but just long enough to want one. There was no TV, so we occupied ourselves with  The Inbetweeners Rude Road Trip and An Idiot Abroad clips on my iPod. I say we…let me introduce you to Ashley…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…my boyfriend who’s joining me over the next 5 weeks. I can’t draw him without him looking like an old lady, but I assure you, he doesn’t really. I’m sure you’ll become acquainted as the next five weeks go on. He’s pleased to meet you.

Anyway, back to the Aeroflot journey….we arrived at Moscow and had an hour and a half to make it to our gate. So unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to get out and see any of the city, but fortunately this meant we didn’t need a visa! YES! Visa not required!

What can I say about an hour and a half in Moscow’s airport?…Lots of adverts for alcohol, lots of Christmas trees dotted about in random places and a rabbit warren of the same duty free shops. Oh yeah, and I want a Russian doll. Maybe next time, when I go to Russia, when I need a visa.

And so we boarded the next flight – the big one – nine hours, a Boeing 767, complete with 2 meals and surely, individual TVs….nope. 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. No TVs. Just communal ones dotted down the centres of the aisles.

“Well, we probably won’t get a choice, but at least we’ll get a film,” I said to Ashley, trying to offer some consolation – we were pretty excited about our own little TV units.

“Yeah but it’ll probably be in Russian.”

“Oh yeah, good point.”

The film was Home Alone, in English, which wasn’t too bad if not a bit retro. I lost count of the amount of times we pulled out a headphone to point out a flaw to each other though…lot of flaws in that film. I’d never realised before. The one I can remember now is why does it hurt him when he puts the aftershave on? He’s 8 years old!!

The lack of filmage meant that after dinner we had no real option but to sleep. Which is probably a good thing. And that’s where we are now, after a few hours sleep, the window blind being opened by the seats in front of us gradually woke us up. And so we wait for breakfast – filmless, in the dark and still a bit sleepy. Think it’s Spider Solitaire time….ahh, it’s just like being back in Asia.

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Categories: East Asia, Hong Kong | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Techno-obsessionado and not ashamed.

I have to be honest, I was pooing my pants a little about Bangkok. Watching The Hangover 2 a couple of weeks before arriving here wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. I was imagining a city full of drunken eighteen year old Westerners on their “gap yaar” and hungry for some sex tourism.

Thankfully, it’s not like that! Or I’ve just managed to avoid the dodgy areas. Either way my experience of Thailand so far has been better than expected. I love the food, love the Buddhas and have even treated myself to a Southeast Asian phrasebook so have been able to have little conversations. It’s a lovely place!

Did I mention I’m leaving the country tomorrow?

I will be back, but Bangkok seems to be the best place to get a visa for Burma (or Myanmar, call it what you will) so tomorrow I’m heading to Burma! Hooray!

That may seem a controversial decision, but from reading about it since planning my trip I became rather intrigued. On top of that, everyone I’ve spoken to about Burma since I’ve been away has either been, loved it and recommended it or desperately wanted to go. Which made me desperately want to go.

I was a little torn because foreign phones are blocked and internet access (and more so speed) is potentially not up to much, which would mean potentially no communication with family, boyfriend or friends for two weeks. Thinking how lonely I got in Bali when I was away from the internet had me torn. That was five days, could I cope with two weeks?! I know that makes me sound like a real 21st century techno-obsessionado but when you’re travelling alone, I think it’s nice to have a bit of communication.

I’m hoping that the difference between Bali and Burma will be the local people. They are reputed to be amongst the friendliest in the world so hopefully I’ll never be lonely!

I’ll report back, be it tomorrow or two weeks time…!

Categories: Burma, South East Asia, Thailand | Tags: , | Leave a comment

One journey, two countries, eight stamps.

From Penang, I flew to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah on Borneo. It’s still part of Malaysia, but because it’s semi autonomous, you get a little “entered Sabah on…” stamp. Initially, I was thinking of spending a couple of days here, one of which I would go to Mount Kinabalu National Park – not to climb the mountain, just to do some trails around the park itself and then head back. I though from there I’d then head down to Sandakan for a couple of nights as this is near one of four orang-utan sanctuaries in the world! After this, I was planning on Semporna, which is apparently home to some of the best dive spots in the world.

However! Things have changed slightly since that plan…I’m writing this from a different country. I was in two different countries today, yet I had my passport stamped eight times. I’m now in Brunei. If that means nothing to you, Brunei is a tiny country on the top of Borneo and it looks a little like this:


 

 

 

 

 

This means that when you go on a bus from Kota Kinabalu to Bandar Seri Begawan, this happens:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, let’s add something else to the perfectly to scale diagram, Malaysian Borneo is split into Sabah and Sarawak, both of which are semi autonomous:

So altogether the journey involves going in and out of two different countries, and two different states of one of those countries, a grand total of eight times! My passport now looks a little like this:

At border control number five (or four, they all became a bit of a blur), I had a brief chat with one of the drivers who told me that he has to get a new passport every two months because he racks up seven stamps each day! I checked, his work pays for the passports!

I was quite looking forward to the journey, well, as much as you can be looking forward to an eight hour bus journey. Within minutes of me sitting down and whipping out Sons and Lovers, Justin Bieber Never Say Never The Movie was on! Well, Sons and Lovers could wait. Plus reading on a moving vehicle makes me feel a bit sick, whereas watching Justin Bieber on a moving vehicle? That just makes me laugh. Unfortunately, we went over a speed bump after 15 minutes and “The Beebs” was gone. However, my personal favourite quote from what I saw was his vocal coach’s response when “JB” asked for a razor – “Really? A razor?”

The DVD player was off until we stopped at the first border and the drivers had a chance to play with the wires. Only to put on AWFUL karaoke tracks. The lyrics were rolling across the bottom of the screen in front of cheesy images edited on Windows Movie Maker. URGH. I whipped out the iPod. But the karaoke was loud, and it was about to get a whole lot louder…

On the seat opposite me was an adorably bizarre old woman, wearing a batik dress held on with a bumbag, thrown over pyjama bottoms with little wintery bears dotted on them. She had a pink quilted jacket and green thing that was on and off her head more times than I thought about Rick Astley during the bus ride. She must not like karaoke, because not long after the karaoke started, she whipped out her own entertainment device, presumably to block out the noise. She had a little portable DVD player and a carrier bag full of DVDs. Only problem was, she didn’t appear to have any headphones. I wouldn’t have minded too much if she was watching something I could sneak a peek at. However, when the films started, it soon became clear that she was watching home videos of herself. Mainly of herself singing. To a duck. Seeing as she clearly didn’t seem to care about her volume, I put mine up to block out the crooning “lay lay lays” to the duck. At times, I was literally clutching my ear to block out the sound. Especially when KL Gangster came on after the drivers got bored of the karaoke DVD. It started with a man getting a beating on the road outside the entrance arch to Petaling Street, yards from where we stayed in Kuala Lumpur! They also threw in lots of night shots of the Petronas Towers for good measure. I wouldn’t recommend they add it to the in-flight movie list, people would be landing and going straight back out.

As for Brunei now I’ve finally arrived, well! It’s a fascinating little place.

I set out to stay at the “Youth Centre” for B$10 a night (5GBP) as opposed to B$30 (15GBP), which was the next lowest price I’d managed to find. I found the Youth Centre no problem; Bandar Seri Begawan is very small. There was a man stood at the entrance to what I assumed to be the Youth Centre.

“Pusat Belia?” I asked.

“Yes, but the manager has now gone. I am also wait here and he say he come back soon. You come in, come sit. He is here soon. You can have bed.” replied the man, ushering me to sit down. I hadn’t fully understood what he was trying to tell me, mind you.

“Well, I think..so, what? Do you work here? Can you give me a bed? Or do I go in and wait for him?”

“You can wait here. I am customer also. I do not work here. I am here on business but I ring him and he say to me that he is here soon.”

“Right, err, ok.” I sit down.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“England. And you?”

“Oh England. I have been three times to London on business.”

“Right. What did you think? Did you see Big Ben? Buckingham Palace?” I was struggling to think of monuments for a few seconds after that. Isn’t that awful?!

“Yes yes. I see all these things. It is very nice. You are very nice. You travel alone?”

“Yes.”

“And where is your husband?”

I’d decided at this point it was best to go with the fact that yes, I do have a husband. I don’t.

“He is working. In England. But he will come and meet me soon.”

“And does he work or do business?

“Sorry?”

“Does he work or do business? Business is better. You can get lots of money and then not a lot of money. But with work always the same amount each month.” Surely, he’s just talked up the benefits of work as opposed to ‘business’?

“Right. Yeah. He works. And does business too. So where are you from?”

“Bangladesh. Have you been?”

“No, not yet!” And I probably never will! But I didn’t tell him that bit.

“You must come. You can stay at my house. I live 20 minutes from the airport. I will give you my address. And you can stay in my bed. In my house.”

“Right. Maybe one day!” A very polite way of saying never.

“And next time I come to England, I can stay at your house. You give me your address and I will come.”

“Hmm. I live a long way from London!” I don’t. “Way up north!”

Thankfully, someone arrived at the Youth Centre. He headed towards the swimming pool. I went to ask if he knew any more than we did. He was very nice and from Sudan. And he did know more than us. Apparently they are closed for a few days after Hari Raya (the end of Ramadhan). B$30 a night it was then. I started to head back into town.

“My friend! Wait! Where do you go? I ring him now! And he says he comes! He will be here very soon! My friend!” Mr Bangladesh did not want me to leave. Even if the Sudanese man had only meant that the swimming pool was closed after Hari Raya, I wasn’t waiting any longer with this guy to find out.

I arrived at my 15GBP a night room (the most expensive so far!), showered and headed out for food. Thankfully, I found a hawker market very close to where I’m staying as shown on the map in Lonely Planet. Only, it was very quiet. Once I finished my chicken and rice, I discovered the rest of Brunei was also very quiet. This is the capital city! And it feels deserted! It is remarkably clean though and it does feel very safe. I took myself on a little stroll around the main hub of the city, passing Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and the call to prayer on the way. One of the better “singers” for the call to prayer I’ve heard.

This morning I set off nice and early, thinking I could make the 3km walk to the Palace and another mosque before it got too hot. I think I got about half way and was sweltering! So I gave up on that idea and instead went straight to the Royal Regalia Museum, which is full of gifts given to the Sultan by presidents, prime ministers and other royal families from across the world. Personally, I couldn’t help but think it led me to understand a little further as to why we’re having a global economic crisis.

“What shall I send the dear old Sultan of Brunei for his birthday, Phillip? Ooo, I know, a big glass vase with my initials on it. That’ll come in handy for him.”

No it won’t Lizzie, it’ll end up in a museum. I’d feel slightly insulted if I spent that much money on a gift and it wasn’t even in his house. Especially when his palace is three times bigger than Buckingham Palace!!Even if he put it in one of the 257 bathrooms I’d be happy.

I’ve only been here less than 24 hours, but I’m mesmerized by the place. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been and if you come to Borneo, it’s definitely worth adding a day or two here to your itinerary. The wealth is evident but not in the sense of skyscrapers or amazing monuments, the money has been put into religion, royalty and roads. I’m also quite fond of the fact that for the first time in over a month, zebra crossings mean something.

My only negative of Brunei is that I can’t send text messages – so apologies if you’ve text me over the past couple of days and I haven’t replied! I’m still alive! I suppose this is good practice though because tomorrow I’m heading back into Sarawak to a town called Miri. This is the base for flights to Gunung Mulu National Park and the Kelabit Highlands. I’m hoping to spend a couple of nights at Mulu exploring the caves and a couple of nights in the Kelabit Highlands, perhaps doing a longhouse visit if it can be arranged! If I get to Mulu and the Kelabit Highlands, I’ll also be phone (and Internet) free, but I’ll report back as soon as I can!

Categories: Brunei, Malaysia, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Well I wasn’t expecting this!

So here I am, typing away in my bedroom, sat on my bare matress getting ready to leave at 12 for take two. On the 2nd of August.

HUH??!!

I know right, I should be sat in a Saudi Arabian airport paying 100000000 Saudi Riyal per minute to type this! Well, things didn’t quite go to plan. If you read the last post, you’ll know that I was pooping my pants a little about my Saudi transit. Thankfully, all the kerfuffle was this side of the check-in desk and I’m all booked to fly EMIRATES (yeah, uh huh, screw you Saudi Arabia Airlines!) through DUBAI (yeah, uh huh, screw you Riyadh!) to Singapore arriving a mere 5 hours after my expected arrival time of the past 6 months.

I’ll start from the beginning….

We arrive at the airport, I head over to the check-in desk, we queue for ages because quite a few people have more bags than there are people in the queue. One woman literally had 4 trolleys worth of huge suitcases. I’m glad I didn’t get on that plane it wouldn’t have made it very high off the ground. Anyway, we’re queueing, making friends with the woman behind me in the queue (who was, I would like to add, bigging up Emirates!)…..eventually, we get to the front of the queue. Man asks to see my passport and ticket. He says:

“Are you aware this is a 21 hour stop?”

I say:

“No, what, really, what, what’s an hour?”

I’m kidding:

“Yes, I’m actually rather good at incredibly simple maths.”

No, seriously, I played innocent:

“Yeah, I’m staying in the airport, it’s a long time, I know. Ha.” Attempting to laugh it off.

He calls his client over, we have the same conversation. She says “You’ll need a visa for being there more than 18 hours,” I tell her I know and that I’ll be staying in the airport and I know it’s a long time in an airport but I’m prepared for that and she says, “Ok, if you’re staying in the airport, it’ll be fine.”

I get called to the check-in desk, no time to say goodbye to my new found friend (who would have been in the airport for 3 hours – someone to talk to!). The man there was not as nice, very grumpy, very grizzly, very I’m-talking-about-you-on-the-phone-and-I’m-not-going-to-tell-you-what-I’m-saying…y. He said I wasn’t allowed to fly without a visa and that I’d need to see what the “airline ticket service” desk could do. Basically he passed the buck. Coward.

So we trot over to the “airline ticket service” desk. I’m feeling pretty angry at this point. Not surprisingly, I think it’s fair to say. The people there were lovely, still refused me but they were much nicer about it than grumpy grizzle guts at check-in. They said there was nothing they could do for me other than advise me to call my travel agent who sold me the ticket. At this point, I’d like to make it clear that I purchased the ticket as one product, therefore, as far as I’m concerned, meaning that the travel agent had deemed it possible for me to make this journey. The “airline ticket service” folk told me that it was an illegal connection and I shouldn’t have been sold the ticket without appropriate visa advice from my travel agent, which I was not given. Fuming, I left the “airline ticket services” desk and burst into tears. Again, not surprisingly, I think it’s fair to say.

Me and my boyfriend went and sat down and hunted for a telephone number for the travel agent. I then made a very angry 15 minute phone call to Shervin or whatever he said his name was. He started arguing with me! Surely if you’re representing your company, regardless of someone being rather annoyed with you at the other end, you keep as calm as possible, you can’t argue back!! Apparently “the system” is to blame for the whole thing because “the system” is responsible for making this a possible flight combination. Ridiculous.

My favourite line from the phone call was:

Shervmin: “How do you expect “the system” to tell you if you need a visa?”

Being quite taken aback by this and not feeling the need to reply with a rant about how computers and “systems” were controlling the entire airport I was sat in and were controlling the plane I should have been heading for I opted for:

“How do I expect a computer to tell me something?! Because we’re living in 2011, my friend!”

What an idiot Charmin was. No use. “non-refundable” and “non-changable” and “system” were clearly embedded into his little mind, and the fact that his company could make a mistake was beyond belief. “The system” avoids mistakes for them, of course!

After finding out from the Malaysian Airlines lady that the only ticket they could offer me via Kuala Lumpur to Singapore was over a grand, we headed over to arrivals to use the overpriced and underpowered internet. And that’s when we found my new flight. Luckily.

One thing our friend Shervmir had suggested (I say one thing, really the only thing, he was absolutely useless) was to ask the airline for a partial refund. So once we were all sorted I suddenly remembered his little bit of advice and we trotted over to ask at “airline ticket services”. The same nice woman was there, and she remembered me. She said she’d need to ask her manager – who was the first woman who had said it’d be ok. She ok-ed me flying and said they could fax something over!!!!

What a joke! That really was the cherry the icing, on top of the cherry, on top of a huge, dirty cake of bad luck.

What I learnt from yesterday:

  • Be prepared for the rest of the trip re: visas, onward travel info etc
  • Boss knows best – don’t listen to the people at grassroots level, if you want something ask for the big boss, worth a shot
  • Saudi Arabia sounds pretty dull, or so according to my new found and never to be found again friend behind me in the queue
  • DON’T USE TRAVELPACK
  • “The system” can be blamed for anything
Categories: Hometown, South East Asia | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

This time next week…

…I’ll be on a plane to Singapore from Saudi Arabia…hopefully.

This week I’ve been double checking the visa situations in the countries I’m planning to visit. You don’t need to apply for a transit visa for Saudi Arabia – oh, that is if you’re there for less than 18 hours.

I’m there for 21.

Great.

Ok then, so it looks like I’m gonna need a transit visa.

Right, scroll down the page….you cannot apply if: you’re a lady travelling without a male relative.

Oh right, ok, brilliant.

So am I going to be detained?

 

 

 

Arrested?

 

 

 

Imprisoned?

 

 

 

Thrown to the wolves that are so common at all international airports these days?

 

 

 

 

 

I’m hoping none of the above. I have no choice but to risk those three teeny weeny hours not causing me any problems. And then, this time next week, I’ll be on a plane to Singapore from Saudi Arabia…hopefully.

Categories: Hometown, South East Asia | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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