After our fairly relaxing time in Nanjing, Christina and I packed our bags for Phuket. Andrew wasn’t able to join us for this portion of the trip, so Christina and I found ourselves travelling without a translator in China for the first time. We had developed some comfort with navigating the public transportation around Nanjing, so I was feeling pretty confident in our abilities to make it work without knowing any Chinese (or Thai). How hard could it be, right?
Pretty hard, it turns out. The troubles started when we went to check into our flight to Phuket. We were taking an evening flight from Nanjing to Changsha (yet another Chinese city roughly the size of NYC that I had never heard of), where we’d have a short layover before our flight to Phuket. Unfortunately, that second flight from Changsha to Phuket had been cancelled, and China Southern Airlines had neglected to inform us of that minor detail.
The next two hours was a mess. We had booked the flights through a travel agency, and between our lack of Chinese, breakdowns in communications between the travel agency and China Southern, our inability to dial internationally on Andrew’s phone (and Christina and I’s lack of a working inernational phone) we had no idea who to blame or what to do. After lots of troubleshooting, we ended up getting some answers and reassurances from the travel agency…by FaceTiming Christina’s mom in the US, having her call the travel agency’s international number on another phone, putting both phones on speakerphone, and placing them next to each other so we could talk to the travel agency. #MacGyvering
The travel agency assured us that China Southern had placed us on a flight the following morning and had arranged for a hotel for us to stay in during the overnight layover. Needless to say, we were both skeptical at that point, but upon arriving in Changsha that evening a couple China Southern employees intercepted us coming off the plane and told us that they’d get us to our hotel! We were quite relieved.
That relief quickly turned to a mixture of caution/fear/confusion, however. Our China Southern saviors rushed us out to the passenger pickup area, spoke rapidly in Mandarin to the driver of an unmarked van, and then motioned for us to get in. …we hesitated… “What’s the name of this hotel?” we asked. “Uh, it has a Chinese name…you wouldn’t understand” they said. Great. Into the unmarked van in a the middle of an unknown Chinese city we go…
Our driver (who spoke no English) took us on a 15 minute journey to what seemed to be a sketchy part of town. He parked, and I opened the door to a group of chickens meandering through the parking lot. Interesting. The woman at the front desk didn’t speak any English either, so we resorted to a series of hand gestures and dictionary translators to figure out what time we were supposed to be at the front desk the following morning for the ride back to the airport.
After making our way to our tiny, dirty hotel room we spent a good half hour battling with the air conditioner (hey, at least there was an air conditioner…). The remote had ~20 buttons with Chinese symbols and no English. Guess and check! We finally got the air conditioner working and drifted off into an uneasy sleep…
In what seemed to be a minor miracle at the time, we awoke the next morning with all of our belongings (and our kidneys). We must have successfully communicated with the driver the night before, because we were right on time for the ride back to the airport. The rest of the trip to Phuket was tedious and long, but thankfully much less eventful, and we were incredibly thankful to finally arrive at our resort.
We only had about 36 hours in Phuket due to the travel debacle, and not spending more time there is my only regret from the trip. Phuket was extremely beautiful and calming. It reminded me a lot of Hawaii (the only other “island life” place I’ve ever been), but it was ridiculously cheap and not overly crowded. I could definitely see myself living somewhere on the beach in Phuket for a year or two…
This post is dragging on a bit, so I think I’ll cut it off there and leave you with pictures from our adventures (including an elephant ride!) during our brief time in Phuket. Enjoy!