By Teh Jen Lee
BY the time you read this, Mr David Hesketh would likely have completed an arduous 18-hour road trip from Bangkok to Penang, where he will catch a flight back to Singapore.
Mr Hesketh, 57, a British citizen based in Singapore, had gone to Bangkok on Tuesday for business and was supposed to fly back last night. But with his flight cancelled due to the airport closure, he knew he had to find other ways of getting home.
Like him, other travellers - including Singaporeans - were also desperate to get back home. And they had to be creative in how they got out of Thailand.
Madam Ani Untung, a tour consultant at Travel Dream, an agency in Singapore, helped a couple staying in a Pattaya resort to get to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they could get a flight to Singapore.
They apparently had some urgent personal matters to attend to back home, said Madam Ani.
Another tour consultant, from Fortune Travel, who gave her name only as Gwendolyn, said some Singaporeans were even considering paying US$3,000 ($4,500) per head to take a private jet from U-Tapao, a small airfield that's 1.5 hours south of Bangkok.
She said: 'The option is usually reserved for super-VIPs but I had some Singaporean clients who were seriously considering it when their commercial flights were cancelled because they really wanted to get out.'
Even the Eastern & Oriental Express, a luxury railway service which takes more than three days to reach Singapore from Bangkok due to sightseeing stops on the way, was running out of tickets, she said.
In the meantime, Mr Hesketh started making his travel plans yesterday morning along with three of his friends who were also in Bangkok for work.
Mr Hesketh, who trades in forest products and has been living in Singapore since 1991, said: 'Two of my colleagues have flights out of Singapore to Europe on Saturday night and I have another flight to catch on Sunday to Hong Kong and Taipei.
'We knew we had to get moving because the situation is not going to be solved so quickly. Plus, there would be so many people backed up waiting for flights.
'It's going to take very long to unravel all the complications. If we waited, we could be here until Monday or longer. We just don't know.'
Mr Hesketh has been travelling to Bangkok about once a month or every two months for the past few years, so he knew what options there were to get out.
The first option was to head south and try to get on a plane, but all the flights out of Phuket were fully booked. The next option was to take the train, but that was fully booked as well.
'So we had to take the road, 15 hours to the (Thai-Malaysian) border, then another three hours to Penang international airport. We managed to confirm a Malaysia Airlines flight to Singapore from Penang,' said Mr Hesketh, who started his car trip around 4.30pm yesterday.
His private taxi journey cost about $800 in all, while airfare will be around $240. His driver is a 'very careful Thai guy' recommended by his Thai office.
Mr Hesketh was able to complete all his business meetings except the last one on Thursday.
'I had to cancel my last appointment because we had to start the car journey early. It's the longest car journey I've ever had to make, but you just have to be determined enough to get home,' he said.
Is he worried about encountering unrest in southern Thailand, as has been reported in the past?
'If we stick to the main highway, I don't think we'll encounter any issues. If there are any disturbances, we will keep our heads down and keep out of the way,' he said.
Mr Hesketh and his companions were not overly concerned about the Bangkok protesters.
'We were able to sleep okay. We expect things to unravel in a peaceful way, but we do get the impression that things are a bit more tense than they have been in the past,' said Mr Hesketh.
Nevertheless, he will continue to make trips to Bangkok for business in the future.
The New Paper spoke to Mr Hesketh about five hours into his car journey and he sounded cheerful on the phone.
'My friends are all sleeping. The five of us are travelling in a Chevrolet Zafira. There's enough legroom. We make pit stops every two hours or so, where we get out and stretch our legs,' he said.
'I'm just taking this in good stride. I'm glad that I'll be back in time for the weekend.'
Another person who will be making a long trip home is a Singapore teacher who went to Bangkok on a holiday with her friends.
She was supposed to fly back via Jetstar Asia on Sunday but she is not waiting until then to see whether the Bangkok international airport reopens.
So her group has already bought train tickets for Tuesday from the Thailand state railway service. The tickets cost 1,120 baht ($48) each. They couldn't get on any earlier train rides as all tickets have been snapped up.
The teacher, who declined to be named, said: 'We'll take a 21-hour train ride to Penang and then hopefully get on a flight to Singapore. We've booked the flight but it's not confirmed yet. If we can't get a flight, we may take the train all the way. It will take another day.'
If she manages to get a flight back, it will cost her $234. She originally paid $250 for round-trip plane tickets to Bangkok.
She said: 'We will try to get a refund - don't know how much we can get. We haven't called because right now the airline hotline is very hot.'
Why take such a long route home instead of just enjoying a few more days of holiday?
She said: 'We were afraid we'll be stuck here for a long time. It's very scary to be stranded - 24 hours, we're waiting for something to happen.
'Plus, many of us have jobs to go back to and families to take care of.'
Additional reporting by Kueh Xiu Qing and Navin Vijay Wadhwani, newsroom interns
|BY TRAIN ALL THE WAY
Route some people are considering, said travel agencies
State train from Bangkok to Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur to Singapore: At least 1.5 days
On Eastern & Oriental Express (from Bangkok to Singapore): 4 days and 3 nights because of sightseeing stops.
2. BY CAR, THEN PLANE VIA MALAYSIA
Route taken by David Hesketh and three others
From Bangkok to Dannok (Thai town at Thai-M'sian border): 15 hours
From Dannok to Penang airport: 3 hours
Flight from Penang to Singapore: 3 hours
Cost: About $240
3. BY CHARTERED PLANE
Some Singaporeans are considering this, said travel agent
From U-Tapao International Airport, small airfield 1.5 hours south-east of Bangkok, to Singapore. Aircraft is a 12-seater Challenger 604.
Flight time: At least 4 hours
4. BY CAR, THEN PLANE VIA CAMBODIA
Likely route taken by British couple
Pattaya to Aranyaprathet (Thai town at Thai-Cambodian border): 5.5 hours
From border to Phnom Penh airport: At least 4hours
Flight from Phnom Penh to Singapore: 2-3 hours
Flight cost: At least $140
5. BY TRAIN, THEN PLANE VIA MALAYSIA
Singapore teacher on holiday with group of friends
State train from Bangkok to Butterworth, Penang: 21 hours
Flight from Penang to Singapore: 3 hours
This article was first published in The New Paper on Nov 28, 2008.