Saturday, September 22, 2012


WEATHER: 2 days travel……

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: All my flights connected

BUMMER OF THE DAY: 36 hours in planes and airports makes for a BIG day

WORD OF THE DAY: Saudi Arabian Airlines


Today I leave Addis Ababa
Today I leave Zeme
Today I fly Saudi Arabia Airlines
Today I head to Phuket.......
I will be back-you can count on that

My flight departs at 2pm today.  It is the first time out of my three visits that I have had a day flight and the last time I left Addis Ababa it was mayhem at the airport so I decided to leave the hotel a little early to account for any snaffu time.  Zeme and I say our good-byes now at the hotel, as public displays of affection is frowned upon, so with promises made, some tears, hugs and plenty of kisses is all done in private and I think I really like that, especially when there are tears as I hate crying in public.  It is sort of nice to get the farewell done, and as a bonus I still get to spend time with Zeme with the drive to the airport and still get a quick hug and kiss anyway when he drops me off.  People are not allowed into the terminal unless they are travelling, so the quick good-bye is all done in the carpark, Zeme gets me a trolley, I load up the monster and my other 2 bags and it is good-bye now and the new countdown begins with only 68 days until I return in the middle of November.  Hopefully to collect Zeme for our trip to Australia, if not I get another precious week with him, before I head home for Christmas.  It is a win win for me and I’m happy with our next plan of attack.  Now I just need to take with me the memories of another great trip and look forward to my last 8 weeks of travel.  I didn’t really do any of Asia on this Odyssey, with its close (well 8 hours) from Australia, I have done a lot of the Asian continent already including China, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Brunei, Hong Kong and Indonesia.  My Tran Mongolian trip took me out of Beijing and we were in China for around 5 days, but that was all of my Asia extent.  Now I am heading back to Asia, as it is cheap, I have a wedding to go to, it is cheap, and it was not far for me to then travel home to Australia at Christmas time. 

So with a wave and a toot Zeme was out of the carpark as I made my way to the terminal building when I was topped at a small security check point booth as I left the carpark.  He asked where I was going, asked to see my passport and my ticket and then I was waved through with have a nice flight.  Your bags are scanned before you are permitted to enter the building and as I did this, with my Ethiopian bangle causing a ruckus in Ethiopia, I looked around and there were more staff than passengers.  The airport was deserted.  I hate that feeling as you then start to think did I miss my flight?  Am I early?  Am I late? Was it cancelled?  As you wander in with that lost look someone came over to me and asked where I was going and where I told them Riyadh he pointed me in the right direction, so it was still going and I was in the right place.  There was only one man in front of me already at the counter and he was taking forever, fishing around in his bag for paperwork etc…  Seriously I was there for like 15 minutes, but the supervisor was really nice and pulled some-one from somewhere else to check me in as this dude fluffed around.  They were all so nice.  I got my window seat; my bag checked only through to Singapore and the BEST news my bag only weighed 22kg!!!  I had successfully unloaded 6kgof stuff with Zeme and I think my day pack was lighter as well, so I think I should be able to slip through Jetstar Asia with only 2kg over what I had paid for.  If they make me pay it isn’t the end of the world with it being like 15AUD a kilo, I can handle that if it comes to it.  So my travel day was starting out brilliantly.

There was not a single person at customs and I was processed in 3 seconds.  I am waiting for them to ask me why I keep coming back as I now have 3 visa’s in my passport, and you can’t miss them, they are the big stickers that take up a whole page in your passport, but not once have I been asked which I am fine to say why, but I wonder if that would create some concern at all?  I don’t know but as long as they don’t keep asking I won’t be saying anything.  There were a few people in the departures area, but again it was like a ghost town.  My flight was due to depart at 2pm with us having to be at the gate at 1.15pm.  Because there was no-one around I was at the departures at 11.35am.  I had some time to kill and thought I may as well get some food while I can.  All the shops and duty free stores were closed and a handful of restaurants were open.  It’s obviously not a busy time for them to be open; I guess I can see why with only 30 of us in the terminal!!  I was lucky the café that I picked had free Wi-Fi so over lunch I was able to keep myself busy.  This was New Year’s Day, a public holiday in Ethiopia (maybe that was why it was so quiet, doesn’t work like that in Australia) and the café had a coffee ceremony for the airport staff where coffee is brewed on a little open fire, popcorn and cake is passed around and as I left they were cranking some Ethiopian tunes and I could hear clapping. 

I got to my gate at 1.05pm-keeping in mind we didn’t have to be there till 1.15pm and besides 2 staff members there was not a soul in sight.  My first reaction was that I was the only one on the flight!  But I could see through the glass onto the aero bridge and they had started boarding early.  As I made my way down the aerobridge there were about 10 Arabian women in front of me and 2 men.  I was surprised as I thought that I would have been travelling predominately with men based on their culture.  Our bags were inspected at the aircraft doors on a small table by 2 security guards and the men were also scanned with security wand before they were allowed on the aircraft.  I thought maybe they don’t scan the women, but once we were on board the women were taken into the galley, the curtain drawn and then that was where we were scanned.  Once I was on my boarding pass was checked twice by the crew before I could take my seat.  Talk about security PLUS, but I don’t mind as it is all for a reason and for our own safety.  We were sitting on an Airbus A320 with a seating configuration of 3 x3 and have the capacity to seat 120 economy passengers, when I counted heads there were 28 of us!!!  I would say 20 of them were females.  I wonder what brings Arabian women to Ethiopia. So not only did I have the seat next to me free I had the whole dang row!!!  Woo hoo this trip is just getting better by the minute.  My travel gods have come back and it is good to have them on board.  As everyone was on board the doors closed at 1.20pm and we were in the air at 1.35pm.  Not bad for a 2pm departure and I don’t think I have EVER been on a flight that leaves 40 minutes early.  The plane seemed quite new and anything would be luxury after my hell flight with Ethiopian-ugh I still shudder about that flight.  Well while Saudi Arabian Airlines were on a roll they served us lunch 20 minutes after taking off and we had a choice of beef, chicken or fish, drinks were served and then we were able to settle in for the 2 hour and 45 minute flight to Riyadh. 

Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab world (after Algeria). Saudi Arabia has an area of approximately 2,250,000 km2 and it has an estimated population of 27 million, of which 9 million are registered foreign expatriates and an estimated 2 million are illegal immigrants. Saudi nationals comprise an estimated 16 million people.  The kingdom is sometimes called "The Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram(in Mecca), and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (in Medina), the two holiest places in Islam.  Saudi Arabia has the world's second largest oil reserves which are concentrated largely in the Eastern Province and oil accounts for more than 95% of exports and 70% of government revenue.  It has also the world's sixth largest natural gas reserves.  In short they are quite a wealthy country but not without their own internal issues and tensions.  A rare independent opinion poll published in 2010 indicated that Saudis’ main social concerns were unemployment (at 10% in 2010), corruption and religious extremism. The physical punishments imposed by Saudi courts, such as beheading, stoning, amputation and lashing, and the number of executions have been strongly criticized and the death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion.  One in four children are abused in Saudi Arabia. The National Society for Human Rights reports that almost 45% of the country's children are facing some sort of abuse and domestic violence.  It has also been claimed that trafficking of women is a particular problem in Saudi Arabia as the country's large number of female foreign domestic workers, and loopholes in the system cause many to fall victim to abuse and torture and lastly there is widespread inbreeding in Saudi Arabia, resulting from the traditional practice of encouraging marriage between close relatives, has produced high levels of several genetic disorders including thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy, deafness and muteness.  I guess the saying is true that money can’t buy you everything.  Anyway I wasn’t visiting the country, I have not burning desire to visit this country, it does not sound like a country for a visiting single female (I didn’t think you can anyway) and I was just happy to pass through the airport thank you very much.

I like the day flights as I can look out my window, I can take pictures and it was good to see our decent into the country of Saudi Arabia.  Once we had cleared the clouds we had 40 minutes where we could get a small aerial view of the country.  And all you could see was sand, as far as the eye could see was sand.  Not the nice beach yellow sand, this sand had a red tinge to it and it was everywhere.  You could see housing estates as we flew over and there was no grass to be seen anywhere, their backyards were sand.  Sand, sand, sand.  I am not sure I could live in a place like that.  There were brief, very brief glimpses of green, but we aren’t talking the sweet green grass of home, they were shrubby looking trees and certainly nothing you could rub your toes through like you can with soft green grass.  You could see the road network and the main road we were following in was like a black marker pen line drawn on the sand, it was straight as a die and no houses or service stations on this stretch of road, I tell ya you wouldn’t want to break down there that’s for sure.  And the estates that we did see were perfect satellite cities, all perfectly laid out in big massive squares with all the roads running in a beautiful grid style pattern.  Nothing like being able to plan a city from scratch.  We landed at 4.30pm with the welcome to Saudi Arabia information (the English version is very short and sweet) we were told that the current temperature outside was 41C.  WOW.  I was sitting there thinking thank goodness I won’t have to go out in that heat when I could see from my window buses coming to pick us up.  So much for not getting out in the heat.  I must say it didn’t feel like 41C when I stepped off the plane and down the stairs to the waiting bus (only one for 28 of us) and the bus wasn’t really that air-conditioned either but it was a quick 10 minute ride to the terminal where we all got off and as we exited into the terminal proper we were swept up in another plane disembarking and they were all men.  I swear there would have been 100 of them, all dressed in their PJ looking day clothes and this is when I first thought-okay, what have I got myself into?  I could see customs from where I was standing as I tried to get some form of bearings and they were all men, there would have been 300 of them down there with a pinch of a few women….  I was then rescued by a staff member asking where I was going and when I told him I was a transit passenger, he pointed me down this empty wide corridor where I could see a security check point at the end.  I can’t be the only transit passenger out of all these people surely?  So I made my way down to the security booths that were empty when a security man popped out from down the hall and started walking towards me with a smoke in his hands, he had a piece of paper in his hands and welcomed me to his country and asked for my name and destination, checked I had a boarding pass and then asked me to sit on some chairs to wait for the other transit passengers.  I waited around 20 minutes, and was joined in dribs and drabs by about 20 other people where we had to throw our stuff through a security scanner and walk through one.  Well as usual I beeped and I was waved into a small room where a lady sat covered head to toe in her black burka, all I could see were her eyes where I was checked with a security wand, asked where I was going, cleared and as I left she said to me to have a nice trip. 

We were all then herded up an escalator right into the oncoming traffic of a boarding flight.  That couldn’t be good.  So we had to wait to one side as they got the travelers through the gate, if we didn’t have our wits we could have been making a trip to Dubai instead.  That was a cock up I rekon as the check-in staff were saying something to the guy that had bought us upstairs.  Welcome to Riyadh GOOGLE INTERNATIONAL NAME where I had the next 9 hours to kill before my flight to Singapore.  It was an old terminal that was going through a makeover, but there seemed to be plenty of seats, a few small duty free shops and a handful of food outlets.  As I did a lap to orientate myself the first thing I noticed was the men, I rekon I was out numbered 100 to 1.  There were women around as well but not as many as the men and I only saw 1 other western woman and she was wearing leggings with a short top, I would never do that in a country like this, even though she did look good.  I was feeling bad enough with what I had on and I dressed with care this morning to make sure I wasn’t showing to much skin with ¾ pants, a shirt with sleeves and no cleavage and I made sure I remembered my scarf, and I still felt bad.  I was certainly attraction attention but it wasn’t leery attention it was just a white woman at the airport attention.  The next thing to check was if they had Wi-Fi and the answer to that was no.  They have a site undergoing construction but it was not yet released to the public and some of the juice places and takeaways claimed to have Wi-Fi but it wasn’t working.  So I had 9 hours to kill with no internet, gee they were making it hard.  So I found a table overlooking one of the gates, O had purchased a drink and I set up the computer to get some serious blogging started.  No more talk, I had to get it done.  So I sat there for 1.5 hours till my computer went flat and I had to pick up stumps and find myself a power point.  I found one right near the juice guy, so I asked if I could use his table and he said that was fine and I sat there for another 2 hours, blog, blog, blogging away.  There is only so much typing one can do so after I finished my 3rd blog I played some games and updated my IPod with some recent photos and by this time it was 10.30pm.  My flight was departing at 2am and boarding time was at 1.15am.  I still had 2.5 hours to go.  Because I was so early in arriving there wasn’t a gate number assigned so I decided to pack up, stretch some legs and find out what gate I was going to be leaving from.  As I walked around the terminal each gate had TV boxes were TV’s used to be but they were all now empty.  Every single one of them, so I went to the main entrance and they had LCD TV’s just through security, but they were all in Arabic, even the numbers, so there was no way I could tell or read a single thing on the screen.  I waited for the screens to click over twice, as they normally show an English version as well, but not this time.  So I walked to the Customer Service desk to ask them, and the first gentleman couldn’t understand I was saying Singapore, the second man next to him abruptly told me gate 25 without making eye contact and I was on my way to gate 25. 

When I got to gate 25, there were a lot of people (mainly men) already waiting, so as an extra check for me I was trying to read their boarding passes to make sure that they too were going to Singapore?  I probably looked like I was staring or a weirdo but I wanted to make sure I could find other people on my flight, cause sometimes they gate change and with no TV’s and not a lot of announcements in English I didn’t want to miss this flight.  I couldn’t see a single one, but there were a group of men sitting across from me with bags labeled to Bangladesh.  Is that where they are going or have come from?  I had a sneaking suspicion that all these people were not on my flight; I couldn’t even see a single Singaporean or Asian person in amongst the 150 or so people at gate 25.  Well I would give it till 1.15am when we were supposed to be boarding and then I will ask a staff member.  I was listening to music and playing solitaire till around 12.45am when I figured I better start listening to the announcements that were blurted out of the speakers, I couldn’t really understand the places the man was saying but I could hear the number and the gate, so I got my flight number in my head and just listened.  At 1.25am, I was just packing my stiff to make my way to the man behind the counter when he got up and called people travelling to Singapore…..  that was me…. It wasn’t over the big speaker and I was the only one to get up….WTF………….. was no-one else travelling to Singapore?  When I got to him, he checked my boarding pass and there was another man behind me and that was it.  They opened the gate, let us in and then closed and locked the door.  Ummmmmmmm where is everyone else.  When I got to the aircraft there was no bag check or security scan and when I boarded the plane there were a few people already on, they must have come from somewhere else, but not many for such a large aircraft.  I was seated in row 44 and when I got to 35 the hostee said I could take a seat anywhere, there were no people to come, and I think they wanted to condense the few people that were in this section which makes sense.  I felt a little awkward this was a Boeing 777-300 with a seating configuration of 3x4x3 and as far as I could count there were 10 of us in economy where the capacity was for 250 economy passengers.  So not only did I have a seat to myself, a row to myself but just about a whole section.  I felt like I was on my own personal flight as you really couldn’t see the people in front, I was the last person in row 35…… have I stumbled on the world best kept airline secret?  All I can say is they must have a crap load of cargo in this flight to make it profitable.  I want to fly them again just to see if it was a freak flight or if it is like this all the time….. I only paid 350USD from Addis to Singapore so I know it aint my ticket helping them pay for the flight. 

So with no further a-do we promptly took off at 2am-destination Singapore.  It was an 8 hour and 10 minute flight and it was going to be a very comfortable flight indeed.  The aircraft had in seat TV’s and a great movie selection, but by the time we were in the air and dinner had been served I had been on the go for nearly 16 hours.  I still had an 8 hour flight, 5 hours on the ground in Singapore, a 2 hour flight to Phuket and then an hour’s drive to the hotel.  I was just about half way…….. I did start to watch a movie after dinner, and out of all the seats I could have picked on the plane, mine had a bad flicker.  That would be right, so I moved into the middle seat and started to watch Safe House before I started to nod off to sleep, so I moved back to the window where I could lean and I bunkered down for the night and got 6 hours sleep and woke to the smell of breakfast wafting through the cabin. I did wake up a few times as the turbulence was pretty bad and as they tried to serve breakfast it was suspended twice because of this and at one stage when I opened my water we hit a massive air pocket and I nearly lost the whole thing over my tray.  We had a choice of pancakes, chicken and rice or poached eggs.   It has been 24 hours since my check-in at Addis and already it seems like a lifetime ago.  This continent jumping is a tiresome job.

We landed into Singapore at 3.35pm local time.  There is a 5 hour time difference between Saudi and Ethiopia and we came into Terminal 3.  I had to collect my bag and get myself to Terminal 1, but I wasn’t in a rush as I had a 5 hour connection here even though I hadn’t done the collect your bags and change terminals here in Singapore before.  I guess I will be good at it by the end as I have to do this 4 more times in the next 6 weeks.  Singapore have a lot of free internet stations located around their airport, so I thought I would quickly check my Facebook while I had a few minutes before having to get my bags.  There were 2 messages from Zeme, I replied back, checked my email and 7 minutes later I was in the escalators down to customs.  I was the only one in this massive hall going through and I am starting to believe I am travelling through some parallel world.  Where are all the people?  I asked the customs chick about getting to terminal 1 and it all sounded quite easy, so after locating a trolley, popping the monster on, getting stopped for a random bag scan, I was on my way to the train station.  I knew you probably couldn’t take the trolley on the train so just before the station I lugged the monster on my back, got to the station and there was a train waiting, travelled the 5 minutes to terminal 1 and when I got off someone had left their trolley right at the train, so I popped monster back on a trolley and I was on my way again.  It could not have been any easier if I had tried.  I found the Jetstar Asia counter and thought I would try and off load my bag early as I was 4 hours early for my flight, but they took it no dramas and didn’t bat an eye lid at me being 2kg over and after passing through customs again for the second time in an hour I was pretty much back where I started as T1, 2 & 3 are all joined together. 

I now had 4 hours to kill here, but Singapore is an amazing airport to kill time.  I have to say I was a little hungry and I have this thing for chicken drummettes from Burger King.  I went mad on them when I was in Spain and I know I can get them here in Singapore.  So I bee-lined for Burger King via the customer service counter where you need to pick up passwords if you want to use the Wi-Fi as they have to register you before they can give the code out.  You need one for each device so I got 2 with the idea that I would blog some more and keep my IPod also on the go.  So with my delicious chicken drummettes, my passionfruit iced tea and internet connection I was a happy camper.  This also sucked an hour of my time-woo hoo.  3 hours to go.  They have a Pandora shop here at Changi (well 2) and I thought I would just go for a LOOK to see what new beads they had in.  I am trying to expand my already fill bracelet with travel beads and I was looking for the evil eye bead to represent Turkey, Greece and Egypt.  When I walked into the store she told me that it has been returned and you can’t buy it anymore (I’ll check EBay) I then saw a whole bunch of beads that were perfect and 3 of them you could only get in Singapore.  I won’t tell you what I ended up walking out of that shop with but I think I need to ban myself from there in future, especially as I have 4 more transits through here it could prove fatal to the credit card.  But I managed to kill another hour.  2 to go.  I did need to buy a new watch, so that was next on my shopping list and I am a big fan of Swatch watches.  So I found one that wasn’t too expensive and wasn’t to bling bling and with that helping to kill another 45 minutes I needed to start working out where the hell I was and where my flight was leaving from.  It is easy to get disorientated at Changi.  You can always find your way-everything is well signed but you can lose your bearings all the same.  My flight was now on the departures board, so after getting a snack and some water to drink before my flight I sat outside my gate till we had to board at 7.45pm.  I am not sure if it is me becoming late or not, but again there were no people in the departure lounge and I got to walk straight on the plane!  Maybe my timing is getting better.  Either way we left on time.  This was a low cost airline so no food or drink are included in your price, not that it worried me as I had only paid 65AUD for the ticket, I was FULL and the flight was only 2 hours.  It was a full flight, but I had my window and I think I slept for most of the flight anyway.

We arrived into Phuket at 9pm, 20 minutes early and then it was the final push for me-FINALLY I was in Phuket.  I have 11 wonderful days here.  I have no plans of doing any tours, I just want to chill, get my blog up-to-date and then I will be well rested when the Elkins and Randall’s arrive on the 22nd September.  I have sent a gazillion people to Thailand in the course of my travel agent life and I knew that Australians didn’t need a visa, but I had a small panic when we got to customs there was a booth saying for you to get your visa’s here… WTF-when did that change!?  But it was for certain passports and Australia was not one of them.  After collecting a trolley and the monster I armed myself for the onslaught of taxi drivers pushing for a ride.  I had googled what the cost would be for a taxi to Kata Beach when I was in Addis, so I had an idea and got the tip to use the taxi desk as you come out of customs.  It was exactly as the internet said and I went to the taxi counter and asked how much for a taxi to Kata Beach and the man showed me pictures of cars and pointed to one that was 1650Bhat.  The price I was told was 650Bhat.  So I said not that was too expensive and then he produced a second sheet with cars that read 750Bhat.  You have yourself a deal, I wonder how many people fall for his ploy of offering the most expensive car first, I guess if people have no idea they are caught unawares and get ripped off.  Kata Beach is approximately an hour’s drive from the airport and I think 22AUD is worth the price. 

We made it to the hotel within 50 minutes, there wasn’t too much traffic on the roads at 9.30pm and we also took the back road to Kata by passing Patong and all its craziness, I was expected and I was in my room 10 minutes after arriving.  I just crashed in the bed for a few minutes, like a snow angle, glad to be at my final destination.  Addis Ababa seems like a life time ago already but I take comfort that I am back again in November and I have left the man who I know I am supposed to be with at this moment and forever more.  Is there a better feeling than knowing you are loved?  I don’t know about you but I love being loved.

Welcome to Phuket.   

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