When we first started looking at flights the same old question popped up, only this was the first time we’d been responsible for deciding on the answer; “Do we save money and have a longer stop-over?”
The answer for us was yes, obviously. By having a 7 (turned nearly 8) hour layover we managed to save $400 on our flights between the two of us after shopping around. That meant that travel insurance, which came in at a whopping $360, was essentially free (well, you know, there’s some mental maths and convincing at play here, but it was basically included if you think the way I do). At the time we agreed it was a long period of time to be stuck in one wing of the airport, but I theorized we would take at least an hour or two to get through security and find our gate, and there would be plenty to do in Guangzhou as it’s one of the busiest airports in Asia.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. After we disembarked from the plane we were loaded onto a standing bus with no seats and driven around the outside of the airport to the waiting lounge directly. I am not 100% sure why I developed a severe migraine in China, but the fumes/atmosphere could have been at play – we couldn’t actually see the buildings until we were right on top of them coming in to land. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Another factor could be that I get extremely car sick and the bus drove in circles for a while, on some looping roads around the grounds and on the tarmac itself. Despite taking a while to drive us to the right place, the line going through customs with our hand luggage was surprisingly short, and then we were there; The transfer lounge.
It wasn’t that it was small, in fact I almost wish it had been smaller so I could walk the whole length and be disappointed by its’ selection faster. The only cafe that we bought drinks from is first on your left as you arrive, and their pricing makes little sense. The cheapest thing on the menu was a can of coke (which Jal later said tastes the same as Thai coke), coming in at ¥12, or $2.43NZD [$1.75USD, £1.40 or ฿61]. My bottle of water, a cheap brand and typically less than a can of coke, was ¥50. That is $10.12NZD [$7.30USD, £5.85 or ฿254]. The worst of the pricing was not in what we did buy, but of course what we couldn’t justify – ¥140 or $28.33NZD for a single persons’ serve of pizza. Luckily I had done some homework before the trip and knew not only that we should bring lots of snacks, but also what the currency conversion was – unfortunately if you don’t have a Chinese SIM card, the free WIFI is not for you, which is one of the reasons tourists can find crazy food charges on their credit card when they get home – they didn’t know how much it was, but bought it anyway.
The one thing that I cannot fault Guangzhou Airport for is the cleanliness. The floor was clean enough to sleep on, tried and tested by yours truly for 3 hours on and off, and there was a cleaner in the bathrooms every time I went in there. The airport itself (at least, this tiny section of it) is well-lit, well air conditioned, well-kept and modern looking. Besides the terrible food choice and lack of things to do or look at, it’s not doing too badly for an airport that services upwards of 60 million travelers every year.
When I say ‘a lot of space in between’ I don’t just mean time. Maybe it was the migraine talking, but Jal also agreed that the wait in that lounge felt like much longer than it should have. There was so much space separating us from our final destination it felt like we wouldn’t even enjoy it when we got there because the journey itself was such a strain on the whole experience. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced this before, but being aware of how slowly time is passing is painful; counting minutes ticking into hours until eventually a saint dressed in an airport uniform announces that your flight is starting to board. It was such a relief to get on that second flight I didn’t even mind there were no little TV screens on the back of the seats, and we tried our best to sleep through the last 2.5 hours of the trip.
Arriving in Bangkok was a blur. It occurred to me the new padlock we’d bought the day before (yes, we were those people who went shopping on the 24th of December, 30 minutes before the shops closed on Christmas Eve to buy one tiny item) was missing – presumably taken off by customs to check something. I remember being annoyed because we’d forked out for a TSA approved lock that didn’t need to be cut off, customs should have a backdoor lock for it, but they’d removed it anyway.
Stepping out of the air conditioning for the first time into 28 degree heat at 1am Jal looked at me and laughed, proclaiming “baby, you’re not going to survive the day if it’s this hot in the middle of the night”. It took our sleep-deprived brains a few minutes to figure out the taxi system, mostly because we came out of a door nowhere near the place where you take a number, but eventually we got our little waiting-room style ticket and a taxi magically pulled into space 27 a minute later. I pretended I’d been to our “friend’s place” before so they didn’t try to take us a long way, but I think the airport taxi drivers are usually pretty reliable and we got to Ari in around 30 minutes. Unsurprisingly, 1am is not rush hour traffic and it was a pretty smooth ride all the way in, ending up with a 500 baht fare including tolls, slightly cheaper than expected.
All in all I would offer two pieces of advice to any traveler going anywhere at all; Pack snacks, and get there ASAP. Nothing makes a journey more miserable than hunger and boredom. Also, if you are particularly attached to your phone, whether it be to read an e-book or just listen to music, flying with any Chinese airline will not permit this. Jal had preloaded about 20 new games onto his phone with the intent of playing them during our 11 hour flight and he wasn’t even able to take it out to take a photo; they do not believe flight mode makes a phone safe, they must be switched off at all times. Finally, we have put together a short video of our journey from Auckland to Bangkok, as well of course as many more videos to come. Enjoy! x