After bidding farewell to my brother and his family at the Ubon Ratchathani airport my wife and I took a deep breath and thought now what?!
We had a lot of jobs we wanted to complete but not sure how best to go about them. In two days time we had an appointment organised with a group called Compassion to check out their local Ubon operation as well as to meet with our sponsor child. It didn’t seem worth it to drive back to the village only to return such a short time later so we let the hotel know that we would be staying on a little longer.
Another job that needed doing was renewing my wife and two daughters Thai passports so we all set off to the local passport office to get it done. Imagine my surprise when a sign outside said they were closed due to the government protests that were happening at that time. We ventured inside and spoke to someone who said that no passports could be processed at that time and that it would remain that way for the foreseeable future. The only way was to travel to Bangkok as there were two offices still open to help people in emergencies.
With only a few weeks left in the country we decided not to take the risk by waiting and headed back to the hotel to make plans. First thing we did was call compassion and ask if we could move the date forward to that afternoon and thank fully they said yes. Seerung then took all her paper work back to the office to talk to the staff who were on strike to ask if she had everything in order for a trip to Bangkok. No use going all that way if something was missing. Once it was confirmed we had everything I then booked tickets for the first flight the following morning to Bangkok for all five of us.
Back in 2009 I blogged about finally getting Thai passports for my kids. It was one of the hardest paperwork jobs I had ever had to complete with wrong turn after wrong turn, lies and corruption. I wrote back then that never again do I want to do that. I figured that renewing a Thai passport would be so much easy then actually applying for one. How wrong was I!
The meeting with compassion went really well and it was so nice to finally get to meet our sponsor child. I am not sure what the rules are from Compassion about posting photos of sponsor children so have decided it would be better not to. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a child in Ubon, Thailand or elsewhere in the world I can really recommend the Compassion team. I was very impressed with what they are achieving.
We were up by 5.30am the following morning but for some reason it took us way to long to get ready. As I ran down Sapphasit road trying to get the attention of a taxi driver I thought perhaps for the first time in my life I would actually miss a flight. We made it with just a few minutes to spare.
By 8am we were at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok and by 9am we were outside the passport office in Pinklao. Of course, we soon discovered it had moved but thankfully only 500m down the road. By 9.15 we arrived in a pool of sweat hoping that this was going to be a painless process. The elevator doors swung open on the 5th floor and we were greeted with the longest queue of people I had ever seen. 1,200 people were lined up in between various shops like a super long and very flexible snake.
Immediately people told us that we were too late. Apparently they can only process 1,200 people a day and that quota was already full. People had been arriving from 3am that morning! As it was a Saturday and on Sunday it was closed we were looking at a very long and unexpected stay in Bangkok. Just to add to matters, my visa was expiring the next day as well. I said to Seerung that I would wait with the kids and for her to see if she could find someone in charge and see if anything could be done.
20 minutes later she came back with three tickets in her hands. They were numbered 1201, 1202 and 1203! She had found someone with a sympathetic ear who went and spoke to her boss before returning with those three magic numbers!
Our excitement was short lived though as we considered the day ahead. The line did seem to to move quite quickly but then we realised that it was only the first stage. You are seen by the people out the front who check that all your paperwork is in order. If so, then another number is given to you which is for the next queue to actually go out the back and get your photos and fingerprints done.
After two hours of waiting with Seerung shuffling along in the queue while I sat on the floor with the kids we eventually got to see the paperwork people. Unfortunately it was just as lunch was being delivered and the two ladies were not very interested in us. They took a quick look and said that a document was missing and we would have to come back with it another day. All the blood drained from my face as Seerung patiently explained that everything had been checked in Ubon and we were told we were good to go. As they started shovelling food into their mouths they simply said that there was nothing they could do and to please leave. I told Seerung that seeing as the document they wanted was actually located in New Zealand we needed to do everything we could to get them to change their minds.
We asked to see their boss but they said he was busy. We said we would come back in half an hour after lunch. When we did they said they did not know where he was. Suddenly an official looking man walked into the room so Seerung asked if that was him and they said yes so we grabbed him as soon as possible. He looked through our paperwork and listened to our story and then scribbled a note to attach to our form and said we are good to go! What a relief that was!
We got our new queue numbers and then found a patch of floor to start another long wait. During this time Jacob started running a fever so I went and got him some medicine which he took and then fell asleep in my arms. My back felt sore for days! After almost 5 hours of sitting on the floor and 12 hours since we had started the days journey finally we were the very last people left in the room and then we were called. By 5.30pm it was all over! We staggered outside and found a seat and considered our plans.
Using my phone we figured there was enough time for Seerung and the kids to get back to Don Muang airport and catch the last flight back to Ubon. I also had just enough time to get to Suvarnabhumi airport on the other side of town to catch a flight to Phnom Penh in Cambodia as my Thai visa was expiring the following day. I chose Phnom Penh because it was the cheapest ticket at the right time into a country that I could get a visa of arrival.
We walked out onto the street where I hailed a taxi and loaded the family up. No time for farewells and I felt really sorry for the kids who were a bit confused with what was happening. I then crossed over the busy road to catch a taxi going in the other direction. Boy did it feel good when I fell into that back seat and closed the door!
We all made our flights and I arrived exhausted into Phnom Penh a little before midnight. I got some sleep but woke early which was good as it allowed me a few hours to walk around the streets of Phnom Penh. Too be honest it did not impress me all that much but obviously I had barely even scratched the service. Later that day it was the return flight back to Bangkok and onwards to reunite with my family.
If you are thinking that then I managed to have some time to rest up after all the adventures, you would be wrong! As soon as we were back together it was time for a five day celebration to be held at our house in the village! More to come on that soon.