Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Midnight flight to Cambodia

Midnight Flight to Cambodia, January 1st 2014

John and I successfully sleep much of the way between S.F.O. and Taipei.  Our China Airline flight departs from S.F.O. at 12:05 A.M. on January 2nd so after three long and tedious hours in the terminal we are exhausted when we board and both John and I fall asleep prior to take off.  Our seats, two rows from the back of the plane are surprisingly comfortable.  The body of the plane narrows towards the rear of the plane and there are only two seats abreast, instead of the usual three. This gives John an extra 10” along one side and he is able to extend one of his legs completely. Our seats truly recline; further than we have experienced in economy seats on other airlines and we cocoon ourselves in thick and silky blankets and prop our heads against agreeable pillows and sleep.

As nice as the seats are, the food on the flight is awful.  Twice, gracious and pretty stewardess, wake us; once at 2:00 A.M. for a nearly inedible dinner of chicken and rice and then again for a breakfast omelet, cold and soggy with coagulated grease. John pushes his omelet aside immediately and after one bite, I follow suit. Neither of us dare to bite into the flaccid grey chicken sausage curling along side. I drink two cups of bitter coffee only to put a stop the a coffee deprived headache that is threatening to worsen. We land in Taipei in one hour and I must be alert to navigate the terminal and make tight change connections for our flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

John, between flights, Taipei to Phnom Penh
Taipei airport charging station

It is only 6:00 A.M. when we arrive in the Taipei airport and the terminal is a glitter with name brand stores and cafes.  The signage is good and we head directly to the change counter where a robotic man scrawls gate A5 onto our boarding passes and points us down a flight of stairs to the platform for the train connecting the various terminals. We crowd into the train and with a whoosh of closing doors are jetted off towards the A gates. Two minutes later we emerge from our pneumatic tube into another sparkling and busy wing of this immense terminal.  We check John’s watch (when did he get a watch?) can see A5 in the distance and with time to spare we walk in the opposite direction in search of decent coffee. We verve into Illi cafĂ© and after scanning the illegible menu, I whisper to John that this cup of coffee may be almost as expensive as our coffees in the Abu Daubi terminal.  A woman in line ahead  of us signs a credit card slip and asks the exchange rate and I relax when the stylish barista tells her that her latte is just $4.00.   
We savor our two Illi cappuccinos, smooth, intense and delicious. The cobwebs of my brain clear somewhat and we head to our gate to find both a high tech charging station and free wifi and John connects to Facebook while we wait for our plane to board. 
The China Airline flight between Taipei and Phnom Penh is nearly 4 hours. Once airborne, we are offered another breakfast but since we are still on China Airlines both John and I steer clear of the omelet option, choosing instead the fish noodle breakfast entrĂ©e. We grimace when we peel back the tinfoil covers and look down on the slimy concoction of oily brown mystery sauce with chunks of composite translucent fish. John tells me he cannot eat it, but I cautiously push some of the slime away and take a bite of noodles. It is not awful and hunger gets the better of both of us and we nibble around the mystery chunks of gelatinous fish to fill our growling bellies.     
We will need to get "on arrival visas" in Phnom Penh and I am anxious. Happily the visa line is short and I grab two applications and both John and I set to filling them out. There is a blank square for a visa photo, which we do not have and my blood pressure rises as the young man beside us tells me that he has brought his photos with him. We head to the counter and the dour face official tells me that it will cost more without the photos. I ask how much, waiting for the ax to fall but he tells me $2.00 each. Relieved, I whip out $4 dollars and the young man with his U.S.A. photos smiles sheepishly and tells us that he spent $12 for his photos back home.  
We head towards immigration and John and I are directed to two different kiosks where an unsmiling official orders me to put the 4 fingers of my right hand on a glowing green scanner. I obediently oblige, following with my thumb and then a repeat performance of my left hand.  I pass through and wait anxiously as John is scanned and allowed entry.  We collect our baggage which has happily arrived with us and I do a quick change act, shoving my shoes and coat into my bag and slipping on my sandals. The couple in front of us have their baggage opened and searched but John and I are waved through and step out into an open breezeway with a series of exchange kiosks, phone card kiosks and tour kiosks to navigate. I exchange $200 at the rate of 380 per dollar and know that Art would really hate this, not knowing if the rate was a good one.  The woman counts out a huge pile of bills and both John and I cautiously check the many zeros against the official receipt to ascertain that the amount is correct.  I shove half of the thick stack at John and the other half into my wallet and we exit the terminal.