Post designer's escape from Bangkok foiled

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 December, 2008, 12:00am

David Sutton, a graphic designer for the South China Morning Post, arrived in Bangkok before the airport siege began on November 25. Stranded, his hopes soared when he heard that the Hong Kong government was sponsoring flights out of Thailand for Hongkongers, only to be dashed.

Colleagues in Hong Kong told me at 9.30am on Tuesday that the government had organised charter flights to get residents out of Thailand, so I checked the government's website, which said one flight would leave at 1.30pm on Tuesday from U-Tapao military airfield.

U-Tapao is about three hours' drive from Bangkok and about one hour from the resort city of Pattaya. I was in Bangkok and there was no way I was going to get there by the 11am check-in time.

I called the hotline and was told there would be flights at 3.30pm, 5.30pm and 7.30pm and I should go to the Hong Kong Express desk at the airport. I packed as fast as I could and took a taxi to U-Tapao.

I arrived at 2pm and found the atmosphere similar to a street carnival.

A man dressed in camouflage and sporting a rifle held the door open for me. 'Check in over there,' he said. 'Free food here.'

I tried to check in but nobody had heard of Hong Kong Express. I elbowed my way to the information desk and was given a telephone number to call.

The good lady on the other end had at least heard of Hong Kong Express but didn't seem to know when the next flight would be. 'I don't know,' she said. 'Just wait.'

So off I went to investigate the free food. There was fried rice with Thai sausage, which could have done with more chilli. It was a sentiment shared by the legion of taxi drivers who made up the bulk of the recipients.

A few metres away a local band played in an entertainment tent, rattling off a popular tune.

Behind the tent, 30-baht (HK$6.50) foot massages with fragrant oils were on offer, with classical dancers performing onstage. The pop music was later replaced by some classical dancing.

Other stalls were handing out free water and others were selling sandwiches, soft drinks and fruit.

There were tourist information tents, the Red Cross and nurses from Bangkok Hospital.

After the classical dancing, a trio of ladyboys came on to lip-synch a tune extolling the virtues of Pattaya, and that drew the biggest crowd of the day.

Inside the terminal it was a different story. It was packed with people waiting to leave the country, but most were pretty relaxed.

Every so often, announcements on loudspeakers precipitated a rush to the check-in counters or immigration desk.

Then, after a couple of hours waiting, it dawned on me that I hadn't heard one aircraft land or take off.

By 5pm, I was tired and fed up.

My taxi back to Bangkok came with a tour guide. She had no customers so had come to the airport to help stranded passengers get back to the capital.

She was optimistic.

'Sure, these demonstrations are bad for the country, but no tourist has ever been in any danger,' she said.

There may be no danger, but I'm still stuck in Bangkok.