By Jean E. Rolles
(Ed. Note: After the EWC’s recent alumni conference in Bali several members of the Center community experienced unanticipated travel adventures as a result of the protests at the Bangkok airport. EWC Board of Governors member Jean Rolles posted this account of her overland exploits on the website of Outrigger Enterprises, where she is Vice President of Community Affairs, and gave permission for it to be reprinted here.)
I recently traveled to Bali, Indonesia, to attend a five-day meeting of the East-West Center Board of Governors, and afterwards, some of the attendees and I traveled to Laos for a quick look at that beautiful country. I had carefully planned to leave the group two days early (November 24) so I could enjoy Thanksgiving with my family in Honolulu. All my good plans went for naught, however, as I got caught in the Bangkok airport mess and was stranded for five extra days, trying every which way to leave Thailand and get home.
My adventure began when I arrived at the Bangkok airport about 1 a.m. from Laos; it was only supposed to be a transfer point so I could catch a Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo and on to Honolulu. Instead, I found a wild airport scene of five thousand people dressed in yellow T-shirts screaming and chanting. (The disturbance, I soon found out, was a chaotic anti-government protest that wound up keeping the airport shut down for about 10 days, with full operations delayed several days longer!)
Luckily, I was in the foreign arrival section, so it was closed-off and secure. I was told to grab my bag and run through the back parking lot to the Novotel Hotel, where I would be safe. I took a room and got four hours of sleep and then got up, dressed, repacked, and was ready to go at 6 a.m. for my flight. However, you could not get any information from the airport or the airlines as to whether flights were leaving as scheduled. The front desk told me not to go to the airport because it was not safe, as there had been some shootings, leaving four killed and 25 injured. We were literally locked in the hotel with private guards outside. The only news I could receive about the airport situation was from CNN!