WITNESS: Leaving Thailand? Mind your pees and queues ..

Wed Dec 3, 2008 11:49am EST
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Thin Lei Win is a Bangkok-based correspondent for Reuters' AlertNet service, the humanitarian news network. In this WITNESS piece, she describes first-hand the hassles experienced by thousands of travelers who were stranded in Thailand because of the political crisis.

By Thin Lei Win

U-TAPAO, Thailand (Reuters) - Having spent days helping report on the woes of foreign tourists trying to leave Thailand in the wake of the airport blockades by anti-government protesters, it was my turn to experience the hassles first hand.

My long-panned trip to Indonesia via Singapore was looking increasingly unlikely last week after People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters seized control of Bangkok's main airports, cutting off air traffic and leaving tens of thousands stranded.

For a time, I flirted with the idea of a grueling 10-hour, 900 km (560 mile) road trip to Phuket airport in the south, or an overnight 700 km rail journey to Chiang Mai in the north, but there was no guarantee I would make my Singapore connecting flight.

Then a window of opportunity opened.

As costs mounted for dealing with the estimated 250,000 people stranded by the airport blockades, Thai authorities opened a sleepy Vietnam war-era military base around 150 km (93 miles) southeast of the capital.

U-Tapao suddenly became Thailand's main international gateway, so I decided to head there.

The first thing that struck me after an uneventful three-hour drive to U-Tapao was the crowd -- there were thousands of people crammed into a small complex that just a week ago was handling only a few charter flights a day.   Continued...

<p>Thin Lei Win joined AlertNet in June 2008, becoming the first AlertNet journalist to be based in Asia. REUTERS/Handout</p>