How Not To Get Home From Asia

Empty Row On Emirates

Returning from South Asia turned out to be as big of an adventure as the whole journey, it took a total of five days and very nearly freezing to death before I arrived home.

Throughout my journey I had slept in Airports to save money on accommodation but the next five days involve three flights, a 7 hour ferry journey, five trains, a long cold cycle ride and a lot of hanging around. I was due to stay in Asia for a further Thirty days but the money had run out and I had to cut my trip short. Based on my current spending habits (which are bad) I would require around £1000 to stay. The cost of returning home early would eventually come to £500 so maybe I should have stayed and somehow managed.

The journey home really started in Kuala Lumpur I had just spent eight days in Chinatown and the first leg was to fly To Bangkok. The flight to Bangkok was at 17:15 which meant a few hours hanging around KLIA airport but I was used to this now and rather enjoyed it. I hadn’t long to wait at Kuala Lumpur before my Airasia flight and everything was really easy. One thing that stands out when travelling a lot is the different attitude to airport security. Anyone reading this should know that airport security is just theatre and has not prevented a terror attack. It is just a way to make passengers feel safe and think the government is doing something. Every airport outside the UK I’ve been through on this journey has had a far better attitude towards its customers. After all travellers pay to fund the airports but are rarely treated as paying customers more like cattle.

KLIA has plenty of security but treat people more like humans and there is no need to take half your clothes off or empty your bag because you have a laptop. Although KLIA had 3 different security points, the first on entering the check in desks, the second to get into the departure lounge and the third to enter the gate area. All these security points are quick and professional, the only one which was a little annoying was the third because I had a drink and couldn’t take it through.

I was to arrive at Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok’s second airport around 20:25 and had to get a shuttle to Suvarnabhumi Airport where I was to spend the night. The shuttle bus journey was free but longer than expected. I noticed that all the billboards between the two airports had been changed to mourn the King and we’re black and white. On arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport I headed to the observation deck on floor 7 and lay my travel mat down in the same place I had the last time I slept here.

I woke around 06:30, charged my phone and tablet followed by repacking my bags. I wasn’t due to fly until 20:35 so put my bag in the left luggage to avoid carrying it all day. I spent all day in the airport eating, filming and snoozing.

The time seemed to go very quickly and it was soon time to check in for my flight to Dubai. I was traveling with Emirates which are efficient and professional but I doubt I will use them again, next time I travel to Kuala Lumpur I will book based on price. I was lucky as the flight to Dubai wasn’t full so I had a full row to myself and apart from eating I slept the whole 6 hours.

Dubai is one of the largest airports I’ve been to but arriving at 1 am I had 7 hours to kill, Emirates were kind enough to give me a food voucher. I followed the transfer signs and went through another security check no-point and into the departure lounge which was extremely busy. I found a spot in between a post and the travelators, lay down my sleeping mat, used my bag as a pillow and slept for 4 hours. When I woke the departure lounge had gone quiet and most people who were there lay on chairs and ledges sleeping. I checked the departure board and my flight was leaving from a different area, so I grabbed some food and wandered over to my departure gate.

The flight from Dubai to Amsterdam was comfortable and the time seemed to go very quickly, maybe it was all the hanging around I had done. I was soon disembarking at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. I was anxious as I had parked my bicycle in the cabin crew car park, it was exposed and I wasn’t sure it would be there after 60 days. Amsterdam was really cold but the sun was shining as I made my way to the bicycle park. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw my bike exactly where I left it, albeit a little damp and rusty. I was expecting to fly back to the UK because my bike had gone but now I was looking at cycling back to the UK, which was going to prove to be the toughest part of the whole journey.

I rearranged my gear, filling my panniers with the things I thought I wouldn’t need and my rackpack with the things I thought I would. I walked the bike to the road checking the brakes, I knew I would have to make some adjustments but was surprised to find the only thing I needed to do was pump up the tyres. When I arrived at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol the bicycle was beginning to fail, which was part of the reason I decided to fly to Asia. I hoped the bike would get me home.

I backtracked my previous route and soon came across the McDonald’s which is situated at the airport observation area. I stopped for a warm, some coffee and contact home using the free wifi, I didn’t stay long as it was 2pm and I wouldn’t have a lot of daylight left. The first few hours of cycling were enjoyable, it was very cold but the sun was shining and I kept thinking about how the bike had managed not to get stolen. I was even thinking about cycling the 1000km back home, after all I was in no rush.

The sun was setting quicker than I had anticipated, I should have looked at what time it would have been dark. I was still in a very positive mood and felt comfortable in continuing in the dark. I came across an Aldi and bought food, water, gloves and some thick socks. I knew I would have to sleep rough and somehow would have to keep warm in possibly freezing conditions. I had my hammock, bivi, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and tarp so surely I could manage a night wild camping. It had been nearly 8 hours since I left the airport but I hadn’t gone far at all, I was cycling as if I was out on a Sunday ride in the countryside, I had enjoyed the views, stopped a few times to rest but now I needed to locate a suitable spot to wild camp.

The temperature had dropped tremendously and I was feeling the cold, I was on a bike path away from traffic when I stumbled across a quite random picnic bench. I knew that had to be the place to bed down, it was early but as I was cold and it was pitch black on the cycle path I made the decision to stop, it would turn out to be a very bad decision.

The picnic table had one bench with a back on, so I propped my bike up on the back of the bench and got out my camping gear. I opted for sleeping with the bivi bag as there wasn’t an easy option to hang my hammock, I was also next to a public highway. I put my sleeping mat inside the bivi and then my sleeping bag on top of my mat. I was wearing all the clothes I was carrying and 3 jackets. As you can imagine I was as warm as toast, to start with at least. I took my trainers off and made the first mistake, I put them under the bench. The trainers should have been placed in a plastic bag of some sort, so if it rained I would still have dry shoes. I used my bag as a pillow and got myself comfy, no one had passed me in an hour and the road was far enough away as not to be spotted by anyone driving past. I lay there quite snug watching traffic pass and watching aircraft overhead, the sky was clear and the stars were out, I thought I was in for a good night. I must have fallen asleep as I was woken by rain hitting my face at first I wasn’t worried, after all I was in a bivi which allegedly was waterproof, I snuggled down further into the bivi and wrapped the hood closer to my face. I had placed my head torch in the neck of the bivi so used it to check my watch, it was 10:30 pm. I slept again but this time woke up because my feet were freezing, it was still raining but was very quiet. I checked my watch again, 11:30 pm, I kept wiggling my feet and rubbing the top of my legs to get warm but it was having little effect. I was too cold to sleep and at midnight a parade of people with head torches and visi jackets walked past, one of them waved and I waved back I thought they would approach me but they didn’t, I assume they could see my bike and that I was wild camping.

Around 12:30 am the rain started to get heavy, I snuggled down but was extremely cold, I think I fell asleep for 30 minutes or so but the bivi was now letting the rain through and I could feel my feet and legs getting wet. I wiggled and squirmed trying to get warm, I could cope with being rained on but I was freezing. I checked my watch again 2:30 am, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t get comfy I lay staring across the highway at a barn in the distance and could see the rain pouring down especially when a vehicle drove past and it’s lights lit up my view. 4 am I was awake and I have no idea if it was instinct but I noticed I had stopped shivering, I instantly knew this was a very bad sign. I grabbed my now soaked shoes and struggled to get out of my sleeping bag, I knew I had to move or things could get worse. I managed to get 2 of those shower caps out of my bag, I always take them from hotels to use not as intended but to ensure my shoes don’t mess up my bag. This time instead of placing the shoes in the shower cap I placed the shower caps on my feet and then put my soaked trainers on.

I ran around stamping my feet to get warm and then packed my gear away the best I could, it was difficult to coordinate my movements but I knew I would have to keep going. It took at least an hour to pack up and get moving again, this time pushing the bike. I walked until sunrise just to keep from freezing to death. When it was twilight I road a few miles which warmed my up considerably, I was lucky.  I followed a canal heading towards Rotterdam but decided to call it a day and catch a train to the hook of Holland, from there I would catch a ferry back to the UK.

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About John Holt

John Holt has worked in the travel industry for over 14 years and comes highly recommended by Trip Advisor for his practical and candid talks on travel destinations. Spending 18 months as a "Local Interest Specialist" for a leading tour operator John has become known as having more practical information than Google.

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