My fiancée Jenny spent every spare hour of every day for six straight months researching and preparing for our trip to Thailand. We dreamed of chic Bangkok, Phuket’s romantic beaches, and relaxing mountain spas for the weeks leading up to the trip, until the day finally arrived: December 31st, 2006.
When we got to JFK we found our Air China flight had been delayed due to snow in Beijing. (It’s important to note here that Beijing receives, on average, 0.2 inches of precipitation for December and January combined, so a snow storm on New Year’s big enough to shut down PEK is unheard of.)
So we waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally, we boarded our flight, hoping to make our connection to Bangkok in time. Long story short, we didn’t.
We landed in almost total darkness at 11:30 China Standard Time. As the plane pulled up to the gate Jenny and I saw a man on a rickety bicycle about fifty feet away from us on the snowy tarmac. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore.
We hustled off of the plane through the snow and into the terminal. Other than our flight the airport was empty. There weren’t any English-speakers to greet us, just a couple of agents who, though friendly, weren’t terribly informative. Through hand signals and smiles we were guided to a bus which drove us down a dark highway to an massive hotel. Once we got inside the hotel we saw that the place was threatening to fall down around us. We had to surrender our passports to the front desk (something we would come to find out was standard practice in China, but terrifying to the uninformed tourists accidentally in Beijing for their first time). After some protest by the hotel staff, the kitchen was opened and we were subjected to some of the worst food in history.
Jenny and I hoped to find a New Year’s party, and followed the sound of loud music through a long corridor, but all we found was a semi-conscious drunk man howling into a karaoke machine in a room that was clearly post-party.
We finally gave up and went to sleep in our dusty, smoky room.
The next day, we got up in the dark to see the Forbidden City before heading back to the airport. We were packed for the beach, so we froze in the January morning. We were happy though, and having a good time, still excited about Bangkok and beyond.
When we finished walking through the palace, we checked in at home to find that there had been a series of coordinated bombings in Bangkok the night before. Our great misfortune had kept us out of harm’s way. I even joked with my mother that we were “safe and sound here in communist China!”
The U.S. consulate was closed because of the holiday, so we opted to stay in Beijing another day to see what they would say about our safety when they reopened. They said what we thought they would: that we should avoid all non-essential travel to Thailand. So we did.
We ended up doing two weeks by the seat of our pants, from Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong to Macau and back to Beijing. It was exhilarating, and a trip we won’t ever forget!