On my 25th birthday, I boarded a tiny airplane in my hometown of Campbell River, BC and arrived in Vancouver a short 25 minutes later. I had approximately 3 hours of tearful texting and incredible stress before boarding my 12.5 hour flight from YVR to Xiamen, China. (My stress mostly resulting from the fact that I wasn’t allowed to even check-in to my flight without proof of onward travel. Something I had conveniently overlooked, believing I wouldn’t have to worry about it until my actual arrival in Thailand and even then immigration is rumored to rarely check. After an hour of frantic internet searching, I had myself a bus ticket from Bangkok to Cambodia and was allowed on my plane).
Arriving in China was overwhelming. I’ve travelled before, but flying a Chinese airline and landing in a very Chinese city was something that I hadn’t really anticipated. I had a 7.5 hour layover and even though my checked baggage was being sent through, I had to pass through immigration and was not allowed to check in until 2 hours before departure. Luckily, Xiamen Airlines provides free hotel accommodation for any passenger with a layover more then 6 hours—something I was absolutely willing to take advantage of.
The problem here was that I hadn’t anticipated being allowed to leave the airport—Xiamen is one city where you can get a free 72-hour tourist visa if you don’t leave the city. The hotel was located quite far, and although it was taken care of the taxi ride there was not and I did not speak Chinese, nor did I bring any Chinese yen with me for this.
Luckily holding my Canadian passport was all I needed while I stood staring wildly at the Chinese man attempting to explain that the piece of paper he was shoving into my hands was what I needed to take to some hotel with a name I couldn’t read and how to get there. A man approached the desk, looking for his own special piece of paper, and being a Chinese Canadian himself, handled everything for me. He was going to the same hotel and told me to follow him to the cab and we would share it there. Without hesitation I took him up on his offer and followed him. The drive was approximately 15 minutes as the sun was rising and bewilderment was growing. I realized quite quickly that this man had been incredibly helpful and I would never have made it to the hotel on my own. He refused to accept any money for the cab ride, and even translated the hotel clerk so I could find my room easily.
The real magic happened when we walked to our respective rooms—I asked him how I was to pay for the taxi back to the airport. I had some American bills on me but wasn’t sure they’d be accepted. He told me I should be able to pay the cab driver $3USD and to refuse to pay any more. Then after a minute, he thought about it and pulled twenty yen from him wallet and handed it to me. This complete stranger refused to take any compensation for the yen either (I had both Canadian and American dollars on me).
Happily, I retreated to my hotel room to take a shower and nap for a few hours before returning to the airport. I laughed at the phone located on the wall beside the toilet and the shower head that was only 5’ from the ground.
Somehow, I managed to find my way back to the right terminal at the airport and navigated my way through a very complicated arrivals system. 7.5 hours in China and I had boarded my 3 hour flight to Thailand!
Approximately 27 hours after leaving my house and 14 hours in time difference, I finally arrived in Bangkok. Tired, jet lagged and ready!