A couple of years ago, I took what I expected (nay hoped) would be the most ridiculously out of the way routing I'd ever taken - that was flying from Bucharest to Kiev via Amsterdam. I think though, I've just trumped that one (at least in terms of distance and time) by a huge amount.
I needed to fly from Almaty to Kathmandu, which on a map doesn't look that difficult. Nowhere near as close as Bucharest to Kiev, obviously, but it just looks like a 3 hour-ish flight across Western China/Tibet. You cannot, however, do it directly (which I guess is not a massive surprise, since there probably isn't a vast amount of regular traffic between the two countries). But when you look into it, you discover that it's pretty hard to do it with even one connection. There are two routes. The best one in terms of flight times, is via Delhi. This one however is problematic because the Almaty - Delhi flight arrives in the evening and the onward flight is not until the next morning. This would not be a major hassle were it not for the fact that to leave the airport (to go to a hotel, say) I would have needed a visa. And I didn't have that kind of time. So, instead I had to take the second option. Via Bangkok. To make matters worse, for reasons I'm not sure of, but which seemed to involve a need to circle the Himalayas and not cross the Gobi desert, the flight from Almaty to Bangkok starts off by going west and crosses Afghanistan, and Pakistan before flying east over India, Bangladesh and Burma. (Trust me this is not a terribly direct route). So it was a 7 hour flight. And, after a night in a very fancy hotel (Thailand allows me in with no visa, y'see) I am now in the airport waiting to fly on another 3.5 hours back to Kathmandu.
Still, it's not quite as bad as the fact that two of the participants of the workshop in Almaty who were from Nepal took a flight that routed them through Delhi and Frankfurt. So, I should be thankful for small mercies. Those two, by the way, left their home in the Kingdom of Nepal last Monday and will have arrived home yesterday in the Republic of Nepal. It promises to be an interesting time to be visiting Nepal all round, in fact. I never imagined I would spend time in a country run by Maoists (albeit democractically elected ones)
So, one night in Bangkok. I lived in Bangkok nearly 20 years ago and it was a spectacularly overcrowded, cloyingly polluted, gridlocked mess. It has got a lot better. (It may be one of the few cities in the world where the traffic situation has improved in that 20 year time period - though to be honest it couldn't have got much worse, without just becoming permanent gridlock). The airport is new, and very light and airy, a bunch of expressways have been built, meaning that the drive from the airport to the city centre took slightly less than 30 minutes - completely unimaginable when I was last here, and there is a overground railway system which has taken a lot of the pressure off the roads. I also noticed that on some downtown roads there is the big electronic board over the road which tells you which roads in the area are blocked/slow moving at that time. It's all very impressive. Even this morning (a Monday, after all) I was picked up at 7.30 and whisked to the airport in a similar time. I'm sure that there are still horrible bottlenecks and the extremely slow moving journeys of all cities, but the change that I have just experienced is pretty dramatic. Even the pollution seems tons better - 20 years ago I used to gag walking out the door into the traffic, but now I didn't even notice the fumes.
So, anyway, on to the world's newest Republic. Sawatdee Krap and Namaste.