Snafu #2 – China Visa, RTW Ticket and where to next? (2008)

I guess when airlines are involved and flights get canceled or my round the world ticket (RTW) is about to become void (if I miss a flight), that makes for a pretty big snafu.  This one counts as Snafu #2 (first one was back in May with Norway flights).

Well this snafu was about to happen and I saw it coming for about a week and was quite helpless with it all which I hate!  When I purchased my RTW ticket, I was told many times I could change the dates for the 5 flights with no problem and no charge.  I was also told if I changed the route, that was $100 – great to have the flexibility if I needed it (so I thought).  I was trying to change my ticket from Hanoi to Beijing as my friends Gina and Ben were going to be there a week after I planned to be.  I had the flexibility to meet them and figured no problem.

At that point, my Internet based phone service (Skype) got blocked in Vietnam.  So did Vanessa`s account and we have no idea why.  So for a week, I had no access to phones and knew I needed to try to change this ticket to China so I could get a visa prior.  I finally found another way to call the states and when I called, United said no changes were allowed on my ticket since it was purchased award miles (how`s that for taking care of your best customers)???  As I tried to hold for a supervisor, the phone would go dead from the silence (guess the phones I was using thought that was a dead line).  It was one of the most frustrating things.

I decided I should try to get to Hanoi faster to deal with trying to get a visa for China and booked a flight for the next day.  I have never booked a flight 18 hours in advance, but this in SE Asia, that`s the way it`s done.

Long story short, I was told by a United supervisor that if I took my flight to Seoul, Korea as planned, and wasn`t able to get my China visa in time, just call and cancel that one leg to Beijing and the other 2 future legs on my RTW ticket would still be OK.  Whew…that`s fine (so I thought).  If I did that I could purchase a ticket to Beijing and be back on track.

Getting to Seoul (at 5:30 in the morning) and knowing I had 12 hours to get to town (90 minutes away), get a visa and back to the airport prior to 6pm departure – I knew it would be tight.  I was able to figure out how to get a bus to town, where the China Embassy was and got there all before it opened at 9am.  Too bad they recently moved to another location in town for visa processing.  So I was directed to take the metro, transfer to another line and then find the visa processing center.   Did I mention that very few people speak English in Korea?  Signs are in English, but locals don`t really speak it.  So hard to ask for help if I needed it.

As the seasoned traveler (and without my huge bag as I left it at the airport), I got there and learned China will not issue visa`s in one day as they used to.  There was nothing I could do.  I couldn`t pay extra rush service as you normally can elsewhere, and no sweet talking.  I knew then I would miss my flight to Beijing and would need to spend the night in Seoul.  Crap!

I now had to find a place to stay.  I had no guidebook, no computer access (and it wasn`t easy to find any), and when I posed as a guest at a fancy hotel, I was given access to the business center to use for free.  Too bad my usual website for finding places to stay doesn`t have any listings for Korea.  That was a first.  I have found listings in every city I`ve been to.  Crap again!

Walking the streets, I asked at about 4 hotels if they had a room for me, but they are so expensive.  What was I to do?  Finally I find one that is about $50 a night.   More than I wanted to spend, but whatever.  It`s one night (so I thought).

I found an Internet cafe that had access to Skype and was able to call United.  I thought I was just going to cancel my one leg to Beijing, but I was told if I do that, the rest of my ticket is void.  Too bad.  After over an hour, talking to a few supervisors and begging, pleading and offering my first born child (almost) and trying to have them relate to my situation (that they would be leaving me stranded in Korea with no way back home and no way to use my ticket that I had arrange).  After all this, I hit the sympathy spot of the supervisor and she got together with 3 other supervisors and found a way to help.  This was a HUGE exception and they came back and said they would put me on a United flight from Seoul to Tokyo (2 hours), have me wait (for 4 hour layover) and then put me on a United flight to Singapore (for 7 hours).  Making my total transit to be 18 hours.  Why??? I have no idea, but I think they wanted to connect my RTW ticket back up in Singapore as that is where my next official leg leaves on December 2 and it was cleaner.

I knew there was no discussing it, I just needed to take it and say thank you.   They charged me $300 for this change, and then I had to figure out my own way to get to China.  If I didn`t take this or asked for anything else, I would have lost my Singapore to Australia leg and Australia back to San Francisco and purchasing those alone would have been over $2,000.  So I consider myself a winner!

But this flight left on Wednesday the 5th (and all this happened on Monday the 3rd).  So I needed another day at the hotel, had none of my stuff.

So what`s a girls to do…..go shopping!  I ended up staying on Fashion Street and there was a Gap and other stores.  Too bad Gap was so expensive, but I was able to buy a few new items and be clean which was nice.  New colors to add to my wardrobe.

Anyways, I made lemons into lemonade and will post more details on my Seoul entry soon.

Now I`m off to Singapore with no idea what I`m going to do, where I`m off to next or any future plans.  I guess this really is the true style of most RTW travelers…just going where the wind blows (or the cheap airlines take you).  I still plan to meet Gina and Ben in Beijing, but have to figure out how to get all the way back there in the next week and a half.

So all in all, it worked out as I was persistent and really pleaded and now the next adventure begins in Singapore….

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