U-tapao: After a week-long anxious wait to escape the trouble-torn Bangkok our chance came on Tuesday when Srilankan Airlines decided to land one of their Hong Kong-Colombo flights at U-tapao airport in Rayong, around 150km southeast of the capital Bangkok.

As the blockade of the two main international airports, Suvarnabhumi or Bangkok International Airport and the old international airport, Don Mueang, by People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters is now in its seventh day, the number of tourists trapped in Thailand is estimated to have risen to more than 300,000.

My family and I, on a holiday landed in Suvarnabhumi Airport on November 25. By the time we got out the airport, it was fully taken over by club-wielding PAD supporters. For the next seven days it has been a big struggle to find a way out of Bangkok where the tensions have been mounting between PAD and the pro-government United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD).

Although our travel agent and local service provider reassured us of an early resolution to the political turmoil, as days passed it became increasingly evident that the stand-off is going to be much longer than expected and tourists are going to be trapped in the city with limited help coming from the government and diplomatic missions.

Although Thai Airways and a few regional carriers operated limited number of flights from U-tapao, getting tickets on these flights and getting past the lengthy procedures were almost impossible for some like me who was travelling with two young children.

The only other option left was to drive 800km to Phuket to try our luck with one of the local carriers to fly to any of the neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia or Singapore. However, on inquiry we found that the ticket prices were exorbitant there were long queues to get on to these flights.

The other option was to take 26-hour long train or road trip to Kuala Lumpur. With the rising tensions between PAD supporters and UAD across the country, many including our hotel discouraged us from taking such an extreme step.

Great escape

With our children already falling sick and hotel bookings expiring, we were, like most other tourists, desperate to get out of the country. Seeing our plight, Monday morning Srilankan officials agreed to accommodate us in the flight depending on the availability of seats.

After 3-hour long wait at a make-shift checking-in facility at an exhibition centre in Bangkok, we were shifted in a bus to U-tapao. After long queues, and long waits we took-off for Colombo around 10 pm.

The escape from Bangkok has come as a great relief to us while several thousands of tourists are still waiting in various hotels across the country.

While the tourists are desperate to get out of the country, the deepening three-month-old political crisis continues to have significant economic impact on Thailand. Many nations have advised their citizens not to travel to Bangkok, and the repercussions in the tourist industry are expected to last well into 2009.