Instead of flying the swanky Turkish Airlines ($599 direct to Bangkok), we chose Turkmenistan Airlines‘ $431 blue-light special (no website), with a stopover in Ashgabad. I asked the guy at check-in if they had a frequent-flier program, and he gave me this look like, give me a break, we’ve only had a country for a few years!
The plane was a standard-issue 757-200 but it looked decrepit on the inside – ratty carpets, fraying seat cushions, no reading material, and no TV’s hanging from their brackets. The Turkmen passengers were amazing to look at. The enormous women wore enormous rainbow-colored robes and turbans. They smelled like goats and their top teeth were all plated in gold. They had no familiarity with the concept of assigned seating and sat where they wanted. The stewards and stewardesses had no familiarity with the concept of being a steward or stewardess. To get the Turkmens to go to their assigned seats they said things like “Come on now, get up, let’s see you move it, already.” They could not get the passengers to stop smoking in the bathroom. Every few rows was a picture of the king with very bushy eyebrows, grinning, wearing a lot of gold on his hand and a powder blue suit. The plane took off making six sharp 90-degree turns to the left that made me wonder of the hydraulics were working properly. They fly one flight a week out of Istanbul, and the food tasted like it was from four or five flights ago. Their alcohol towelette had mold on it.
We landed in Ashkabad and stayed there for three hours. One other plane landed during that time, from Moscow. I drank a chocolate liquor called Balzama. It tasted like a mixture of chocolate, bourbon, and shoe-leather. An Indian passenger connecting from Kazakhstan to New Delhi was in trouble. They When his bag didn’t come out of baggage claim, he asked a soldier about it, and the soldier asked to see his passport and then walked away with it. The Indian asked me to ask for his passport back. I talked to the soldiers in Turkish. They answered back (in Turkmen) that their “hundred-head” boss would give the man the passport back when he was boarding the plane. We talked about Istanbul and Ashgabad and soccer. The soldiers grinned a lot and looked like they came out of a Kusturica film. They had hats with extremely wide berets.
We arrived in Bangkok at 2AM. It was a balmy 31 degrees Celsius outside.