Sightseeing, beaches and partying in Asia: a few flights (with pictures!)

This trip happened a few months ago, so hopefully I will remember the details correctly. My apologies for some missing or incorrect information.

Last year, a friend and I decided to travel far away from home. We would select Thailand as our destination, with a short hop to Hong Kong on the way to Bangkok. It wasn’t really a backpacker kind of trip as we knew where we wanted to go and when, and we sometimes had really nice accommodations.

We traveled from June 19th to July 28th. I shopped around to find some good airfares to Asia. Good fares were available from NYC, but thinking about it, we would have to get a hotel room there, and find a way to get there as well (either bus or plane). Montreal was our best option, and we booked our flights with AAL and JAL (YUL-ORD-NRT-HKG / BKK-NRT-ORD-YUL).

We had to book intra Asia flights as well. Going to Bangkok from Hong Kong isn’t cheap, especially as we had to book a one-way flight. However, we found a great deal, which was HKG-BKK on Emirates. We bought business class tickets, and it was still about 200 CAD cheaper than a regular Y one-way flight on Thai or Cathay. We also booked two flights on Bangkok Airways, one from the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai to Koh Samui, and another from Koh Samui to Phuket. We still had one flight to book to get from the city of Krabi to Bangkok, and we chose Thai Airways, which was great because it was supposed to be an Airbus A306, an aircraft I haven’t fly on yet. Plus, it was quite cheap.

Mid June came quickly and it was time for your trip to Hong Kong and Thailand.

After arriving at Trudeau airport very early in the morning, we both checked in at American Airlines counters and got in line, waiting for the customs and security to open. We waited for the boarding call a few minutes at gate C18. Soon after, we boarded the little Embraer, our ride to O’Hare. I haven’t been into an ERJ before, and found it quite alright. The 1-2 seats configuration looks weird to me, but I was happy to see that windows were way bigger than those found on the CRJs. I won’t break my neck looking outside on the way to Chicago.

After push-back, we taxied to runway 24L, from where we took off into a really, I mean really, hazy sky.

Flight was uneventful, we flew at a cruising altitude of 36 000 feet. We had a small drink service and I had orange juice.

Soon we would start our descent over Lake Michigan, and we landed into a beautiful and sunny Chicago, on runway 27R.

After arrival, and having a few hours ahead of us before our flight to Tokyo, I had a glimpse of the action at the airport. I was really impressed by the amount of UAL and American Eagle regional jets, either ERJs or CRJs. It was really busy, with RJs going in and going out one after another. After, we took the train to Terminal 5, and before going to security, we had breakfast. Not much was going on at that time of the day. An El Al 744 was about to depart to Newark if I’m correct. Our ride to Narita, still in JAL old corporate colors, was standing alone at gate M8. As boarding announcements started, I noticed it was getting busier outside, with a Korean 777 arriving from Seoul, while a few United heavies were taxiing around, such as UAL’s Star Alliance logojet.

I sat in seat 49K and noticed how small the PTV was. I guess it’s something like a first generation PTV. Seat pitch was okay, so was seat width. But there was nothing out of the extraordinary about it. As boarding was completed, we push backed and taxied to our departure runway, 32L. A cool feature on those JAL 744s is the “nose camera”, or wherever it is. We taxied past some cargo apron, where a few UPS birds were taking a rest. Take-off roll was long, and our heavy bird lifted up, turned smoothly on the right and climbed. The city of Milwaukee was soon visible on our right side, as our journey to the land of the rising sun had just started.

We flew at different altitudes, varying from 32,000 to 36,000 feet. The routing was about the following: Milwaukee, northeast of Winnipeg, north of Edmonton, Anchorage, the Bering Sea and onwards to Tokyo.

I played a bit with the IFE system. I think our flight IFE was JAL’s MAGIC 1, which is, I guess, the most basic IFE available on JAL. Not many channels, no real interesting games.

As for food, we first had a drink with some nuts/crackers. Soon after, for lunch, I had the chicken teriyaki don on steamed rice, along with a Caesar salad portion, some Japanese delicacies, bread roll and butter, a tiramisu cake and coffee, tea or green tea. Later we had, as refreshments, a sandwich with coffee or tea. About three hours prior to arrival into Narita, we had Penne pasta with tomato sauce, a fresh salad, some prepared fruits, yogurt, bread roll and butter, with coffee, tea and green tea. I remember having some crap Japanese beer as well. Overall, food was fine and service was really good.

It was my first time on an Asian carrier and I could already see a huge gap between service qualities on JAL versus service qualities on some North American or European carriers. Here’s an example about JAL fine in-flight service: A flight attendant was kind enough, seeing I was glued to my window, to call the cockpit so she would know when Mount McKinley could be seen. So the flight deck called here back a few minutes later, and she told me to look outside! Indeed, it was there, partly hiden behind some clouds. A nice touch, I thought.

Flight went uneventful. I found that it was quite a long way to get from Chicago to Alaska. I think that was the most boring part of the flight. We could have great views across the state of Alaska, but it was mostly cloudy. Flight continued, played cards with my friend for a while with a few crap beers, played Tetris on IFE, had a look at JAL Skyward magazine (which doesn’t have much content…) and slept a little.

We got ready for arrival and landed on Tokyo Narita runway 34L at 1:40pm, local time.

Having about four hours ahead our next flight to Hong Kong, we went on the spotting deck above Terminal 2. I spotted a few great and exotic visitors (well, to me), such as Continental 777 “Peter Max”, a colorful JAL “Re’socha” 743, an Eva Air A332 (amazing bird) as well as the Malaysia 777 “Freedom of Space”. Weather and light weren’t perfect though, making photography a pain in the ass.

We headed to security later and went to gate 72, our departure gate. I was confused at first, as our equipment to HKG was supposed to be a triple seven. I couldn’t see any 777 at gate 72. Instead, there was a Boeing 747-346. Hum…would that be our ride to Chek Lap Kok? I initially thought that the 743 was to be towed away at some point, but seeing all the catering trucks around, and seeing the boarding time approaching, I realized I was to fly on a 743. Well, I was really looking forward to fly on the 772, having flown on this type only twice in my life (BAW). But thinking about it, the dash 300 is getting rare, I would get many more opportunities to fly on a 772 in the future. So flying on a 743 was great.

Unfortunately I didn’t take much pictures of this flight, as I was getting really tired at this point. I love flying, but I couldn’t wait to be in my hotel room in Hong Kong. First thing I noticed while boarding was the old interior. Old, but nice, it was great to be onboard this oldie. I first had a middle seat, but seeing that seat 27K, a bulkhead one in front of the wing was available, I switched seat.

We taxied past some other cool planes, such as a Qantas 747-300 and the first Air New Zealand 772. We took off from runway 34L I think. I don’t know if it was because my position in front of the wing, but the sound of those old P&W engines was totally wicked! I couldn’t get enough of it. I wished I had a video camera with me at that time. Anyway, we took off, made a right turn and flew into some thick clouds for what seemed to last forever. As we reached the top of the clouds, it was sunset already and it was really cool to watch, along with the mighty 747-300 wing and engines.

Later on we had lunch. I think I had the simmered beef and potato in sweet soy sauce with steamed rice. It was served with marinated seafood with sweet sour bean vermicelli, fresh salad, Muscat jelly, bread roll and butter and coffee, tea or green tea. As far as I can remember that meal wasn’t all that great.

Having a bulkhead window seat was awesome, as I managed to get some sleep on the way to Hong Kong. I woke up later on, and I remember looking at what seems to be hundreds of boats down below, in the darkness. It was an interesting scene. As the flight seemed to be coming to an end, I put a blanket on top of my head so I could see outside without being disturbed by the cabin lights. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Hong Kong at night. And wow, did I get that view! We flew right over Victoria Harbour, giving us such an incredible view of Hong Kong Island. First building I noticed was the unique Bank of China tower, and I realized how big Hong Kong seems to be! I couldn’t wait to be down there.

We made a few rights turns and landed on runway 25L (not sure….it was the left one at the far end of the airport island, at the opposite side of the terminal facilities). We parked at the gate, took a shuttle train and got to customs. It took a while since a Singapore Airlines jumbo arrived around the same time, and it doesn’t seem to be full staff at the airport.

Hong Kong…finally! Such a long journey, but it would be well worth it! We bought a return Airport Express ticket and got to Hong Kong Island central station, where we took one of many red cabs to get to our hotel, The Metropark Hotel in Causeway Bay.

Here’s some pictures of Hong Kong:

After a 3 days stay in Hong Kong, it was already time to move on and get to Bangkok. So after a long day of sightseeing, we grab our things and took the Airport Express once again to get back to Chek Lap Kok Airport. Emirates check-in counters weren’t opened yet so we had to wait. I had a walk inside the very impressive terminal. It’s big, airy, easy to navigate, and it looks awesome. It’s really a chef-d’oeuvre.

We checked-in and got seats 04K and 05k, as selected when we booked online. Security was a breeze, and we went for some duty free shopping. I bought a nice backpack and we bought alcohol for our Bangkok somewhat partying experience! As we were flying business, we decided to spend some time at the CNAC VIP Lounge, used by airlines such as Emirates, China Southern Airlines, Air Mauritius and Sri Lankan Airlines, to name a few. I couldn’t tell if the lounge was good or not, as I fly Y class 99% of the time. But to me and my appetite, food and beverages selection were fine. We could have cold or hot meals, had internet access, a rest area to relax, newspapers, and showers. I personally had a few drinks, ice cream, sandwiches and vegetables. Soup was cream of mushroom.

Boarding call was made and after one last drink, we started our trek to gate 64. It was quite far away, boarding had begun before we arrived. We boarded the aircraft via the front door and went to our seat. No one was sitting next to me. A flight attendant came by and asked if we wanted some champagne. Of course! So my friend and I both had a glass of Charlers Ellner Champagne before departure. Boarding was completed, and the J class wasn’t full at all. I guess it was to be filling in Bangkok, as this flight stops in BKK on it way to Dubai. We took-off from runway 25R.

We then had a light meal. First, we had mixed nuts with wine. I had red wine, as I’m not a white wine fan. On this flight, you had choice of two red wines and two white wines. As an appetizer, I chose the oven roasted lamb loin over the loch fine salmon. It was served with orange segments, daikon cress and mango chutney. I can say it tasted great. As a main course, I selected the Chinese style roast chicken over the streamed filler of ling fish and the grilled lamb rack. It was coated with plum sauce and served with mixed vegetables and friend egg noodles with bean sprouts and spring onions. As dessert, we had and orange chocolate mousse cake, with fresh berries. I finished my meal with some freshly brewed coffee and chocolates. Again, not being a regular business class flyer, I can’t really tell how good it was by J class standards. I’ve heard good and bad things about flying J on this route. To me, again, I was satisfied. Only downside to me was the service. It wasn’t all that great and the staff wasn’t really attentive.

The flight was rather uneventful and I didn’t play with the IFE a lot. I don’t think the 773 is equipment with EK newest IFE, whatever it is.

We started our descent and it got interesting. I witnessed many lightning strikes in the clouds surrounding the aircraft. It was awesome to see the clouds being lit up this way. We had to make a few sharp turns on descent, I guess to avoid storm cells. Pretty cool if you ask me! We landed and taxied to the gate. I remember seeing a DLH 744, a JAL 763 and a QFA 744, to name a few. Bangkok seems to get some nice traffic!

We didn’t get any troubles at customs, we picked our bags and took a cab (the famous “Taximeters”) to the Sukhumvit area. Geez, it’s was pouring rain that night, at some places on the highway we would have to cross ponds, literally. We came across a few accidents along our way to the hotel, mainly because drivers would drive too fast on those slippery roads.

Bangkok. It’s an intriguing city. I wouldn’t say the city itself is nice, as most of the time you get traffic jams everywhere and the skies are always filled with haze. It looks gray everywhere. Despite that, it’s a great place. Bangkok is great for food, especially at food stalls, that can be found anywhere at anytime. Yummy! And it’s cheap! The Grand Palace is awesome, shopping is good, nightlife is wicked and people are great. We had a day at Ayutthaya as well, and it was well worth a visit.

Here’s a few pictures of Bangkok and Ayutthaya:

After a few days around Chiang Mai, riding elephants, enjoying Chiang Mai famous night bazaar and Sunday market, and eating good and cheap stuff, we were ready to relax on some of Thailand best beaches, at Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Phi Phi and Krabi Phra Nang beach.

We took a cab to the airport and checked-in. Before going to the waiting lounge, we spent some time in the Bangkok Airways lounge, where we could have something to drink and internet access. Later on we were ready for boarding at gate C3 and got transferred to the ATR by bus. On CNX apron, we could see some interesting aircrafts such as a Thai A306, a Nok Air ATR, a Thai ATR and what I think was a YS-11.

I initially had seat 2A, but moved to 4D as it was empty. The flight was about 85% full, mostly tourists going to the holiday archipelago of Samui. We took off from runway 18. My first impression of the cabin was that it was clean and tidy. Seat pitch and width were fine.

To my surprise, we had a complete meal on this flight. It consisted of pastas with chicken and vegetables, some crispy pork skin, a salad, a rice pudding and orange juice. Later on the flight we had some ice cream. Really cool I thought.

Approach was slightly bumpy as we flew past the islands of Tao and Phangan. We landed on runway 17, coming in from the sea. We deplaned soon after landing, beside yet another very nice Bangkok Airways ATR and one of their beautiful Boeing 717. Plus, the baggage claim area is about right next to the runway. In fact, I think 40mm is enough to get a photograph of a Beoing 717 landing on the runway next to you. It’s pretty close. Finally, we had a minibus ride to Lamai beach where we rent a small bungalow for the next three days.

After some really nice and enjoyable days on Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, it’s was time to move on. We had fun snorkeling, partying and relaxing on the beach. In the morning, we took a songthaew, basically a pick-up truck being use as a bus on the islands, to get our ferry ride back to Koh Samui, so we could catch our flight to Phuket.

Not much to tell about this flight, really. Samui airport is a really cool one, with “huts” being the terminals. After check-in, we had to wait for a while for boarding to begin. One interesting thing about Samui airport is the “shuttle” to get to the airplane. It’s really nice and it really makes you feel like you’re in vacations.

Boarding was quick, we took-off on runway 17 and we had a bumpy climb. We did have a small lunch box, with a sandwich and a juice. That was okay, for such a short flight. It’s still way better than what we would get on any Rapidair flights between YUL and YYZ.

Again, it was another uneventful flight and the approach into Phuket airport was beautiful, with breathtaking scenery visible along the way. The airport seemed pretty quiet, as only one plane was at the gates, a China Airlines 737-800. Only another plane was at the airport, a Bangkok Airways A320 parked in a remote location.

We deplaned by bus, got our bags, and had a cab ride to Novotel Phuket. Phuket taxi drivers are crazy s they drive pretty fast. Be aware!

On a side note, I would say that Bangkok Airways is a really good boutique airline. Flights were on-time, service was good and lunch/meals were fine for the short flights we had with them. I would definitely fly with them again in the future.

The beaches and the islands we visited were awesome. Despite being the rainy season, we didn’t get any rain. Some pictures:

It was time to head back home. We spent our last few days in Asia at Krabi’s Phranang beach, at Railey, which is very beautiful. That morning, we had a tail boat ride to Krabi town from Railey beach and we then took a cab to the relatively new Krabi airport. The terminal is small, but it’s clean, easy to use and modern. After leaving our bags at check-in, we waited for security to be opened for a few minutes, and wait in the relatively nice waiting lounge.

Our new colors 737 arrived soon after…Now I was really disappointed to see the fly being operated by a 737, as when we booked before departure an Airbus A306 was supposed to fly the Krabi-Bangkok leg on this flight. To me disappointment, while checking online for the status of this flight a few days before departure, I noticed they have changed it to a 737. It sucks, it sucks a lot, the A306 becoming quite rare nowadays.

Boarding was fast completed, and I sat in my seat, 47K, just behind the wing. I had the row to myself, which is always a good thing. We took off from runway something-4 (04,14, 24 or 34, I don’t remember and I’m too lazy at this point to look on the internet). Anyway, climbing into the sky was cool as we flew past some few really interesting clouds formations. Other interesting views were the Samui archipelago, seen from high up in the air days after I was there. It was clear so it was nice to see, for instance, Koh Tao and its beaches.

We had a small lunch box on that flight, it was okay.

Descent was pretty cool as well, as we got to fly west of Bangkok. Surprisingly enough, it was quite clear and we got an amazing few of the city. I said surprisingly as Bangkok seems to be cloudy and filled with haze most of the time (well, for what I’ve seen).

Approach and landing was uneventful. One strange thing about Don Muang airport was that golf course in between the parallel runways. I think only military were allowed to play there…can anyone confirm?

We deplaned, got our bags at the baggage carrousel and walked through the long and old elevated hallway to get from the domestic to the international terminal. Now, that looked like crap, it was ridiculous. And dirty it was! You could see all the old pipes everywhere around in the tunnel (about 500m long!). No surprise they had to build a new airport I thought.

Having plenty of time ahead of us before our late evening departure to Tokyo Narita, I first had a little spotting session in some area overlooking a few gates and the runways. Weather wasn’t all that good so it wasn’t easy to get any good pictures. I noticed some nice movements such as Bangkok Airways A320, Thai Air Force A319 (or was it an A320…), Mahan Air A310 and a China Airlines A330 (those look awesome!).

We then went to JAL check-in counters in zone 5, where we were about the first passengers to check-in for the flight to Tokyo. At customs we had to pay a little fee as our visa in Thailand had expired by a single day. We knew we were going to pay a small fee for that so it wasn’t all that bad. Afterwards I went to the VAT refund counters as I shopped quite a lot during my stay in Bangkok. By the way, I found that high end photography equipment such as lenses were cheaper in Bangkok than anywhere else, even HKG. It’s not only cheaper in stores, you also get that tax refund…awesome I thought. I did a little bit of last minute duty free shopping and went to security. That was something I wasn’t used to, as we got to pass through security after the duty free shops. Different than any other airports I went to, but I guess it’s common practice around the world.

I went to the gate (36), and realized we were to fly on one of Japan Airlines “Yokoso! Japan” logo jet. I thought it was cool as an enthusiast point of view, since on our way in we flew on an old color JAL jumbo.

Shortly after take-off we had a late night slack with beverage and refreshment.

I slept for most of the flight as it was a night flight and woke up for breakfast. We had fresh fruits, yoghurt, Japanese delicacies, cold Udon noodles, minced pork congee with coffee, tea or, again, green tea.

Somewhere over Japan, shortly before descent and arrival, I remember seeing Mount Fuji in the distance, which was a great sight. Descent and approach were cool, as the flight patterns would allow me to notice another JAL 747-400 and a FedEx Md-11 ahead of us for landing. We landed on runway 16R and taxied to the gate.

Again, with plenty of time ahead of me, I took a shuttle bus from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1, where the main ANA check-in area is, and it looks really nice. I had a blast on the observation deck, as it was sunny and as I got to see some nice movements, such as Air India 747-300, Air Hong Kong A300F or Finnair MD-11, traffic I’m really not used to see. As time went by, heat haze became a problem and photography wasn’t great at that point. I took the shuttle bus back to T2, got a McMuffin at McDonalds and went through security and customs once again.

It turned out the plane which brought us to Tokyo from Bangkok would be the same one flying to Chicago. We boarded the 747 via gate 65 and I sat in my seat, 45A, a few rows behind my seat on the previous flight. Again, Y class was full and we were ready to fly back to North America.

We took off from runway 16R and later made a left turn, with the shore visible.

We had lunch, and I had the grilled chicken with spicy sauce over the simmered beef with soy sauce and steamed rice…to be honest, I was getting tired of steamed rice at this point. It was accompanied by some marinated seafood and macaroni salad, some fresh salad, Muscat jelly and coffee etc.

Very uneventful flight. It was the first time I could assist to both sunset and sunrise on the same flight. The sun set over the Pacific, which was a nice sight. It later rose a few hours after, over North America. I remember sleeping quite a lot on this flight. Luckily, I woke up as we were to fly just south of Vancouver. As it was clear outside, I could see the whole city lit up, really a great sight. As the sun rose, we had breakfast. It was served about three hours prior to arrival. It consisted of waffle and pancake with roll ham, with a beer sausage, Gouda cheese and egg salad. We also had yogurt, prepared fruits and a croissant, with the usual coffee and orange juice.

Flight 010 was shorter than flight 009, meaning our flight time would be around 10 hours 20 minutes compared to some 12-13 hours for my first transpacific journey. We landed in a grey Chicago and taxied to terminal 5.

After deplaning, we went to customs and the officer wish me “Have a good flight” in French, knowing I’d be continuing to Montreal on flight AAL764. We picked our bags at some carousel, and dropped them soon after at some AAL drop off location. And off we were to Terminal 3, as we had to wait once again, this time for the last leg of what was a loooooooong trip back home.

To be honest, at this point, I was really tired and didn’t feel like taking picture of this last flight. Plus it wasn’t the highlight of the trip, so I didn’t mind to sleep a little on this flight. Our flight got delayed a little, but it wasn’t a big deal. We boarded via gat K16. I think we took-off from runway 22L. It was a rather interesting take-off as, after being in a long line-up prior to take-off (we were about 15th in line), we did a rolling take-off and we made a very tight turn to our left over what seems to be a huge railroad yard. It was pretty impressive and you could really feel the MD-80 power. Nothing happened during that flight, except that we had a drink/bretzels and that I felt asleep. Exciting eh? We landed on runway 24R at Montreal Trudeau, parked at the gate, got our bags and met with some of our relatives, waiting for us at the arrivals level.

Et voilà! All flights were on time and didn’t really have a problem. It really was a great trip and I’m looking forward to go somewhere in Asia sometimes in the near future. We’ve seen breathtaking scenery, great beaches, and great people and so on. I couldn’t have been better!

Questions and comments welcomed.

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