Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Travel: A Year In Review

As each year comes to a close, I like to review my year in travel.  This also helps me put together my goals for the next year.  Let’s start with what happened in 2013.

Total Flight Miles: 73,825
Total Segments Flown:  44
Cabin Segment Breakdown (F/B/C):  7/4/33
Total Airlines Flown (new airlines bolded):  7 (United, Lufthansa, Thai, Vietnam, Angkor Cambodian, Asiana, Air Canada, American)
Total Hotel Nights: 71
Total Hotel Stays: 31
Total Airline Miles Redeemed: 105,000
Total Hotel Points Redeemed: 13,400
Countries Visited (new countries bolded): 8 +1 (China, Germany, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, UK, Canada, Mexico + South Korea as transit only)
The most frequent (non-home) airports I visited were BNA (Nashville) and LAX this year.  My longest single flight was from ORD to PVG (Shanghai) and my shortest single flight was from REP (Siem Reap) to PNH (Phnom Penh).  The northernmost airport I visited was LHR (Heathrow) and the southernmost was SGN (Ho Chi Minh City).  I also flew enough miles this year to circumnavigate the earth nearly 3 times — or to travel 1/3 of the way to the moon.

My 2013 Travel Map

How did your year in travel turn out? Were you on the road more this year than prior years? What does your 2014 look like?

Cu Chi Tunnel Bike Exploration

We’ve gotten in the habit of taking bike tours while we vacation and we decided to venture out a bit on our visit to Southeast Asia.  We didn’t want just take an urban bike tour of Hanoi or Saigon (too damn dangerous in my mind), but we did want to get on the bikes again.

We did some research on TripAdvisor and found a group who would drive us out of Saigon where we would hop on the bikes and ride a total of 25km, which the route would include a ride through some rubber plantations, rice fields and small villages before we visit the tunnel areas.

The tunnels were essential for the Viet Cong’s battle against the Americans during the Vietnam War (the American War).  The system of tunnels were more than 250km long covering multiple levels underground.  These tunnels allowed the Viet Cong to transport supplies (food and munitions) without the American’s intervention.  People, not just soldiers, lived their lives in these little tunnels – cooking and sleeping here as well.

Our guide picked us up at 08h00 and we drove 30km outside of Saigon before we got on the bikes.  The bikes were in pretty good condition, not perfect but mostly safe. Our group of 4 were the only ones on the tour and our guide had just returned from leading an 8 day bike tour of the Mekong Delta area.  I think he was disappointed that we weren’t as avid cyclers as his last group.

We made a couple stops along the way to look at the road side shops selling everything from fruits and veggies to live animals, etc.

Eels for sale

Moving farther down the road we come across a large rubber plantation. I really loved this part of the ride as it reminded me of the great film Indochine.  It was so calm and peaceful to ride being surrounded by the rubber trees.

Rubber tree plantation

The Cu Chi Tunnel area was more formally organized than I expected. There was an actual visitors center, guided tours, etc. Our bicycle guide acted as our guide on site as well, which was a bit of a double edged sword. He really seemed frustrated by our group.  He seemed quite hurried and rushed through some of the exhibits and areas.

One of the exhibit centers with a traditionally thatched roof.
Cap to the tunnel entrance
Booby trap!

We were then were given the chance to enter the tunnels through one of the access points.  It was a very tight fit and was quite unnerving ducking down into that area.

I could barely fit into the access point
Now you see me, now you don’t…

We continued through the area learning how the people lived during the American War, seeing their uniforms, their weapons and learning of their tactics.

Rest area for VC troops including a hammock
Remains of a US Tank
Representation of daily VC life
VC Tunnel Hospital
Samples of ordinance used in war
We then left the official park and continued another 10km (or so) to get lunch.  The ride was long and very hot/humid at this point.  I lead the pack and decided that I was too hot and needed to stop for some sugar cane juice — the guide did not want us to stop, he wanted us to power through the heat but I had no part of that. He was quite frustrated by me at this point too, but we needed to stop.
Exhausted and enjoying sugar cane juice.

We continued on a bit farther for lunch.  This was probably the worst selection for lunch on the entire trip. Most of the restaurant was filled with cruise ship people (Europeans and Americans). The food was bland and so poorly cooked. I was so horribly disappointed here.  The food thus far on the trip had been pretty great – this was really bad.

Lizard wanting to join us for lunch — he could have it!
Watch out Ryan, he’s right behind you!
Mediocre food after ride.

The one nice thing about that restaurant – and I must say, there was just one nice thing, was the views. The restaurant was surrounded by marshland.  I wouldn’t visit this restaurant for the view though.

Marshland view from restaurant
View back to the restaurant
Closer to the restaurant

I am happy we did this bike tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. I was far from impressed with our tour guide. He was knowledgeable and spoke English very well – he was just rushed and seemed quite frustrated by us.  I would recommend taking this ride, but I would not recommend using this guide. We coordinated this tour through Exotissimo, which came highly recommended from other friends. They have a nice network throughout Southeast Asia.  The booking process and the plan of the tour was good – I think we just got a dud of a guide.

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SPG Platinum – A First For Me

This week marked a first for me – achieving Platinum Status with @SPG.  I crossed the 50 night in a year threshold last week at the Le Meridien Mexico City, but since I hadn’t fully earned the status, at the time of check-in, I didn’t get to reap the benefits while in Mexico. 

This week I returned to the Sheraton Garden Grove – Anaheim South hotel for work.  While their systems hadn’t been fully updated to reflect my new Platinum status, I showed them my “card” from the smart-phone app and they were able to update their records.  Here’s what I got for being a Platinum at this hotel (compared to what Gold gets):

  • Welcome Gift of 500 Points (only 250 for Gold)
  • Complimentary Internet (charged at $9.95/day for Gold)
  • Complimentary Welcome Bottle of Wine (Nothing for Gold)
The best part, was how excited both of the young women who were working check-in when I arrived were when they found out this was my first stay as Platinum.  They were absolutely giddy.  The woman who was helping me was a bit stereotypical young Asian – she was super excited and when she laughed she covered her mouth and cast her gaze to the floor, almost like she was embarrassed she was so happy.  She was great!

I think I was supposed to get either the 500 Welcome Points or the bottle of wine.  I didn’t drink the wine (I was hardly in the hotel room at all), so I left it for housekeeping with a note thanking them for their help. I am sure that wine goes right back into inventory.

There was only two nights from the time I earned Platinum until my next stay, so it isn’t surprising that my reservation wasn’t updated, but my SPG account was updated to reflect not only the new status, but I was immediately credited with the 10 Suite Night Upgrades (more on that later) as well.  
When you cross over a new Status Threshold (regular to Gold then again from Gold to Platinum) you get the option of choosing either Double Starpoints for a month of your choice or 35% off a redemption of Starpoints.  I haven’t decided yet, but my gut says Double Points in April when I’ll be staying at a relatively high priced hotel for work.  I haven’t fully made my decision yet.
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I am a @United guy. Everyone knows that. When I am not flying United, I’m flying one of their Star Alliance Partners (either because United doesn’t fly directly to the destination in question — or because I am using United MileagePlus miles for partner travel in a premium cabin, which I otherwise couldn’t afford).  I flew non-Star Alliance Airlines on a trip to Southeastern Asia only because no Star Alliance carriers flew the routes I needed (HAN-SGN-REP-PHN).

I decided to try American Airlines for an upcoming trip to Nashville.  God Forbid.  I haven’t flown American since 2007 (ORD-SAN-POS-MIA-ORD).  I made this choice for two simple reasons:

  • I do not need anymore EQMs on United to keep Premier Gold Status (50,000 miles)
  • United doesn’t have a convenience schedule from ORD-BNA.
I have to be in Nashville for a holiday lunch party, but I also have a dinner that same night – both work functions that I really can’t miss.  I must admit, I’m a bit excited about trying the American product – even if it is just a crappy little Regional Jet, on an airline with which I have no status.
How bad can it be, right? It’s only an hour flight – and the times work for what I need.  
Do you ever feel like your cheating on your airline (or hotel) of choice when situations like this come up?  

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Thanksgiving Travel

How did this busy travel weekend treat you? Did you all take a trip to see family or did you stay home (or did you take a trip to get away from family)?  We took a quick trip to Mexico City (full trip report coming, I still need to finish Southeast Asia from earlier this year — I promise to have that report finalized before the end of the month) and on this trip, we ran into many of the people who make travel so difficult.

Firstly, we had some of the rudest flight attendants I’ve ever come across – both the outbound and inbound flights were crewed by people who had lost all love for their jobs.  Everything from aggressively providing completely inaccurate information to lacking all the basics of customer service (waking me up to ask if I want a drink, then getting angry with me as they set the full trash bag on my tray table/lap while navigating a busy aisle).

The crews weren’t the only ones who were struggling – we saw many people today who had the DYKWIA (Do you know who I am) mentality.  One guy was pissed because the flight from SFO-MEX had to land in Guadalajara because of fog in MEX. Evidently United should have called him before the flight left SFO to let him know he could sleep in (he was on the MEX-SFO leg).

All in all, we had no delays and very few personal run-ins with idiot travelers.  Obviously, Thanksgiving travel brings out the folks who aren’t frequent travelers, so those of us who are in the air a bit more need to cut them some slack and try to go with the flow. If you are a frequent flyer and you are stressed, just think about how people who fly but once a year feel.

What are your Thanksgiving travel horror stories?  Did you have trouble getting to your destination? Did you have trouble with house guests?  Did you have a guest use bath linens as toilet paper (I got two texts from friends who had friends/family do that this weekend)?

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