Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: March 2017

O’Hare International Terminal 5

We arrived at O’Hare shortly before 22h00 for our 00h20 departure. After working all day and feverishly finishing projects at work, I had to finish packing and finalize a few things around the house. I didn’t eat dinner as I was waiting to experience the meal and service onboard.

EVA doesn’t have a lounge at O’Hare, they use the Air France lounge. The lounges in the international terminal at O’Hare are awful – at least the ones I’ve been to. They are small, crowded and have very subpar amenities. I’ve visited the lounges for Air France, Swiss and the contract / Priority Pass Swissport lounge. These are basically the same. A friend described the Air France Lounge like a Nabisco Factory Outlet. Now, I do enjoy Oreos from time to time, but that’s not lounge fare.

The International Terminal (T5) has had some major upgrades in recent years.  The restaurant options have really improved, including the addition of Hub 51, Big Bowl and Tortas Fronteras, restaurants that have their roots in Chicago proper and aren’t just airport options. Unfortunately most places were closed at this time of night…even though Turkish, Asiana and EVA all had 777s going out, plus smaller flights to Mexico leaving around that same time too.

We ended up grabbing an enormous beer at Hub 51 and splitting a small order of French Fries. The friends we are traveling with left two hours before us, on Turkish. We were living vicariously through them as they shared the business seats, the menu and the wine list. I have never flown Turkish, but it is on my list.

After the beers we visited the Air France lounge – I wanted a glass of bubbles and a French newspaper….neither of which they had. So I settled on some grocery store wine (it costs $9 at Jewel in Chicago…I know because it still makes the end of night rotation at home from time to time).  We left on St. Patrick’s Day and from the lounge we saw this Irish Beauty staring back at us.

Watching Aer Lingus while we head to Myanmar

Aer Lingus Flight to Dublin

We headed off to the gate 5 minutes before scheduled boarding and found that Business was already fully boarded and the economy line was stretching through the terminal. We boarded through door 2L. I’ve been looking forward to this flight for a long time. EVA Air’s Royal Laurel Business class comes highly recommended.

Magnificent Myanmar: Introduction

We usually take one big trip a year, and by big I don’t mean expensive, I mean our longer trip. Historically our big trips have been to places like Southern AfricaVietnam/Cambodia and Peru. This year, we decided to return to southeast Asia and visit Myanmar.  We chose Myanmar because it wasn’t that long ago that Americans couldn’t tour the area an many Americans aren’t visiting now.  We wanted to visit before the country was overrun with western chain restaurants and before the photos of the beautiful temples would be spoiled by a Gap or a Starbucks.

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda – Yangon.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be writing about our trip, including the following:

If you see that I missed something, or want a little more detail on an aspect of the trip, just let me know.

Myanmar – By The Number

I posted my final thoughts on our Myanmar Trip yesterday. Since I dig metrics and stats, I’m going to throw together a high level By The Numbers review.

Airlines: 5, new airlines in bold  (EVA, Thai, Air KBZ, Myanmar Air, United)
Miles Flown: 20,462
Total Modes of Transport: 5 (Car, Plane, Train, Boat, Hot Air Balloon)
Hotels: 4 (Sule Shangri-la, Bagan Lodge, Pristine Lotus, St. Regis Bangkok)
Days Away: 11
Vacation Days Taken: 5 + 2 Personal Days
Total Photos Taken: ~1,250
Airline Miles Spent: 210,000 miles per person
Days Until Next Trip: 24

Our route around the world.

I love The Great Circle Mapper for help in creating the above graphic.

Final Thoughts on Myanmar

I sit here at the end of our trip to Myanmar (I’m actualy writing this from the Yangon Airport – we were to supposed to have access to the lounge through the Priority Pass from the Citi Prestige Card,  but they wouldn’t let us in as they said they no longer take credit cards…my attempts at negotiation failed. Our next stop is Bangkok for a day or two of proper relaxing. As I sit here in horribly uncomfortable chairs with birds flying around, I reflect on the past week. How were my expectations exceeded, met or not. My impressions of Myanmar are more complex than I anticipated.

The Weather

The weather was much cooler than we anticipated. It was supposed to be 40C each day, but the hottest it got was around 37C and most of the time it was in the low 30s. At night it cooled off very quickly just before the sun set, making walking around in the evening a breeze. You definitely didn’t need a jacket though.

The Food

I thought the food would be a nice blend between Indian and Thai, but it wasn’t. The food was quite bland, actually.  We tried to visit local places and if we pushed we could get extra chilies to had additional heat to the meal. Our best meal was the last night in Myanmar, in the Inle Lake Region. I love Shan Noodles. I now need to find them in the US. Speaking of, what is your favorite Burmese / Myanmar restaurant in the US? Exactly…you can’t think of one, can you? The food was fine in Myanmar, but nothing to write home about. You likely won’t see a big uptick in Myanmar restaurants now that relations are better with the US.

Myanmar Impressions

Shan Noodles from a tiny restaurant in a village near Inle Lake.

The Infrastructure

We were told of rolling black outs in the cities, no access to ATMs and how every transaction was cash only (except hotels) – credit card use was almost unheard of.  We had no power issues, in fact a the outlets we encountered had hybrid plugs – you could use your UK, US or mainland Europe electrical plugs. ATMs weren’t as ubiquitous in Myanmar as they are in the US, but we had no problem finding cash. The only issue I had was at the Airport where the machine just didn’t communicate with the outside world. Credit cards weren’t taken everywhere, but many bars and restaurants did take cards. We took out about 100USD and used that for meals where cards weren’t taken and for souvenirs.  You should still plan on bringing crisp, clean, new USD – in $100 increments, but expect to be redepositing most of what you took out upon your return.

Myanmar Impressions

A beautiful detail outside of a damaged temple near Inle Lake.

The People

Everyone we met was so nice and genuinely helpful. I didn’t feel that anyone was trying to scam you. Yes, the vendors are trying to get the best price, but they weren’t picking your pockets or blatantly lying to you. Everyone we interacted with spoke at least some English and were very excited to show it off. Most people had a good command of the language and with proper hand gestures  (or a calculator to show prices) you could get by without a problem.

Myanmar Impressions

This woman was lovely, she looks angry…maybe I got too good of a deal on some souvenirs.

Myanmar was much less “off the grid” than I expected. It can be done without a guide, but there are lots of little things that would make a guideless trip a lot more work and less relaxing. I’d recommend hiring a guide.

Myanmar Impressions

Our guide knew where we could get fun photos like this. Hire a guide.

The Animals
There were tons of cats and dogs running around Myanmar and they are all better behaved than all the wild dogs in the US and many of the pets here too.  The Burmese Cat Village was a home for dozens or beautiful Burmese Cats.

Myanmar Impressions

Lunch time at the Burmese Cat Village near Inle Lake, Myanmar.

More details on our trip including airline, hotel and site reviews will be coming out in the next few weeks. If you want to know anything about the trip, let me know and if you want help planning your trip just email!

Security Theater

Security Theater. That’s the term we use for the show that is put on by TSA and other Security Agencies that give passengers and guests the feeling that they are safe.

Now, not everything TSA does is theater. I do believe that bags should be x-rayed and people should go through the metal detectors, but when you see such high failure rates when these checkpoints are tested you see that they aren’t all that effective.

In Yangon, we saw Security Theater everywhere. Entering our hotel you had to go through a x-ray machine and a metal detector. Each day when I set off the detector (3-4 times daily), I would just get waved on through. Now maybe they are combining these screens with some sort of enhanced behavioral analysis, I don’t know, but it just annoyed me that we had to waste this time and they didn’t seem to really care about security.

Security checkpoint to enter our hotel. It gave the appearance of security, while not really adding value.

We had this same issue at a mall where we ate lunch and at the museum. If you are going to do it, do it right.
At the airport you had to go through a bag screen and a metal detector before you enter the terminal and I can see value to that, as we’ve seen so many attacks pre-secuirty at the airport (Brussels is a recent example), but in Yangon when I set off the metal detector I was just waved through.

The normal security lines at Yangon International Airport’s Domestic Terminal seem like they were an after thought.

Security. An afterthought? Seems like one could easily penetrate security at the domestic terminal.

The recent changes to electronics policy for flights originating in several predominately Muslim countries flying directly to the US seems like another Act in Security Theater. If the recent raid in Yemen yielded intelligence that this was a tactic people are considering to attack western interests, why would it only affect those carriers? Why wouldn’t a terrorist instead of flying directly just connect in Europe where these restrictions are not in place (other than the UK it now seems). We need to remain vigilant, we need to remain active, but we need to do the right things, not just do things that look good. So last week we couldn’t have a device with a lithium battery in the cargo hold, now we are required to check these items? Seems nuts, doesn’t it?
I know you’ve got an opinion on Security Theater in general and the most recent restrictions in electronics larger than a cell phone? Am I just too cynical?