Tim Foolery

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Thai Airways Royal First Class – Ground Services BKK

The beauty of flying First Class doesn’t start once you walk down the gate, with good airlines, it starts long before.  Thai Airways is known for this great service and their First Class Ground Service at BKK (Suvarnabhumi Airport) was one of the reasons we planned our return trip like we did.  We could have returned on Air China or ANA for the same number miles (we didn’t pay cash for this flight, but cashed in United Miles) and left around the same time.  If you aren’t flying Thai in Royal First you don’t get access to all the amenities that Thai flyers get.

Our Uber dropped us off at the door near the First Class Check-In area at BKK and we see this beautiful sight.  Other than the woman at the door (and the three armed guards with assault rifles, just out of frame) no one was around.

I envision the Pearly Gates of Heaven to be like this.

We walk towards the Royal First Check In area – located away from the hustle and bustle that is BKK.  It was around 20h00 and the rest of this terminal was buzzing with activity.  We make it about half way to the check-in podium and the woman guarding the door greets us and asks for our names and the City we are traveling too.  Less than 10 seconds later she flags over two young men who grab our bags and lead us into the Check-In Area.  This woman asked for our passports and said that we would be checked in here and it would take about 10 minutes and that we should relax. Before we could even make it into the Check-In area a couple asked this woman for help (they were flying business on ANA) and she quickly told them that she was with her Royal First Passengers and that surely someone “over there” could help.  She wasn’t rude, but she was forceful.

We were whisked to a small seating area while our checked bags were weighed and our boarding passes were printed.  She asked if we needed anything as we sat at the small seating area.  I, of course asked for a glass of champagne…and Mike thought I was nuts.  Why would anyone need a glass of champagne while you sit and wait for someone to check you in for a flight.  To that, I say “Who wouldn’t want a glass of champagne….”  We sat here and chatted – both excited for the experience the next 24 hours would give.  I finished about half my glass before our escort showed up to take us to the Royal First Lounge.  Our escort handed us our passports and boarding passes, but took our hand luggage.  She quickly escorted us through the First Class Security area, which was a bit of a clusterfuck because the security guards required us to carry our own bags and remove our electronics.  I don’t care about that, but you’d think that they’d have this process down a little better.  Carrying our own briefcases is fine.  We were the only ones going through the security checkpoint when we were there.

Once we cleared security, we hopped on a golf cart and were whisked down to the lounge.  I’m not usually a golf cart in an airport guy, but it was a pretty long haul and I had a lot of things I wanted to do in the lounge.  Unlike in the US, the Thai golf cart driver just honked the tiny horn and floored the cart.  I know we clipped a couple people as we shot by, but the cart did have a Thai Royal First sticker, so I guess that was okay.  One of the people the cart clipped turned and apologized to us – which is probably just a polite gut reaction, but c’mon, we hit you with a cart, you should not apologize.

We make it to the lounge and are handed off to our Lounge Attendant.  She tells us that she’ll be taking care of us during our stay and that she will personally come get us when it is time to board the plane.  Sometimes these folks won’t get you until the very end of boarding and you can feel a bit rushed once on board.  I’d rather get on a bit early, get settled, maybe even change into my new pajamas, get a glass (or two??) of champagne – basically, I want a leisurely start to my First Class experience.

Our Attendant took us into the lounge and helped us find a seat.  She was very apologetic for it being so busy.  The Royal First Lounge has traditional lounge seating areas, plus private rooms.  We passed by several that were occupied – of course, I asked if we could have a private room and she was hesitant.  At first I thought she was saving those for families or larger parties, but as we continued to walk through the lounge, I saw a couple with just one person hanging out.  Then, as if it were timed by God himself, we came across a private room that was being serviced.  The empty glasses were being taken out and a woman just finished sweeping the floor and wiping down the tables.  SCORE.  We got a private room.  These rooms don’t have doors and one side is all glass that opens up into the rest of the lounge, but it is still just for us.

When flying Royal First, passengers get access to complimentary massages too.  You can get up to 60-minutes of spa treatments.  You can do a full body massage (with or without oil) or two 30-minute massages (shoulder and foot) or you can opt for just a 30 minute massage, if time is limited (again, your choice is shoulder or foot).  Business class passengers can choose one of the 30-minute options.  Before our Attendant left our private area, I asked her about massages and we were in luck – two 60 minute spots were available immediately.  We were told to leave our bags in our area in the lounge (which really concerned me, but I grabbed my wallet and passport and left my bag there).

The Spa is actually in across the hall from the Royal First Lounge and we were escorted over and quickly checked in.  Things were moving very quickly and efficiently.  The massage area is quite large and separated into two rooms.  You have the main area with your massage table and a separate area where you change and can shower, shave, etc.  I wanted to take more photos of the massage area, but my masseuse seemed to be in a hurry and I didn’t want to keep other patrons from having a massage before their flight.

I popped into the changing area and found XL Disposable Underwear, which were still a bit tight (I’m 1.82M/6′ 84kg/185lbs), but fit so much better than those disposable undies in Myanmar.

Wearing XL Underwear isn’t an ego booster…

The massage was good and the room was quite quiet, considering how much was going on just outside the room.  It did take me a bit longer to get relaxed – I think it was because of how much running around we were doing just to get to this point.  She did a great job though.  I chose the Full Body Massage with Oil.  After the massage I took another shower (so far this day, I had a shower before breakfast, a shower at the St. Regis spa…yes, I had a massage earlier in the day, a shower before we went to the airport, as we weren’t sure if we’d get a massage or not and I couldn’t wait until Munich for a shower) and headed back to the Royal First Lounge.  Our Attendant was waiting for me to finish and walked me back to the Lounge.  I assume they pinged her and said that I was done and that she didn’t just wait there for 75 minutes…

The private area of the massage suite at the Thai Airways Spa.

The toilet, agape, in the Thai Airways Spa.

The Robes were a nice touch, but not really needed.

I made it back to the Lounge and found an elderly Thai woman (in full Thai Airways Uniform) sitting on a folding chair to the entrance to our private lounge space.  She wasn’t on her phone. She wasn’t reading. She was just sitting, perfectly straight.  She thanked me (for what??) and folded her chair up and walked away.  I was told that she was there to watch our stuff and keep unauthorized people out of our room.  Hmmm.

I sat down and before I knew it, our Attendant brought me a glass of champagne, a still water and a menu for food.  The Royal First Lounge does have a full and proper sit down restaurant (white table cloth type of place). I’ve heard that the food there is authentic and amazing, but after Nahm for lunch and Gaggan for dinner the prior night…and a full dinner on the plane, I couldn’t bring myself to eat a sit down dinner…so I just ordered some fried spring rolls.  Hey, it’s still vacation, right?

Champagne and fried spring rolls. A lovely combindation.

By this point it was about 22h30.  Mike had returned from his massage and we relaxed in the Lounge.  Our flight was scheduled to leave at 00h50, so I thought we’d head over to the gate, which wasn’t very far from the Lounge at around 00h00, but our Attendant really didn’t like that idea.  She asked, then begged us to stay.  She said the flight was a bit delayed because of mechanical issues and it was a bad idea for us to just go stand at the gate. As she said when we first came in, she reminded us to sit and relax and she’ll get us when it is time to leave. Fair enough.

At around 00h40 we decided to leave. We just felt uncomfortable and the lounge was getting pretty empty.  When we walked up to the Lounge entrance we found six other passengers in our same boat — uncomfortable that we were still in the lounge just minutes before scheduled departure.  Most of these people were German…

Our Attendant finally agreed and they collected the final people for our flight and walked us to the gate. No one had started boarding yet.  It was mayhem.  Our Attendant had stayed in the lounge and our new guide was a bit frustrated.  We had a couple folks who couldn’t follow simple directions – they got lost on the way to the plane and he had to go find them.  After a few minutes waiting in the gate area, our guide pushed through the crowd saying something in Thai, something in German then “First Class Passengers, please move”… ouch.  I loved it though.

Thai Airways 747. This bird took us from BKK to MUC. It was a bit rickety, but still the Queen of the Skies.

The gate area was surrounded by glass and doors into a glass wall lead to the gate itself.  We were escorted directly past the glass doors and then spent a few minutes hanging out – watching all 300 of the other passengers glare at us as we moved to the front of the line. I’m sure they could smell the champagne and massage oil on us as we moved by.

I really enjoyed the Royal First Lounge and the full 60-minute massage.  I do wish I could have tried the full restaurant.  I also wish I had a bit more time in the Spa.  There are rooms that have full bathtubs where you can have a massage then a nice long relax in the tub.  The problem here is that I really shouldn’t be spending so much time in an airport lounge, right?  I’m on vacation in an amazing city like Bangkok, I should be out and about.  Maybe next time I can schedule a longer connection at BKK (as long as I arrive or leave in proper Royal First, otherwise, I don’t get access to all the amenities).

Have you visited the Royal First Lounge in Bangkok?  How was the food?  Did you spend enough time in the lounge or did you need more?  What massage option did you go with?

Air Asia Economy (RGN-DMK)

Our last shorthaul flight on our trip to Myanmar had us leaving Yangon on Air Asia to Bangkok. I had never flown Air Asia before but I usually try to stear clear of low cost carriers because you can often get stuck paying a lot more in fees (carryon, checked bags, seat assignments, etc), than you initially plan. We really didn’t have an option for this trip as the flights to Bangkok on Thai (our preference) or Myanmar National Airlines all left dramatically later than we wanted. We wanted to spend the afternoon in Bangkok and a 15h30 departure from Yangon would help us out in that regard.

We decided on Air Asia because the flight times were the best we could find, plus the air fare was very reasonable. Air Asia wasn’t flying into BKK,  but DMK (Don Mueang International Airport) instead. It looked to be a bit closer to the St. Regis anyway and our goal was to enjoy Bangkok, so we booked it.

Our driver from Yangon, earlier in the trip, picked us up at the domestic terminal and drove us to the international terminal. It was very generous and included in the price we paid for the tour, but it really wasn’t necessary the distance between the terminals wasn’t long nor was it convoluted.

We had about two hours between the time our flight from Heho landed until we left for Bangkok. Yangon has a contract lounge and with your Priority Pass you can gain access. That is of course, unless you run into the people we did at the airport. The women working the lounge wouldn’t accept our Priority Pass. She said that we weren’t welcome (that’s a quote). I figured I could just pay for access then bring it up with Citi or Chase once we get back home. No deal. We saw another passenger enter by showing some sort of pass (not a printed lounge access card, but a credit card sized pass). He was a young man of European descent. No clue what the issue was, but she kept the lounge locked up like Fort Knox.

There was a lot of empty space and not a lot of seats in Yangon, and almost no power outlets. We found seats near the gate and sat for about 90 minutes. Interestingly enough, while we waited, we met an American couple from my home state…and the woman actually went to the same college as me (20 years prior, but I went to a small school and the only other Americans we ran into having this connection with us was quite exciting).

We boarded the plane and quickly found our seats near the last row. The retired Oregonian travelers were seated in the row behind me. The man in the middle seat next to me was a very tall African man. He had two large Fosters Beers, one of which was half consumed and the other was chugged between the time we were on our take off roll but before we hit cruising altitude. As we boarded we saw a tall European (could be North American) board with a rainbow clown wig, a big red nose and a big horn that he’d honk from time to time.

Pretty tight pitch on this Air Asia flight – awful uncomfortable.

Interior shot of a moderately packed A320.

Before we reached 3,000 meters the flight attendants began service. The flight to Bangkok was less than 50 minutes, but a small snack box was served to all 180 people on board their Airbus A320. The pitch was quite tight and the African dude chugging his Fosters (and silent burping and blowing his beer stink on me) was manspreading like a motherfucker. The seat width is tight on this plane, so it really felt like he was trying to play footsie. It was a rough 50 minutes.

We landed and the Oregonians were asking where we were staying and they lost their minds when we said the St. Regis.  They were staying at an Ibis because they got a rate of 70USD per night. The St. Regis was 140USD. Big percentage difference, but an even bigger quality difference. I love the cheap luxury hotels in Bangkok.  They wanted to split a cab with us, which was probably the last thing in our list at that point. Luckily their phones weren’t working, so we told them that our hotels were in opposite directions, then once off the plane, we ran like Olympic Sprinters to ensure we didn’t have to discuss cab sharing again.

We had forgotten how tight the cabs are in Bangkok too. There would have been no way our suitcases, their backpacks and ourselves would have fit into one of those cabs. Whew.

If I had a choice between Thai and Air Asia, I’d choose Thai. For such a short flight with reasonable airfare and departure time, Air Asia was perfectly acceptable. I would definitely fly them again, if the need arose.

What do you think of Air Asia? Is it worth the hassle to save a few bucks or a few hours of vacation?

Myanmar National Airlines Economy (HEH-RGN)

Our time in Myanmar had come to a close. The final portion of our trip would have Mike and I split from John and Ryan who would continue on to Mandalay, while we headed to Bangkok for 36 hours of luxury hotels and meals.  We all were flying out of Heho (the airport that serves Inle Lake) at around the same time.

We were taking a new airline for us, Myanmar National Airlines.  This state owned and flag carrier of Myanmar has 21 planes, with six more on order and serves 31 destinations in five countries (China, India, Singapore, Thailand and of course, Myanmar).  Most of their fleet is made up of various versions of the top wing mounted ATR 72.  They have a few Boeing 737s, two Embraer E-190s and even four Cessna 208 Caravans.  Our flight to Yangon was on a new ATR 72-600

Like our other intra-Myanmar flights, we arrived at the airport and our guide wandered off with our passports and our luggage. We stood around like confused tourists, because, well  we were confused tourists. Our guide returned with our boarding passes and we walked to the gate area. Several flights were leaving around our departure time and the various gates just led out to the tarmac. It didn’t matter which gate (really, just doors) you left from, you end up on a walkway plane side.

Myanmar National Airlines Check-In Area, complete with the dry erase departures board.

Asian Wings Check-In Area.

The rest of the terminal…

I love big walls of clocks for some reason. I love seeing what time it is in different parts of the world, wondering what people are doing in that given city at that exact moment. The big board of time in Heho was a little off…

The gate area at Heho had an old world LED Clock…what’s wrong with those times?

We boarded our plane, from the rear door and took our assigned seats. Like with our trips on Air KBZ, the aircraft door closed and we were moving without us even noticing. Not sure how a small prop plane like that can be so smooth and relatively quiet, but it was.

Some pretty great plane spotting at Heho Airport.

Our chariot from Heho to Yangon. Myanmar National Airlines ATR-72 600.

The plane was pretty new and wasn’t dirty and gross like many of United’s planes, especially the small quick hop planes for flights about an hour long. The flight to Yangon was about 40 minutes and as we passed about 10,000 feet, the flight crew jumped into service.

Interior Cabin of our ATR 72-600. Clean. New. Comfortable (for a very short haul).

Pretty abysmal pitch on this flight, but for the short time aboard, we survived.

We had a breakfast box with a pain au chocolat and a type of fruit cake. The chocolate croissant was typical airline fare and the cake had an odd, super sweet flavor – I had a single bite.

Breakfast box served on our extremely short flight.

Our carb-tastic breakfast pastries. The chocolate croissant wasn’t all that bad, but I think my expectations were pretty low based on this presentation.

As we come in for a landing, the flight attendants brought around baskets of pizza candy, which I initially thought would be some funky tomato or pepperoni flavored candy (it is Asia…), alas, it was just a hard candy shaped like a slice of pizza and flavored like fruit (or even cola).

Pizza candy was our pre-arrival snack.

It just looked like pizza, but tasted like chemicals…

We landed in Yangon, right on schedule and left the plane as quickly as we boarded it. The passengers for the next flight were chomping at the bit to board and get in with their journey.  Of course, they couldn’t do that until the ground crew in Rangoon replaced a shit ton of oil in the port engine. I am no airline mechanic, but this seems like a lot of oil (they weren’t changing the oil, they were adding oil).

After landing the ground crew came with a ton of oil for the engine…that doesn’t seem right to me.

In general, unwound have absolutely no hesitation in flying Myanmar National Airlines again. The service was quick and efficient (I would have been fine with no service, it was a 40 minute flight for God’s sake). The airplane seemed safe (except for maybe the oil issue, I found upon landing).  These flights throughout Myanmar are the only real way to get around the country when you are on a short vacation – you can’t waste all that time driving or taking the train that often has inexplicable delays.

Air KBZ Economy (RGN-NYU-HEH)

There are a few ways to get around from city to city in Myanmar. You can hire a driver and depending on where you are going, your travels could take an entire day. You could take the romanticized route and take the train. Unfortunately the trains are not as efficient as those in Europe and the journey can take 12 to 18 or more hours. These trains are not the equivalent of the Orient Express either. The trains are old and bare bones. I really contemplated taking the train for one of our legs, but did a bit more research and found that the leg I was really reviewing often took 24 to 36 hours and that would be utterly awful.

We decided to fly, which was the recommendation from our local guides. I was and little nervous about the domestic carriers in Myanmar because they had some safety issues historically. Those issues are all but gone now. There are a couple of carriers you can choose from. Most of our flights were on Air KBZ.

The terminal at Yangon. Large open spaces with lots of opportunity to bypass security.

Why does airport carpet look so awful everywhere in the world? Another shot of Yangon Airport.

When boarding the Air KBZ flight in Yangon this gentleman walked around the terminal, reminding us it was time to board.

I had never heard of Air KBZ  before, but this Myanmar based carrier operates a series of flights on various circuits. The flight starts in Yangon, goes to Bagan then continues on to Heho (serving Inle Lake) then back to Yangon. There are other circuits too.  These routes are operated by ATR-72 (both 500s and 600s). The ATR-72 600s are brand new and the 500s are not that old.

The Departures Board for Air KBZ

Our handwritten boarding pass for Air KBZ. On this leg there were no assigned seats – just a free for all.

A sticker from Air KBZ, so you don’t accidentally board the wrong flight.

Our beautiful ATR-600. This new plane in the Air KBZ fleet was modern and comfortable for the less than 60 minute flights.

The trip from the Yangon Terminal to the Air KBZ flight could have been walked in a couple of minutes, but we all piled onto a bus and drove the 300 meters.

We flew Air KBZ twice, once from Yangon (RGN) to Bagan (NYU) then next from Bagan to Inle LAKE  (HEH). Both of these flights were less than an hour and were really nice.  It doesn’t compare to EVA Royal Laurel Business Class or Thai Royal Orchid First, of course, but the planes were new and clean (ahem….I’m looking at you, United) and the strive onboard was quick, efficient and friendly.

My knees were quite snug on the Air KBZ Flights. For less than 60 minutes it is doable, but this pitch wouldn’t work on a long haul!

Each of our Air KBZ Flights had a meal. It was quickly served and quickly retrieved before landing.

The lunch box, filled with two types of tiny sandwiches, a cake of some sort and a milk chocolate.

The brown bread and cheese sandwich was my favorite — but that’s not saying much.

I couldn’t pick out the flavors on this cake. It was yellow and a little chocolate, plus a flavorless jelly on top.

You don’t have many options for you intra-Myanmar flights, but I’d highly recommend Air KBZ for these shirt hops.  Unfortunately, you can’t credit your miles to a mainline western air program, but it’s OK to skip the miles from time to time.

The noise cancelling headphones worked great on this turboprop. We are heading off from Yangon to Bagan here!

Deplaning was quick and painless. We boarded and exited through the rear door.

Have you traveled through Myanmar before? What was your preferred mode of transportation?  Did you have the long romantic train ride through the countryside or did you do as we did and hop on the nearest plane, which provided quick, inexpensive travel?

Thai Airways Royal Silk Class TPE-BKK-RGN (TG 637 & 301)

After spending a couple hours in Taipei, relaxing in the EVA Lounge and showering, we headed off to our next flight – this one to Bangkok on Thai Airways then after a short connection, continuing on to Yangon, but first, I had to get a photo with Hello Kitty herself.  Who knew she was such an aviation aficionado?

I’m relaxing with Hello Kitty in Taipei. She’s quite the #AVGEEK

We were on Thai’s Airbus 330s for both legs on this portion of the journey – different planes, but the same configuration.  Since we flew in on EVA’s Royal Laurel Business Class, continuing on in Business was included in the price we paid, and it was a nice continuation.  Thai’s Royal Silk (Business Class) on these planes is a bit out dated, but still much nicer than flying in their coach seats.

Our Airbus 330 which took us from Bangkok to Yangon.

We boarded through Door 1L on each of these flights, while the majority of our fellow passengers boarded through 2L, right behind the business class cabin.  We were surprised at how quickly these planes were boarded and we pulled away from the gate.  The seats are angle flat seats – going to 131 degrees of recline.  Unlike the EVA flight, there is almost no privacy in these seats.  That being said these seats are perfectly fine for a couple hour day time flight.  We actually flew these seats a few years ago from Bangkok to Seoul and they did allow us to sleep a bit.

Royal Silk Class on Thai’s A330 between TPE-BKK and RGN.

The In-Flight-Entertainment on the A330.

After we sat down and the rest of the plane boarded, we were offered a pre-departure drink, which we chose champagne and orange juice.  On both of these flights, we were served Veuve Clicquot N.V – which is a perfectly fine selection – one that we often will give as host gifts back home.

Champagne and Orange Juice – Breakfast of Champions.

From Taipei to Bangkok, I decided not to have a full meal – I had eaten quite a bit on the flight to Taipei. I just had some more fruit and another couple glasses of Veuve.   From Bangkok to Yangon, I did decide to grab a bite to eat and it was really great.  I decided to try to Prawn Pad Thai and I have to say that was a wonderful decision – it was better than any restaurant Pad Thai I’ve had.

An Excellent Prawn Pad Thai en route to Yangon

These flights were easy, comfortable and above all, got us to where we were going in a timely and safe fashion.  Would I pay extra to fly Royal Silk on these routes?  It’s unlikely, but depending on the variance in prices, I could see it making sense for less than $100 premium – otherwise, I’d suggest staying in the back of the plane and using your money for great food wherever you are going.  If you do happen to have an opportunity to try the Pad Thai served on Thai Airways, I highly recommend it.

What do you think of the regional service offered by Thai on their A330 Aircraft?  Am I nuts for wanting so much champagne on these flights?