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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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
After leaving the abysmal lounge at O’Hare International Terminal 5, we boarded through door 2L and turned left to our seats in Eva’s Royal Laurel Business class. We elected to use United MileagePlus Miles for our international flights on this trip. We were able to find tickets from Chicago to Yangon at preferred times at Saver Prices — so this trip cost us 80,000 miles each, in Business Class from Chicago all the way through to Yangon.
Flight: EVA Air 55 (Business Class)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Departure: 00h20 (00h00)
Arrival: 05h00 +1 (04h36 +1)
Royal Laurel Class occupies the first ten rows of the Boeing 777 and is broken into two cabins, the first with six rows and a galley separating the final four rows. All seats offer aisle access and are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. The reverse herringbone layout is one of my favorites. It offers you privacy as every seat faces away from the aisle. Although it isn’t even fully enclosed suite, so people can see you, but it’s pretty difficult.
We were one of the last to board in Royal Laurel Class. Of the 22 business class seats in the forward cabin, 19 were occupied. I found my seat and began getting prepped for the flight – grabbing my tablet and headphones. I noticed the Rimowa Amenity Kit was already and the my seat. It was filled with Harnn products, including lip balm, hand lotion, a hairbrush, a toothbrush and even a screen cleaning cloth. The real beauty of this kit is the carrier itself. Made by Rimowa, this hard sided case is really practical for future uses – United offers those tin amenity kits from time to time and they dent and bend so you’d never want to or be able to use them again. I snagged one of these kits when we flew First on Thai a few years ago.
As I sat in my seat, the flight attendant approached asking if I would like a pre-departure beverage. She also addressed me by name – as did every other flight attendant on board. I wasn’t allowed champagne, but could get some sparkling wine. The tax laws in the US frustrate me. If the airline opens a bottle on the ground they pay tax on it, but not in the air. I had a lovely sparkling wine and a water while we boarded. I was also quickly told that I couldn’t leave my tablet in the stowage area near my seat…and she stood there until I moved it.
The menus were handed out at that point – a food menu plus a separate wine list were opened to the appropriate pages (English language and direction of travel). I was excited to see EVA was serving Krug on this flight, I thought they were serving Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame, but they made a change. The champagne was good…just not enough of it, as they ran out halfway through the flight.
With about five minutes to review the menu, the flight attendant came back asking about my selection. I had been researching the options for a couple of days, so other than the Krug, I knew what was up. I was surprised when they were quasi demanding our selections right then. Pajamas were handed out while the dinner orders were being taken too.
I love airline Pajamas. Yes, I am the guy who complains about people wearing yoga pants to fly, but that is different…somehow.
The captain came on telling us details about the flight and that the door was closed and we were ready to depart…20 minutes before schedule. The Taiwanese appear to be an efficient bunch.
Climb out of O’Hare was about bit choppy, but just a few minutes off the ground the flight attendants jumped into action, serving our drinks and setting our tables. Before my table was set, I took off for the lavatory to change into my pajamas. Surprisingly they fit pretty well…maybe a little short in the legs, but that is to be expected – I’ve got long legs.
The tray tables are very large and we’re covered with a beautiful cloth – not those thick white bland clothes United uses, but a delicate fabric with a beautiful and intricate design.
Dinner was served.
Throughout dinner I was watching the Brad Pitt movie Allied, which I thought was pretty good, but was it just me, or did you think you were coming in late to the movie?
From the time we took off until dinner service was completed and cleaned was less than two hours. I just hate when the meal service takes a long time. A flight leaving at midnight has two types of people, those who want a sleep immediately and those that want a quickly eat….then sleep immediately.
I converted my seat into and bed, cozied up under the duvet and went to sleep. While it wasn’t solid sleep, it was good sleep. I woke up and few times. It always surprises me how freaking hot it gets on these planes. That’s what really kept me from getting proper sleep…it was just too blazing hot. That being said, I woke up at 09h30 (CDT) after going to bed around 02h15…that’s pretty solid sack time for an airplane.
When I woke up, I polished off a bottle of water and order another meal. This time I wanted the chicken and rice in a lotus leaf. I hit the flight attendant call button and before I could even ask myself “Wait…did that work?” the flight attendant who had been taking care of me all night was by my side. I ordered the chicken, some water and a glass of champagne, which is when I found out they were out of champagne.
This on demand meal took about 10 minutes to arrive as they had to make some more rice. The midnight snack was really great. I paired it with as French white wine. I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to eat the lotus leaf that the chicken and rice was wrapped in, or not. I tried to cut it, but it was nearly impossible with the cuttlery on the plane, so I made the assumption that we as rent or eat that. What do you think?
After my midnight snack, I decided to watch Arrival, which was on my list since it came out in the theater, but I kept dozing off. The seat was quite comfortable for napping, I’ll give them that. After a few attempts, I finally made it through Arrival, then I decided to watch A Street Cat Named Bob, which was surprisingly good – if you haven’t seen it, put it in your queue.
Breakfast was served about 90 minutes before landing. I had the western style breakfast – I just can’t get into congee – can you? The breakfast service was fine – the fruit was really fresh, although, I’m not a big fan of papaya, kiwi, cantaloupe or honeydew — the pineapples and berries were quite good. The yogurt they served with breakfast was very thick – like paste from a school project, with an interestingly thick texture and a slightly off flavor from a traditional yogurt. I tried a few bites of it, but decided I’d hold off. Even though I still had two more international flights in Business Class this day, I did eat the omelette with bacon and grilled veggies and it was great – even for a guy who doesn’t really like eggs.
Breakfast was finished about 45 minutes before landing and I decided to order a Bloody Mary, which was on their cocktail listing. It was a little watery and not all that flavorful – I’d skip it if I were you.
About 25 minutes before landing, I headed back to the lavatory to change into my street clothes and brush my teeth. The lavatory was stocked with toothbrushes, individual mouthwashes, toothpicks as well as soaps, lotions and facial sprays. The lavatory was a little tight for changing. I was constantly concerned my street clothes would fall to the ground and thus need to be burned. Airplane bathrooms are so gross. That being said, the lavatories on EVA were all cleaned by flight crew immediately after a passenger used it. As I was waiting to change, a passenger came out of the lav and a flight attendant asked me to wait a couple minutes, while she refreshed the area. Very nice.
We landed in Taiwan about 25 minutes earlier than scheduled and headed off to the lounge for a shower and to wait for our flight continuing on to Bangkok.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed this flight. The seats on EVA’s Royal Laurel class are second to none for an international business class product. They offer privacy that can only be beat by a fully enclosed suite – which is tough when traveling with someone – it is almost impossible to have a comfortable conversation with them. The flight crew was stellar – they weren’t hovering over you (except during boarding when they were taking orders and being very strict about certain rules), but when you needed them they were there in a flash. While I have not flown Cathay Business Class from Chicago, I’d say EVA provides the best business class product and service from Chicago to southern China and for only 80,000 MileagePlus miles, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value.
After May 31, 2017, EVA will be operating this flight with their Hello Kitty Branded Plane from Chicago. I’m torn; on one hand I don’t care about Hello Kitty and I’m glad we weren’t annoyed with all the HK branded materials on the plane, but on the other hand, it is such a unique product, I’d like to give it a try — maybe next time!
Have you flown EVA? Were you surprised they they called themselves E-V-A (the actual letters, versus Eva, a name)? What is your favorite ultra-long-haul product out of Chicago? When are you taking EVA Royal Laurel Business Class?