Aug 162016
 

With 195 of the 196 countries in the world visited now, I’d like to think I’ve learned at least a little bit about different places. Sure, some of these trips have been less than 24 hours and I’ve only scratched the surface of the country, but even in a short time it’s easy to discover that lots of the misconceptions you might have had about a country before visiting just don’t stand up. So, in no particular order, 14 common misconceptions I’ve recently discovered in my quest to visit every country:

10. Iranians hate Americans. The media in the United States repeats it constantly, and Iran’s government certainly doesn’t do much to dispel this notion. However, it’s hard to wander the streets of Iran for five minutes without someone coming up to you, asking where you’re from, and often inviting you back to their home for tea. I found Iranians to be some of the warmest and most hospitable people I met anywhere in the world, and they’re genuinely curious about how things really are in the United States. Sure, our governments and politicians can be pretty easy to hate on both sides…but on an individual level the vast majority of Iranian people will welcome you with open arms.

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9. Africa is full of disease and hunger. Usually when I tell people who haven’t visited Africa about an upcoming trip, their first questions revolve around what shots/medications I had to get, and how will I find enough safe food to eat. Sure, there are tropical and other diseases that are much more common in Africa (malaria, dengue, even HIV), but that doesn’t mean that walking down the street you’re going to drop dead. Regarding food, yes, there’s not a McDonalds on every corner, but you would be surprised how many places you see KFC! There are, of course, lots of hungry people in Africa, but there are lots of hungry people in the United States as well. …and like Iran, the number of times people insisted I come back to their home and join them for a meal was amazing. People may not always have much, but you’re a guest and they’re happy to share it with you.

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8. People in China are pushy and rude. While it’s true that overall Chinese culture isn’t the same as the west when it comes to queueing this is changing to some degree in larger cities. When people start pushing (such as boarding a plane) it’s not an attempt to be rude, but simply doing what one needs to to not get trampled in a society that views that as a norm. There’s no rudeness intended at all, and firmly holding your ground will be respected.

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7. The Australian Diet Consists of Blooming Onions, Fosters, and Vegemite. In several trips to Australia I’ve never once seen a blooming onion, and all the Australians I know confirm it’s an American invention. As for Fosters, it’s incredibly uncommon and nobody drinks the stuff. Victoria Bitter (VB) is much more the stereotypical beverage and a higher quality beer costs up to $30 for a six pack thanks to taxes. Unfortunately, the vegemite part is true…and is definitely an acquired taste no matter how thinly you spread it and how much butter you use.

…but you can also get kangaroo and crocodile pizza:

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6. Argentina is Nothing but Cowboys, Steaks, and Evita. While it’s true all three play a huge part making up the Argentine identity, there’s so much more to the country. You can’t deny that modern Argentine politics was largely shaped by Peron and Evita, and you’ll find some of the most mouth-watering steaks in the world, but you’ll also find a vibrant international city in Buenos Aires and amazing skiing in the south and west. Oh, and don’t forget the amazing waterfalls at Iguazu and the Casa Rosada at night:

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5. You Can Get By Everywhere in English. While this is more true than it’s ever been, it’s still not universal. In most major world cities you will have no trouble in English (and in most European capitals the quality of English will be astounding) but there are still places where English is extremely limited. In Europe, Spain and Portugal are exceptions, and especially in Brazil you will find almost no english spoken outside the most touristic of places. Similar in China – get off the few major sites and international hotels, and limited to no English. Plus, if you want to see smaller towns you’ll find English much less common. This also goes for Russia and Central Asia outside capital cities. That’s not to say don’t go – most people will be happy to help, and do their best to communicate with you despite the language gap.

4. South Africa is rife with crime. Yes, South Africa is no stranger to both petty and violent crime. Yes, the stories of carjackings and people being robbed at gunpoint on the street are true. However, the same things happen in major American urban centres if you venture into the wrong neighbourhoods at the wrong time of time. Keep to well-trafficked areas, and use the “women, children, and old people rule” and you’ll be fine. The rule means simply if women, old people, and children are out strolling in the area, chances are things are just fine.

Cape Town sunset:

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3. Nigeria is nothing but Investment Scams, Corruption, and Oil Money. Is there corruption in Nigeria? Absolutely, but there’s also amazing beaches and some of the most amazingly warm people in Africa. One day I was sitting on a deserted beach just outside central Lagos, and the next partying at the craziest wedding I’ve ever been to. I found Nigerians to be some of the most fun-loving and happiest people I met in Africa…and they want you to join in the fun! I highly recommend to anyone who has a Nigerian friend they know in the US – try and get yourself an invite and see the real country. It’s an amazing place!

Very festive Nigerian wedding…the theme was obviously pink:

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2. Japan is all Pokemon, Anime, and Cat Cafes. Sure, all three of those things are very modern Japan, and all originated there and have become global phenomenons. At the same time, however, Japan is still a deeply traditional society with traditions and a history that goes back thousands of years. While Western society is certainly very at home in downtown Tokyo (as attested to by Starbucks everywhere), just turn the corner and you’ll find a temple that goes back hundreds of years that young and old alike still visit and respect. I found nowhere in the world where modern and traditional manage to exist side by side quite like in Japan.

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1. The Gulf States are Largely a Vast Desert Full of Camels and People that Despise Western Culture. So, first off, yes, there’s a lot of desert in the Arabian peninsula. It gets extremely hot and dry, and yes, there’s a lot of camels – outside the cities at least. Speaking of the cities, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and especially Qatar and the UAE and littered with enourmous shopping malls full of western brands. Dubai has dozens of Starbucks, Caribou, Tim Hortons, Costa and every other coffee shop known to western man. …and all of them are packed with local men sitting for hours and talking over coffee. Like with Japan, Western culture and convenience have been imported and customized for local tastes. Infrastructure and convenience wise the gulf states are some of the most modern places on earth which in some part is owed to the fact that in many of them (especially Qatar and the UAE) over 75% of the population is expatriates!

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So that’s my list of 10 of my bigger surprises – what has surprised you about places you went? What did you discover that you didn’t expect?

Nov 052015
 

As I mentioned earlier, since it was absolutely pouring rain and late at night, I really didn’t have much choice but to take a taxi to my hotel in Tokyo. I considered trying to call an Uber, but there wasn’t one anywhere on the map, and I was too tired to wait, so went with it, fully expecting an extremely expensive ride.

I had asked the hotel approximately how much I should expect in an email, and they told me “around 70,000 Yen.” This was around $55 or so, so I didn’t feel like it was too bad. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the hotel, the total bill was 9,370 Yen, or just over $78. Ouch. To the driver’s credit, however, he knew exactly three words of English (compared to my four of Japanese), made exact change, and was as pleasant as could be.

Arrived at my hotel the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo, and there was a line waiting to check in, and only one agent working. Waited nearly 15 minutes (even as an SPG Platinum) and finally got to the front of the line. The agent was indifferent, displayed absolutely no personality, and when asked about the possibility of a platinum upgrade, perhaps to a suite, said “we do not do that.” So, standard room it was for me. This ranks as some of the poorest platinum treatment I’ve had anywhere in the world.

Got to the room, and it was smaaaaaaal. I’ve stayed at the Westin Tokyo before, and through the rooms were a good size. This hotel was more “traditional” feeling, but at the same time felt old, run-down, and not nearly as nice. After putting my bags down and grabbing a shower (it was about 12:30am at this point) I realized I was pretty starving. Ordered a sandwich from room service along with two beers, which was actually a pretty reasonable (for Japan) around $38.

When it arrived, I had just sat down to my computer to do some work and saw that there would be no internet from 9-5 the next day due to upgrading work. Are you kidding me? How can a hotel of this level not have internet? Regardless, my body clock was off by 4-5 hours at this point, so ended up staying up until around 2am doing work after having what proved to be a reasonably decent sandwich. Then, passed out, and didn’t bother to set an alarm.

…which I probably should have done, because it was nearly 1pm when I woke up! I can’t remember the last time I’d slept nearly 11 hours, and pretty sure it’s been more than a decade. So, despite the room being small, the AC being barely functional (it was 22C in the room), and anything else I didn’t like about this hotel, at least I managed an amazing night of sleep!

Upon seeing the time I leapt out of bed, but when I threw open the curtains I suddenly didn’t feel bad about sleeping in – it was STILL pouring rain! I puttered around for maybe 30 minutes before grabbing a shower and heading to check out. Once again, the front desk was completely indifferent, so I headed to the concierge to find out the best way to Narita. He suggested a taxi to Shinagawa station about 2km away, followed by the Narita Express train to the airport. Given the rain this sounded good, and off I went. The taxi was just under 1,000 Yen (around $8) and the station was absolutely huge.

I was able to buy tickets no problem from the ticket office, and decided to wait 55 minutes instead of rushing for the train in 25. I hadn’t had anything to eat since room service like 12 hours prior, so headed off to, well, you can probably guess…

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Yes, apparently the Pumpkin Spice Latte is called the Pumpkin Pie Latte in Japan. It was super packed in Starbucks, but after stalking tables I managed to find somewhere to sit. Coffee and sandwich was good, but after around 15 minutes of people watching it was time to head down to the platform and find my Narita Express. I’d decided to pay a little extra for the “Green Car” aka business/first class and it was definitely well worth it given it was empty while most of the rest of the train seemed pretty full:

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It was a reasonable walk from the train station at Narita to the JAL check-in counter, and I waited about 10 minutes to check in since apparently there was also a flight to Taipei leaving around the same time, and the entire business class was filled with people needing to check their golf clubs. Wasn’t too bad of a wait, the agent was very friendly, and soon it was off to immigration and security (which were completely uneventful) and finally the JAL lounge.

I don’t fly a ton of OneWorld, so in all my trips to Narita had never been in this lounge. A few thoughts…it was absolutely packed, to the point it felt like a United Club. I know late afternoon is rush hour in Tokyo, but it was still pretty ridiculous. The food options were also rather poor, basically some little wrapped cheese things, some biscuits, and that was more or less it. The beverage option was decent, and I took the chance to have a bit of plum wine. Internet was also reasonably quick, so overall not a bad stay. Just nothing “special.”

Headed off to the gate about 50 minutes before the flight, and there was already a long queue to board. Didn’t matter, however, since we ended up being a bus gate. Fortunately the rain had turned into a heavy drizzle at this point, so didn’t get TOO wet waiting to board.

Japan Airlines (JAL) flight 959
Tokyo, Narita (NRT) to Seoul, Incheon (ICN)
Depart 18:40, Arrive 21:15, Flight Time: 2:35
Boeing 767-300 Registration JA601J, Manufactured 2002, Seat 3D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 93,180
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,131,786

Upon boarding, this 767 business class was exactly what I expected. Those who fly United will remember what was not-too-fondly called the “Ghetto Bird” which was a 767 with 2-2-2 seating that was pretty much domestic first. Well, JAL still flies them, and that’s what we were on today. The big difference was the crew was super friendly and helpful and despite the flight being booked full there was one seat empty in business class…and it was next to me!

Plus, how can you complain when you get a menu on a two hour flight:

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Sure, it came all on one tray, but the wine came in individual bottles, and the presentation was pretty much excellent:

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When I finished it all, I was asked my favourite part, and the flight attendant brought me another lobster salad along with my ice cream dessert…and insisted on bringing me another bottle of wine. So far, this crew was excellent!

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After clearing my tray, she came back again…with yet another bottle of wine. “Please, I would like you to have.” I mean, come on, how can you not drink it when the flight attendant pretty much guilts you into it? I have to say, despite the hard product being pretty poor, the soft product was most likely the best I’ve ever had on a two hour flight. I know lots of people say JAL is no ANA, but I have to say after this flight I look forward to trying them on a longer flight.

Immigration was a piece of cake in Seoul, bought my ticket for the KAL Limo bus to my hotel, the W Seoul. After about a 90 minute ride, we finally arrived at the hotel around 11:45 pm. I’d been upgraded to a “studio suite” which wasn’t quite as large as my previous stays there, but was still a pretty good size:

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Super large bathroom too:

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So, this is where the problem began. I’d unpacked, and after 15 minutes of the AC running it wasn’t getting any cooler. The thermostat read 24.2, up from 24.0 when I’d checked in. So, I called down and asked someone be sent up. Someone came up, but they assured me it ‘just takes time’ and I should wait. So, I waited 15 minutes…before calling back and informing them it was no cooler.

Ok, so now maintenance will look at it. Maintenance assured them the AC was working fine, and sometimes “these just take time.” No, this isn’t acceptable. I asked to change rooms…please…give us 15 more minutes, it will cool down. I waited 15 more (it was now 12:30 am) and I called down and demanded to speak to the manager on duty.

The manager showed up a few minutes later, and agreed to see “if” she could find another room since they were “pretty full.” Well, not according to the website, which had all kinds of rooms to sell me if I wanted. After 15 minutes she managed to find me the exact same room on the floor below….which was also 24C when I walked in, but cooled to 21C in the first 15 minutes. Ugh.

Fortunately, now that I had a cool room, I could tuck into the wine JAL had supplied me with, along with the chocolates the W had left in my sauna…I mean room:

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By this point, it was approaching 1:30 am, and I was ready to tuck into the Austin Powers bed:

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So, overall, extremely disappointing performance by the W. Eventually I got a good room, and a good night of sleep, but barely six hours thanks to all the mixups on their part. The kicker was the next morning when I asked the manager on duty for some points as compensation for all the problems. She was “not authorized to do that” because only the General Manager can…and he is on vacation for two weeks. Are you serious? Service recovery seems to be a MAJOR weak point for this hotel. When things go right, it’s a great property, but as this stay proved when things go wrong, they really have no idea how to recover for it.

Six hours was plenty of sleep to function on, however, so off to the airport it was for my next new country…Mongolia!

Nov 042015
 

I had to get up early. Way too early. When I booked this ticket, I had all sorts of options for getting from Muscat to Seoul on OneWorld with an award ticket, and the question really came down to two things: redeye flight east, or get up early and take a daytime flight. I really hate sleeping on planes if I can avoid it, so went with the oh-dark-thirty flight instead, which turned out to be a really good call.

Check-out from the W was swift, my Uber arrived within five minutes, and it was a completely effortless drive to the airport. Nice and insightful drive with Uber, and was soon at Doha Hamad Airport Intl Checkin. The Qatar business class checkin queue was completely empty, so I figured I would reprint my boarding pass on proper Qatar stock since they had printed it on generic stock in Muscat. Also switched my seat to the last row of business, hoping it would be a bit quieter back there.

No line at all at immigration or security, and I took yet my third selfie in as many months with the giant scary stuffed bear in Doha airport:

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It was still nearly an hour before boarding, so I had time for a proper breakfast in the lounge. Proper, because I decided it was a champagne breakfast…since it was almost noon in Tokyo after all. When a bottle of something was pulled out, I asked “oh, don’t you have Krug today?” and got “oh yes, but we don’t normally serve it unless asked for by name!” Krug obtained, it was time for a delicious breakfast. Fresh kiwifruit and pineapple, hummous, museli, olives…and Krug!

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I was still slightly hungry, so decided to try the warm options…grilled halloumi cheese (yum!), sautéed mushrooms, and a chocolate muffin which I decided wasn’t worth the calories after one bite. Too dry. Oh, and Krug. Definitely Krug.

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I still had a bit of time, so, well, yeah….Krug! The Qatar lounge is exceptional for a business class lounge, especially when it’s not too crowded, which it wasn’t this morning. It definitely was far from empty, but was quiet enough that it still felt peaceful.

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My gate was the same gate I’d been at a couple months prior for my flight to Eritrea, and required more or less walking halfway to to Tokyo to board the plane. By board the plane I mean the bus to the plane…at least we had a private business class bus once again:

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We were only about 60% full in business class today, so it promised to be a good flight!

Qatar Airways flight 812
Doha, Qatar (DOH) to Tokyo, Haneda Airport, Japan (HND)
Depart 7:20, Arrive 22:45, Flight Time: 9:25
Boeing 787-7, Registration A7-BCC, Manufactured 2012, Seat 5K

Crew was very quick with the towel (hot OR cold) upon boarding, a glass of Tattinger Rosé and some water before we pushed back right on time.

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Qatar’s 787s have WiFi aboard, but the price is pretty much extortion. Either you are very careful with your usage, or it’s easy to run up huge bills. I avoided facebook/graphics, only monitored emails, and did a few facebook chats, and still ran up $25 during the flight. No thanks!

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Right after takeoff, the windows were dimmed by the crew (override – you didn’t have a choice) and breakfast was served. Starting with some warm nuts and more bubbles:

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I wasn’t hungry after breakfast in the lounge, so just asked for a bowl of muesli. The crew was pretty confused by this, but after telling them I’d already had my breakfast in the lounge, the understood much better. In true Qatar style it was order what you want when you want, so they were happy to bring it.

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After this I watched some horrible movie I’ve already forgotten, and napped for a few hours since I’d only gotten around four to five hours in Qatar. Couple of comments on the Qatar 787. I really like the 1-2-1 configuration of the seats, since it means everyone has aisle access. (YOU LISTENING UNITED?!) That said, the seats felt pretty short and squat, and almost a little claustrophobic. That said, even at my height I had no trouble at all sleeping in them and being comfortable, and would be happy to fly them any day. The 787 is a great place, as this flight confirmed, and I was happy to arrive feeling refreshed and alert.

Upon waking, I watched another bad movie and it was time for another “formal” meal service. Although in theory it’s possible to eat whatever you want whenever you want on Qatar, I find they tend to do a formal service once or twice during long flights. You can customize it as much as you like, but they definitely gear up to come around a couple times.

This time, I asked for the Japanese sushi starter first, along with a glass of bubbles. For airplane sushi it was surprisingly tasty, and not at all dry…and the miso soup was quite good as well!

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Next up was a steak sandwich with a chutney. I remember it being pretty tasty, but looking at this picture I think I would rank it slightly below the Air Koryo burger. That said, in my opinion people place way too much emphasis on presentation on a plane (it’s food on a plane after all) and I remember it being tasty, so there you go.

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Had a few chocolates for dessert, along with, yes, more bubbles, and soon we were landing in Tokyo right on time. A few thoughts about landing in Tokyo:

Haneda Airport, like everywhere in Japan, felt horridly warm and humid to me. It was a reasonable walk to immigration, and I was a rather sweaty mess by the time I arrived. Qatar hadn’t loaded immigration cards, so we had to complete one in the arrivals hall, which wasn’t too bad, but I was getting warm and cranky. Immigration was reasonably fast, and then time to line up for customs.

One problem…two flights from Hawaii had arrived right before us, and the lines were outrageous. I got to the front, only to be told I needed a customs form…which they also hadn’t given us and nobody had told us about. Went back to sweatily fill one out, and my patience tried, walked right back to the front of the now super long customs line and just gave it to him. I think the Japanese vacationers were all too polite to say anything, and soon I was through to arrivals.

Found an ATM which accepted foreign cards, took out more cash than I thought I’d need (since I find Japan the most difficult developed country in the world to find ATMs which accept foreign cards), and went to join the taxi queue. It was late at night, so taking the bus wouldn’t be a practical option, and it was off to my hotel in the pouring rain.

Dec 052014
 

Slept through my first alarm, and was running late in the morning. As I rounded the corner from my room, I saw the elevator there and people heading for it. I picked up my pace a bit and ran for it, putting my hand in the doors to keep it open…which caused a flurry of Chinese and some excitement from the already fully elevator. Given the earpieces and the way they all freaked out, I’m pretty certain I was in the elevator with President Xi, lol. You’d think they’d control the elevators so they don’t stop or something?!

Checked out, stopped by Starbucks to fuel up, managed to find the airport bus, and given the relatively early hour it was a nice quick traffic free drive to the airport. Check-in was pain-free as well, and I had a time for a quick snack in the lounge before boarding. I just had a small nibble at it, knowing there would likely be more in flight:

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Got to the gate just as boarding was starting, and was one of the first on board to grab a photo. I’ve actually never taken a business class flight before with herringbone seats, and was curious how I’d like it. Generally, I strongly prefer planes with all-aisle access business class so I’m not having to either climb over people or have people climb over me.

Air New Zealand flight 99
Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) to Tokyo/Narita, Japan (NRT)
Depart 9:45, Arrive 16:55, Flight Time 11:10
Boeing 777-200, Registration ZK-OKG, Manufactured 2006, Seat 4K

First thought, these seats look crammed in there and people are right on top of each other:

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I usually am very meh about amenity kits, but these came with awesome socks that matched my shoes. Everything goes better with bubbles:

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Oct 272014
 

Headed down to the gate, and boarding was just starting as I got there. As usual, United was being super classy and all of “Group 1” was being invited to board at the same time. 1Ks, business class, first class, doesn’t matter. All lumped together. Not even a priority announcement for Global Services. We’re clearly not on ANA anymore!

United flight 803
Tokyo, Narita (NRT) to Singapore (SIN)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 00:10, Flight Time 7:10
Boeing 777-200, Registration N788UA, Manufactured 1997, Seat 2K

Welcome aboard…can I get you a glass of Krug? Oh, wait…I mean a glass of Veuve Smisek. Mmm…delicious!

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Wait, where’s the caviar service?!

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Quality construction. I went to put my feet on the footrest, and it fell off.

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Takeoff was on-time, and in fairness the crew was very pleasant and efficient, I will say in general despite Jeff’s best efforts to the contrary, the hard product is pretty decent (not good, or great, but decent) and the crews are almost always very good.

There were two choices of red wine today, and I went with a glass of the Changes-You’ll-Like Shiraz. It was perfectly drinkable, and would make a reasonable $10-15 table wine for every day drinking. Certainly not international first class quality, but…

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Oct 242014
 

So, finally the big day was here. Rainy day in Washington, and grabbed the new-ish Silver Line metro out to Dulles. Check-in was smooth, with 14 agents (I counted) and no lines yet. Agents had a bit of trouble figuring out how to tag my bag all the way to Bali (since it was different tickets) but soon had it sorted and I was on my way to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.

I decided to do a few laps of the A and B terminal first to get a little bit of walking in, but was soon seated with a glass of bubbly and a little breakfast:

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Feb 072013
 

Was up early the next morning, and had the hotel arrange a taxi to Yangon airport. Driver easily agreed on $10 or 800 Kyat, which seemed to be the going rate. I’m sure I could have knocked a dollar or two off, but… check-in was quick and easy, and soon I was waiting for immigration. Took maybe five minutes total to clear immigration, and soon I was in the contract lounge that Thai uses in Yangon.

Now, here, I have to make a confession. I’d gotten going too early to get caffeine or breakfast, so I had to survive on what I found in the lounge. Hey, don’t judge, but sometimes a breakfast of Pringles and Diet Coke is just what you need. My mother would be mortified. WiFi in the lounge was just fast enough to do e-mail, but that’s honestly about it. Managed to kill the hour or so I had before the flight, and from there it was maybe a two minute walk to the gate.

Thai flight 304
Yangon, Myanmar (RGN) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Depart 9:50, Arrive 11:45, Flight Time 1:25
Airbus A330-300, Registration HS-TED, Manufactured 1994, Seat 24A

Flight was maybe 2/3 full in business, and I moved from my centre seat to the last row where the pair of seats next to the window was available. Space and a view! Nothing too remarkable about this flight – the typical friendly Thai service, a small snack that I just picked at (but way more than you’d see on a similar flight in North America) and we landed right on time.

I had a bit over an hour to kill before heading to the next flight, so headed to the Thai business lounge, where much Diet Coke was consumed, along with a fair amount of dim sim – especially BBQ pork buns – YUM! Internet was nice and speedy, and I managed to Skype several calls and get a few things sorted, so it was time will used.

Thai flight 407
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Singapore (SIN)
Depart 13:50, Arrive 17:10, Flight Time 2:20
Airbus A330-300, Registration HS-TET, Manufactured 2010, Seat 15E

In contrast to the last two Thai A330 flights I’d been on to Myanmar, this one was the “new” configuration. Thai has multiple configurations for their A330s, and the other one had had business class seats that were definitely showing their age. Way more room than economy, but none of the modern bells and whistles one has come to expect in business class. This plane, in contrast, had personal tvs, power ports, and went much closer to flat. It may have actually gone flat, but being a daytime flight I didn’t test it.

The flight was completely full in business, and there was again a small meal (complete with menus) and the drink cart came through offering beer and wine several times. Fantastic for a regional flight!

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Oct 212011
 

So, rushed back to the airport and check-in was absolutely empty. We had on boarding pass, and just wanted to get them printed by United since they had been printed by Continental before that. Got the pass, through fast-track first class security, and soon we were chilling in the ANA lounge. A bit of sake, some sushi, catching up on e-mail, and soon it was time to board.

United 837, Tokyo Narita to Bangkok
Depart 18:35, Arrive 23:05, Flight Time 6:30
Boeing 747-400, Registration N117UA, Manufactured 1999
Seats 1A, 1K

Flight was pretty quick – made easier by the fact that I think we both slept the majority of it. Meal was just enough to fill things up for a good doze (plus the wine didn’t help) and soon we were arriving into Bangkok. Honestly, lately, a first class flight on United that doesn’t register is par for the course. Some are really really disappointing, some are memorably good, but the majority are just plain unmemorable…and that’s what this one was.

We grabbed a meter taxi to the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, and were soon checking in. It was pouring rain in Bangkok (a prelude to the major floods late) and the Sheraton once again didn’t disappoint. Upgrade to a suite, free massive buffet breakfast, free happy hour with snacks in the hotel bar…all in all, Bangkok (and especially this hotel) remains one of the best travel bargains in the world.

Next morning we were up a bit early, but honestly quite lazy. This was our 7th or 8th trip to Bangkok, and having seen most of the major sites we really just wanted to relax in the middle of the trip. We did a bit of online research after breakfast, and stumbled upon Wat Arun in the Thonburi district which we’d never been too. We’d also never taken a water taxi up the river, so it was a perfect chance to try some new things!

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Oct 202011
 

So, 1:45am rolled around, and it was finally time to for flight(s) to Tokyo, via Yap and Guam. Boarding was a bit late due to a late arrival from Yap, and we were getting quite concerned about our 45 minute connection in Guam. Of course, it was also 1:30am and we were completely ready to pass out, so I’m not sure if sleepy or concerned was winning out at this point.

Continental 186, Koror, Palau to Yap
Depart 1:45, Arrive 3:50, 1:05 flight time
Boeing 737-800, Registration N35236, Manufactured 1999
Seats 2E, 2F

Honestly, not much to say on this flight. We accepted a couple of glasses of wine upon boarding to ensure the inevitable, and passed out until landing in Yap an hour later. I remember hitting the tarmac, but honestly nothing after that…including the takeoff. Yap was one giant blur, which is exactly how I hoped it would be. This was the best case scenario for what I consider the absolute worst redeye flight in the world.

Continental 186, Yap to Guam
Depart 4:30, Arrive 6:00, 1:30 flight time
Boeing 737-800, Registration N35236, Manufactured 1999
Seats 2E, 2F

Again, we totally did not remember taking off at all, and were in Guam before we knew it. Total flight time was only 3:15 including the time on the ground in Yap, but we slept pretty much all of it, so no complaints whatsoever! Arrived Guam almost 30 minutes late, so it was a major scramble to our connection. Got to our friends at CBP, and realised…yes…I’d left my passport on board. ARGH! Fortunately, the Continental BusinessFirst Concierge had escorted everyone into Immigration, and RAN back to the plane to get my passport in under five minutes. This is the Continental I remember and love, and hope the service level remains a part of the combined airline/

Made the gate with almost 20 minutes to spare, and we were off!

Continental 161, Guam to Tokyo
Depart 7:10, Arrive 9:45, 3:35 flight time
Boeing 767-400, Registration N77066, Manufactured 2002
Seats 1K, 1L

Flight was pretty uneventful, and the crew was unfortunately quite cool. Meal was served, but no warmth or real “service” at all…but that was fine, because again…what we really wanted was to maximize SLEEP! We got another two hours each or so, and arrived in Tokyo rested enough to take on a pretty full day! Upon landing, we were right off to the ANA First lounge for a quick shower, and the best part is they were able to hold out bags until our flight that evening. Backpack in tow, we were off to the Narita Express to head into Shibuya Station.

Took us a couple tries to find the correct window, but soon we had return tickets into Shibuya station…with a bit of time to grab some Starbucks at the station’s caffeine purveyor to spare!  Onto the train (reserved seating on a local train?!  Seriously?!) and we were off.  But not before the very helpful escalator sign that warned us to watch our step:

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