Feb 112016

Bangkok has hundreds of hotels, many of them in the luxury or super luxury category. On top of that, many of them have extremely affordable rates by US standards, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong when choosing a good hotel. In the past, my choices have usually been the Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit or the Conrad. The Sheraton is unlike any Sheraton in the US, and is a true 4 to 5 star hotel. Amazing staff, great facilities, and superb location. It’s hard to beat.

This time, mainly to be close to my work event and to try something new, I decided to try a couple of new hotels. I’ll try and give a few thoughts on each, though I’ll admit I would need a couple more days at the W in order to get the whole picture.

After a very early morning arrival, I’d booked the prior night at the W to ensure my room was ready upon arrival. It was, the check-in staff was super friendly and efficient, and when I asked to just get the key so I could go sleep (telling them I’d come down later for the details on restaurants, etc) they were super quick and efficient. Since my flight left Delhi at about midnight (which was only around 3pm in DC) I wasn’t tired, but when I finally got to the hotel in Bangkok around 730p, the lack of sleep was catching up to me. Plan was to take a three hour nap…just enough to make it until evening.

Large pair of giant pink sequined muay thai boxing gloves on my bed that said “lights out” – it’s like they knew I was coming!


Slept four solid hours, getting up just before noon. There’s a small office building next to the W which has a Starbucks in it, and for anyone who knows me that was a huge plus. 11a coffee, reset the body clock a bit, and I was ready to go! I worked a few hours, then wandered the neighbourhood near the hotel until sunset, and then it was time to see what I could find to eat and drink. First, a few comments on the “worked a few hours.” The W room was great for working, with a large desk, lots of power outlets, and fast internet. Plus, the room had a bit of a view of the city when sitting at the desk so you didn’t feel quite so isolated. Definitely a good room for being productive on top of W’s usual attempts to be cool and hip.

First stop was the W Terrace, a small bar located outside on the balcony overlooking the street and courtyard. It was still quite warm and humid out, but it felt nice to be outside and enjoy my first Singha of the trip. Again, with the coffee table book, it’s like they knew I was coming…


Jetlag was starting to catch up to me around 8pm, so I decided to just eat in the hotel. Headed to the Kitchen Table restaurant, which was supposed to have a really tasty make your own burger. I hadn’t had a burger in several weeks and it was sounding great, but Thailand probably wasn’t the best place to indulge. The squid ink bun was a bit on the chewy and almost stale side, the beef had a bit of a strange taste to it, but at least the fried egg, bacon, and havarti cheese were amazing…as was the little jar of asparagus bites.

…I almost felt like I was at Starbucks…yet another place that finds Jason incredibly hard to spell:


Got back to my room, and it was a nice ice cold 18.2 degrees. The AC, lights, and pretty much everything were controlled by an iPad-like tablet, which was kind of a cool feature. More importantly, the AC got plenty cold for me to sleep:


Woke up, and back to the Kitchen restaurant, where breakfast was included. Not sure if it was my corporate rate, or if it was because I was an SPG Platinum member, but it doesn’t matter. Even if you have to pay for this breakfast…DO IT. In my opinion, it’s pretty much the single best hotel breakfast I’ve had anywhere in the world. Large selection of fresh sliced fruit, eggs made to order, selection of cheeses, huge selection of pastries, multiple chinese options, multiple Thai options, Indian options, several different fresh squeezed juices, yogurts, etc, you get the idea.

For started, plate full of fresh fruit, salmon, cheese, a pastry, and an omelette…along with great coffee and a New York Times:


Followed by some Dim Sum, a pain au chocolate, and some passionfruit yogurt:


After breakfast, a little more work catching up on the day’s work back in DC, and then off to the Siam Paragon mall. I was feeling the need to walk around and get moving, but in the heat and humidity of Bangkok there’s only so much you can do outdoors.  The W is connected to the SkyTrain by a series of elevated walkways, and it’s very easy to get to. Less than a five minute walk. Once at the Siam Paragon, there was an elephant exhibit, being auctioned for elephant conservation. Punk Rock elephant:


Then there was discoball elephant:


After walking, grabbing some Starbucks to continue fighting jetlag, it was back to the W to collect my bags and head over to the next hotel. First, a wall of lights near the elevators taken from Bangkok’s famous TukTuks:


The W had given me a 5p checkout, meaning I spent about 32 hours in total there. Overall, this is definitely somewhere I would consider on my next trip to Bangkok. I think the rooms were nicer than the Sheraton where I normally stay, but the location and common areas were a small step down. I think I would probably consider it a wash, and it would depend what I was looking for. Either way, I think I would be happy.

Called an Uber to take me over to the Peninsula (mainly to try out Uber and see how it worked in Bangkok) and it was a piece of cake and entirely reasonable. Check in was a little on the slow side, but when you’re coordinating a conference with 400+ rooms it’s understandable there’s a bit of procedural stuff that has to happen. That aside, however, the staff was fantastic, and there was definitely an air of refinement and luxury at the Peninsula that wasn’t present at the W. For starters, look at this view of the river from my room:


Went for an evening walk around the local area, and the hotel had a large illuminated poster out front celebrating the King’s birthday:


Headed to the hotel’s Thai restaurant – Thiptara – for dinner. Someone had canceled at the very last minute, so was given this table right next to the river with an amazing view:


The restaurant had a highly recommended set menu, with what looked like several options for each course. Turned out, actually that you got a small helping of ALL the options. For example, the amazing appetizers…the shredded grapefruit salad was amazing:


The whole meal was fantastic, but probably enough for two people. After waddling back to my room and collapsing, it was time to get up and compare the Peninsula’s breakfast to the W’s. Similarly impressed, and almost as large, it might be the second best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had. Seriously, nobody can do hotel breakfasts like the Thai. Another huge plate of fruits, pain au chocolate, and cheese:


Back to my room to work, while looking out on the river:


The one downside, in my opinion, to the Peninsula is it’s location. On the other side of the river, there’s not nearly as much within walking distance. It feels like a slightly quieter neighbourhood which is nice, but you need to take the Peninsula’s boat to the other side to get to the SkyTrain and main parts of the city. Again, not a problem, just less accessible for walking around and being casual. Because of this, I decided to give room service a try for lunch. The Pad Thai was to die for, probably the best I’ve ever had, and I finished every little bit. Similarly, the mango and sticky rice was fantastic…the orchid was a great touch too. All in all, a superb lunch:


After lunch, I check out the Paribatra Lounge. I was hosting a cocktail event later in the week, and the decor in this lounge (according to what I’d seen online) really appealed to the aviation geek in me. First thing I saw, an old Thai Airways model on the ceiling:


…and another:


Look at those views from the 37th floor:



Old Thai logos on the wall:




View of one section of the lounge:


Complete with old Breguet 14 control panel:


Old air routes map on the wall:


Engine mock-up in the entryway:





Little history of Thai’s Boeing 747-400:


Can you tell that lounge impressed me? I had to hold my event there, and it was right at sunset. Fantastic event, and the staff of the Peninsula were super gracious hosts. Couldn’t have asked for a more special venue with amazing views and decor.

After a long week of work events, decided to cap it off by repeating the amazing room service meal I’d had earlier in the week. Wasn’t at all disappointed with the second go-around of Pad Thai:


Close-up of mango and sticky rice with super sweet condensed coconut milk:


Final thoughts – the Peninsula was in a league of its own as far as class and professionalism go. If you’re looking to impress people, and host an amazing event, I don’t think anyone could do a better job. Everything about the hotel was perfect, things ran like clockwork, and they anticipated everything I needed all week without ever having to ask. I’m not sure it would be my first choice, as a tourist, however, mainly because of the location. If I wanted a spa and relax vacation, however, I might consider it. But for an active city and siteseeing vacation there are better options in Bangkok – unless having the pampering of an old-school slightly formal hotel is something that’s important to you.

I was happy to have discovered two more hotel options in Bangkok that were excellent and that I would return to without a second thought. This makes probably 10+ hotels I’ve stayed at in Bangkok now, and never once have I had even a remotely bad experience. It’s really hard to go wrong in this town!

Feb 092016

After a very productive week of meetings, it was time to head back to the airport for the long trek back to DC. Of all the trips I’ve made to Thailand this was the first time I’d ever gone transatlantic, and this trip I was going transatlantic in both directions. Unexpected bonus of this was an early morning arrival in Bangkok (as opposed to the usual midnight) and a late afternoon departure, as opposed to the oh-dark-thirty.

Check-in was nice and easy at Thai’s Royal Silk area, and even the toilets were friendly:


Since I had a long way to go until sleep – still another 8+ hours, I grabbed a Starbucks at the airport before exploring Thai’s rather sad excuse for a lounge. The main lounge was extremely crowded, very few power outlets, and the snacks were also pretty dire. Overall, it was way below the quality I remembered, and I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. I actually left the lounge early to wander the airport I was so bored in there – even the internet was pretty slow.

At least there was a wat near my gate?


Boarding was a few minutes late, and then like all flights to India it was a mad rush to the door. I’ve gotten pretty good at holding my own, definitely a trait I’ve learned from my travels in India, China, and Africa. If you don’t look out for yourself in a crowd, nobody else is going to! Once safely aboard, it was a nice empty (maybe 50% full) business class cabin tonight, unlike the flight over. Not only was I spared sitting next to Typhoid Mary again, but I had a whole row of three seats to myself in business!

Thai Airways flight 315
Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 20:00, Arrive 23:00, Flight Time: 4:30
Boeing 777-200, Registration HS-TKF, Manufactured 2000, Seat 14D

All three seats…just for me and my bags!


Side view of the two window seats…unfortunately all the window pairs were full, but for a night flight it didn’t really matter.


Unlike the flight over, pre-departure bubbles were offer. Leads me to believe it was a customs issue that they wouldn’t open them in Delhi.


Tonight’s dinner menu:


a few almons and spring rolls to start – not on the menu – guess it was a change:


Salmon and crab salad to start, along with a regular green salad and garlic bread…not bad, but not impressive either:


The chicken penang curry…pretty good, but again nothing to write home about:


Mini desserts and fruit…I’m not sure what’s with Thai’s fascination of serving everything (curry, desserts, fruits) in little cupcake tins:


Stayed up this flight and caught up on a bit of work and tv, and arrival into Delhi was right on time. Immigration and transit security were a piece of cake this time, and the Austrian staff were expecting me. Austrian uses the same lounge United does, which was absolutely packed. There are something like 10+ lounges at Delhi for like 20 gates, yet they always all manage to be packed. I haven’t been able to figure out the logic behind it. I tried to go to the Lufthansa lounge, but it was too full ,and they weren’t letting Star Golds in. Finally found a seat in the United/Austrian one, and at least I found a magical snack:


Boarding was right on time for my first longhaul flight on Austrian.

Austrian flight 34
Delhi, India (DEL) to Vienna, Austria (VIE)
Depart 02:15, Arrive 05:55, Flight Time: 8:10
Boeing 767-300ER, Registration OE-LAX, Manufactured 1992, Seat 3K

Tonight’s dinner menu. I didn’t get a picture of the breakfast menu, which was a card you filled out, along with if you wanted to be woken up for it. I decided to get as much sleep as possible, knowing there were plenty of options for food in the airport upon arrival.


Tonight’s route of fight. I love westbound redeyes – by the time you depart you’re usually rather tired from the late hour, but when you arrive at 5-8a local time it’s usually around noon where you came from so your body feels rested and ready to go..


Mixed nuts for a starter. I was pleased that despite being a 2am flight, a reasonably full meal was being served.


“Potpourri of Salmon” starter…rather tasty:


Chicken breast starter main. Extremely bland and unimaginative, but at the same time not bad. It just sort of…was. I’m more wondering how I got this picture at such an extreme angle!


Passionfruit cheesecake and cheese. The cheese was delicious, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it. You can guess what happened when I asked for a second helping…yep…of course there was no more. Seriously, why is cheese the one thing they seem to never have extra of?


On the positive side, after this relatively small dinner I passed out for a solid six hours, waking up only on final approach to Vienna. The crew had done a great job of serving breakfast to those who wanted it without waking those of us who wanted to sleep. Generally, for me, seat comfort and ability to sleep is the most important thing on longhaul flights, and in this regard Austrian did a great job. I was worried they would keep the cabin super hot as Lufthansa and Swiss tend to do, but no such problems this flight.

Landed right on time, though there was a bit of a line at immigration and at security, which didn’t leave much if any time for the lounge. No big deal – the next flight was a short one and I figured I would doze on it anyways.

Austrian flight 561
Vienna, Austria (VIE) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 07:10, Arrive 08:40, Flight Time: 1:30
Airbus A320, Registration OE-LBQ, Manufactured 1999, Seat 4A

Fantastic view of sunrise after takeoff. Although they were crummy EuroBusiness seats, at least I had the whole row again.


Rather strange breakfast panini, yogurt, and fruit. I pecked at it, but wasn’t worth more than a few bites.


Landed in Zurich right on time, stayed in the Schengen Area of the airport to enjoy the Swiss lounge, and had a nice shower as well as a pretzel roll and a bit of cheese. The showers were actually a bit difficult to find, as they are in the business class part of the lounge and not the Senator side. Not a problem, however, and once found they were basic but solid. One note is that while the Senator side of the lounge was very crowded, the business class side was relatively empty.


Walking to the gate, the airport was already ready for Christmas:


Stopped to get one last Starbucks before boarding, at what is one of the most expensive Starbucks in the world. At seven francs for a venti Americano the only countries I recall being more expensive is Denmark. Hong Kong runs a close third, however. If anyone wants to help contribute to my Starbucks Index, feel free to send me the price of a Grande Drip/Filter Coffee in your city including tax.

Despite telling them my name was François to try and make things easier, they still managed to stuff it up. Should have gone with something German, but that would have just confused them since I didn’t speak German.


Boarding for United was the usual cattle call, and every seat in business was taken today.

United flight 53
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Washington DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 11:35, Arrive 15:15, Flight Time: 9:40
Boeing 767-400, Registration N77066, Manufactured 2002, Seat 1D

Oscar Cliquot, 2014, verre plastique:


Today’s menu:



Cashews from Oscar’s Split Cashew Farm:


…but hey, garlic bread, with plentiful replenishments. Yay!


Yes, this is an appetizer. One shrimp and small piece of salmon, hidden amongst greenery:


What WAS I thinking ordering the beef…


I’ve seen shoe leather that was less tough. Lesson learned today: never again with the beef on United. Never again.


Cheese was an improvement, mainly because they had plenty of the sweet biscuits I like with it:


Sundae, with caramel and cherries. The usual three when asked for “cherries.”


Napped a little bit, watched lots of tv, and all in all generic United transatlantic daytime flight. The arrival snack was a very nice change, with a decent serving of fruit that was still juicy, meat, and cheeses. Probably one of the better pre-arrival United snacks I’ve had. Much better than those super sad tea sandwiches they serve out of London. I really wish they’d do something about the rather sad and cheap chocolates for a sweet, however.


Another trip in the books, next up, I’ll write a bit about the hotels in Bangkok.

Feb 082016

When I found out I was headed to Bangkok for work, I had a bit of a dilemma. Ever since United stopped serving Bangkok, there are very few good options to get there with a United ticket. You can fly to Hong Kong and connect to from there, but that means the 747s or 777s, with their awful seating. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t have all-aisle access seating. Plus, this option was significantly more expensive than fares we were getting on Korean and Air China…which were non-starters since I still had lots of elite qualifying dollars to earn with just a month left in 2015.

Eventually, I remembered there were super cheap business fares to India, and found an Air Canada option via Toronto with United flight numbers, meaning United would ticket it. Combine this with a cheapish Delhi to Bangkok ticket, and I was in business. On the way back, the flights that worked best timewise out of India ended up being on Austrian to Vienna and on to Zurich, with a connection to United there. Tickets sorted, premier qualifying dollars in the bag, it was time for a few new experiences – Air Canada longhaul, on a 787 nonetheless, and Austrian longhaul.

Slept in a bit the day of the flight, then headed to DCA. The Air Canada agents at DCA are pretty terrible. I think they might be outsourced, but they really have no clue about Star Alliance benefits, there’s no lounge at all – nor is there a restaurant voucher/credit – and it’s overall a pretty miserable operation. Since I was on two separate tickets, she didn’t want to check me in without a visa for India. I showed her one on an expired passport, and she refused to accept that as valid, even though it’s just fine with India. Then, I showed her an expired visa in a current passport, and not seeing the date she was good with that. Seriously WTF.

Fortunately, the A Gates at DCA have a couple new restaurant options with iPad ordering, which is pretty slick. Had a small lunch, and soon it was time for the short flight up to Toronto.

Air Canada flight 7615, Operated by Sky Regional
Washington, National (DCA) to Toronto, Ontario (YYZ)
Depart 12:50, Arrive 14:15, Flight Time: 1:25
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration C-FEJL, Manufactured 2005, Seat 1A

I had been incredibly busy leading up to this trip, and hadn’t had any time to give thoughts to seats. By the time I did, the only seat left in business was 1A. Decent because you don’t have anyone reclining into you, but pretty poor from a legroom perspective. Whatever, it’s a short flight, so wasn’t a big deal. No pre-departure beverages offered, but a great view of the Pentagon on a clear day right after takeoff:


Small cheese plate and nuts were offered as a snack with wine…and refills. Not bad service for a flight that was just over an hour!


Toronto is a bit strange when making a US to International connection. In order to get to international departures, you still need to visit an immigration agent, but a different agent than if you were intending to enter Canada. Not sure what the point of this check is, since you’re merely in transit, but they do it. Satisfied I wasn’t up to no good, they let me into the international area, and the Salon Feuille d’érable – or Maple Leaf Lounge. Quite a good spread of food was out, so I had some tasty ravioli and the obligatory ceasar. I love the little maple leaf swizzle sticks:


A few weeks after I had booked, my friend John in Ottawa (who has guest blogged here before) found out he had to go to Tokyo for work. Being a complete dork and majorly short on miles to requalify with Air Canada, he opted to join me all the way to Bangkok, continuing on from there to Tokyo the long way. Talk about a super out of the way routing! While I enjoyed my ceasar, he indulged his obsession with the Maple Leaf Lounge cookies, and we got a bit of work done. There were several other options on the buffet, and I was pretty impressed with the amount of food that was set out. You’d never see hot options like this in a United or American club, not to mention all the fresh side dishes. You’re lucky to get hummus and some cheese cubes.

What a great coincidence, however, that we even had to leave on the same days and could end up on the same flights. Fortunately, his upgrade even cleared at the gate and on top of that, the last open seat was the one across the aisle from us. The travel gods were definitely smiling on us!

Air Canada flight 70
Toronto, Ontario (YYZ) to Delhi, India (DEL)
Depart 20:35, Arrive 20:55 next day, Flight Time: 13:50
Boeing 787-9, Registration C-FNOH, Manufactured 2015, Seat 4A

Brand spanking new 787-9, delivered barely a month prior, which still had that new plane smell. Welcome aboard screen:


Water AND sparkling water, along with a basic but nice amenity kit:


The crew was super friendly, while at the same time being very professional and addressing people by name. What’s for dinner tonight? Sorry for the slightly blurry pics…must have been one too many ceasars:



Goofy “we’re finally flying together” selfie:


Air Canada’s super-progressive safety video. I think the translation is: “Hey honey, let’s see if that guy in Row 8 is on Grindr!” It looks like their only préoccupation is with each other… 😉


Some horrible movie I watched. Looks like Air Canada has joined United and American in the cut-price split cashew camp:


Mixed greens, bread on a plate, and super tasty tuna starter. Quite possibly the best starter I’ve ever had from a North American airline.


I generally avoid fish on planes, but John had the sablefish. Based on the presentation, I’m pretty glad I skipped it:


My chicken murgh was even less appetizing looking, but fortunately tasted much better than it looked. Note the sad, empty wine glass:


Mini cheese and fruit plate…needed more cheese:


Pre-packaged ice cream for dessert? Sad panda…definitely a let-down from the United sundae.


John went with the chocolate fondant, which was definitely the better option:


At this point, I passed out for nearly nine glorious hours. With all the work leading up to this trip I was running super short on sleep, so was great to just be able to pass out. This also marked my third 787 redeye, and third one where I slept more than nine hours. There must be something to the lower cabin altitude and higher humidity on the 787, because I sleep as well on them as I do at home, and better than on any other plane. Plus, Air Canada did a great job keeping the cabin temperature reasonable, which made sleeping much easier.

Normally transatlantics aren’t long enough that I’m hungry for breakfast, but in this case decided to give it a  go. The muffin was dry and I skipped it after one bite, as was the fruit unfortunately. However, the cottage cheese with the omelette was super tasty, especially with the red pepper relish. Not normally a big fan of eggs on planes, but it was a tasty combo!


Landed in Delhi late evening, and transit was pretty simple. We had to wait maybe 30 minutes for the Air Canada representative to come to the transit counter, and they were confused and not expecting us because we were on different tickets into and out of Delhi. Eventually, they figured it out, and transfer security was a breeze. This was like the fifth time I had done it this year, so I’m sure knowing what to expect made the whole process a bit easier as well.

Off to the ITC Green lounge, with some tasty Indian nibbles, Diet Pepsi, and WiFi to catch up on email. A couple hours later, we headed down to the boarding gate. I had forgotten there was a Starbucks there, or I would have gone much earlier. Normally I’m the one whose name gets messed up, but when John said his name the very eager barrista said “OH! Like John Cena!” I guess he’s a wrestling fan…


Our flight was about 30 minutes late for the ever dubious “operational reasons” but soon it was time to board. Bid John Cena a temporary farewell, as he was off to fend for himself amidst the cattle in back. Fortunately, I expected to be a bit more comfortable…

Thai Airways flight 316
Delhi, India (DEL) to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Depart 00:15, Arrive 5:40, Flight Time: 3:55
Boeing 777-200, Registration HS-TKA, Manufactured 1998, Seat 12E

Nice welcome-aboard glass of tea:


Unfortunately, it was not to be as comfortable as planned, since I was stuck in a middle seat. Thai 777s not only do not go flat in the seats, but they have middle seats as well. Gross. I was seated next to a guy with a Chinese passport who kept hacking up phlegm the entire flight, and didn’t speak enough English to understand when I asked him to cover his mouth. Even acting it out didn’t seem to help. Fortunately, he knew the expression JOHNNY WALKER DOUBLE and after 5 or 6 of those he passed out. Doesn’t change the fact that about 36 hours after landing in Bangkok I came down with a cold. Want to guess who’s responsible?

At least there was Veuve to make things a bit better:


Menu was simple, but looked tasty:


The salad and shrimp were pretty meh, but hey, can’t complain when you’re flying India to Thailand and get multiple servings of garlic bread, and Veuve refills!


The chicken red curry was ok, but nothing special:


The raspberry marscapone cake was also pretty underwhelming, but again, the Veuve helped:


Landed in Bangkok about 30 minutes behind schedule. I wished John good luck with his connecting flight to Tokyo. I couldn’t imagine having another flight after this as it had already been nearly 24 hours in transit and I was absolutely wiped out. Not in the mood to deal with taxis or the Skytrain today, I opted for an AOT car to take me to my hotel. Up next was a super busy week of work events before heading home. I’ll do another review of the flights back home in another post, as well as one on the hotels I stayed at.