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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Jan 282013

After getting off the plane, the first thing that surprised me was…the jetway! I knew lots had changed in Yangon since my last trip in 2005, but was surprised to see a modern airport with jetways and all. A short walk down the corridor to the arrivals hall led us to a modern facility with huge lines – another flight had obviously arrived just before ours. When I last visited, the entire airport was basically two large room: departures and arrivals, and it looked like one big warehouse. The airport, it turns out, was just going to be the first of many surprises.

I’d gotten my visa at the embassy in Washington DC a couple weeks prior, and had absolutely no trouble with it at immigration. No questions on why I was only staying 14 hours, and I was out in the arrivals hall maybe 10-15 minutes after arriving. Decided I didn’t want to deal with the taxi situation and negotiating, so used one of the vendors in the arrivals hall who quoted me 8,000 kyat or $10 for the ride to the hotel. More than reasonable, and the car turned out to be rather new as well. When I’d last been in Yangon 7 years ago, finding any cars from the last 20 years was nearly impossible and the ones you did find were usually missing windows, or some other miscellaneous non-essential part. Again, major progress.

I’d decided since I was only staying one night to stay at the Traders hotel. It was a bit more expensive than I’d hoped to pay, but I knew this late in the trip I’d want something more comfortable and don’t regret my choice. Quick check-in, paid up front in crisp new US dollars cash, and I was off again for a short taxi ride to vist the Shwedagon Pagoda. I spent about an hour there walking around and just taking it in, but unfortunately all of my pictures turned out pretty blurry. So, instead, I’ll just post one from my prior trip since I wasn’t writing this blog then.

sb2004-273-shwedagon dusk


Taxi back to the hotel, and went in search of convenient food options.  There was a buffet restaurant which was absolutely packed with tourists (never would have seen that before) and also a pub on the second floor.  Both had the same a la carte menu, so opted for the a la carte in the pub since it was also happy hour and had two for one drinks.  This included giant 750ml bottles of Myanmar beer for $2 (yes, that means $1 each) and the happy hour also included bottled water, etc.  Total bill for two large beers, a club sandwich, and two bottles of water?  $16.  Can’t complain about that, and the sandwich was actually relatively tasty as well.



Decided to call it an early night after this, since I had to be up pretty early the next morning to begin my very long trek home.  Quick review on the hotel beyond the food above:  the staff were all helpful and friendly, though still getting used to dealing with tourists in the way that most western tourists would expect.  This is part of the charm of Myanmar though, and was never a problem.  The room was clean and comfortable, with a minibar, a comfortable bed, and a relatively basic but complete and clean bathroom.  Overall solid three star quality room and certainly one of the nicer options in the city.

Posted in the bathroom, however, were some rather amusing tips should you want to go running:


So, remember:  don’t run if you feel giddy kids!

Now…unless you read Flyertalk or other travel blogs, you’re probably wondering – why in the world did I get a visa to go somewhere as out of the way as Myanmar and only spend 14 hours?!  Well, around six or so months ago, the Myanmar government decided to allow the currency to freely float, and overnight the market exchange rate plummeted by roughly 100 times.  Thus, plane tickets originating in Myanmar that were priced in Kyat became roughly 1% the price in US$.  So, a one-way business class ticket that was $8000 plus taxes/fees before, was suddenly $80 plus taxes/fees.  Even with add-ons and such, I’d managed to get Myanmar all the way back to Washington DC for approximately $800 in business class.  At the time, there were only about five airlines pricing tickets in Kyat, and it took them several days to realize what had happened.  By that point, thousands of tickets had been sold.

I’m not going to discuss the ethics of this here, other than to say these airlines had a choice to price in dollars (like most airlines did) and chose local currency.  My view is that most large corporations have a large finance complex that is supposed to manage things like foreign exchange risk, and in this case they failed to do it.  Companies don’t give me another chance when I miss a sale, so I don’t feel I need to remind them that they forgot to hedge appropriately – again, my opinion only.

As for why I only stayed 18 hours, that’s another matter.  When this fare was available, I tried to book as many as possible and ended up with three trips.  Unfortunately, my first two where I’d expected a much longer stay so I could see more places, ended up having to be canceled due to other commitments, leaving me with only this one…and by the time I knew that, it was too difficult to re-arrange my schedule to have more time there.  Unfortunate, but I’m sure I’ll be back soon!


Jan 212013

Slept nearly 10 hrs, and woke up feeling even more like death than the night before.  Ugh!

Went to the Sheraton Executive lounge for the breakfast, where there was fresh-squeezed orange juice.  Fantastic.  I think I had 3 or 4 glasses, along with several espressos, and began to feel marginally functional.  Rather than deal with a cab, I decided to take the hotel shuttle to the airport for 10 TND, and be at least marginally more comfortable.

Check-in for Lufthansa at Tunis took an eternity – or at least it felt like that.  Waited in line for at least 15 minutes, and even then they could only check me in for the first segment to Frankfurt…and seats?  It was one of those old 1980s sticker maps where they peeled a sticker off a sheet with your seat assignment.  Once all the stickers were gone, there were no more seats.  Anyone have a clue why Tunis operates SO old school?   It’s as if they’re not connected to any global systems at all!

Through immigration and security, and into the TunisAir lounge which is used by Lufthansa.  First time in ages I’ve seen a lounge where smoking is permitted…ug.  Not what I needed with a horrid cold and congestion already.  Combine that with three or four sick people in the lounge who made me look like I was a rolemodel of health, and it wasn’t the recipe for the best time.  I was ready to get out of there!  The lounge did have a buffet and drinks (I did have one glass of wine…it kills germs, I swear) but I didn’t explore it much so can’t really comment on the quality.

Lufthansa Flight 1323
Tunis, Tunisia (TUN) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 13:40, Arrive 16:25, Flight Time 2:45
Airbus A319, Registration D-AIQF, Manufactured 1991, Seat 2F

I honestly don’t remember this flight too much.  We boarded just 5 minutes before departure, and ended up leaving nearly 20 minutes late…getting into Frankfurt 20 minutes late.  This brought my connection down to barely an hour….totally doable, but definitely not optimal in Frankfurt.  There was a full meal offered with two meal choices, but I skipped it so can’t comment on it.  Seemed to be the pretty typical Lufthansa meal, nothing overly special.  I spent most of the flight dozing in and out and watching some tv on the iPad…just trying to get through it.

The one big disappointment upon landing in Frankfurt – although we were at a remote bus gate, there was no car transfer waiting for me.  I had to take a bus to the terminal, and use the regular security lines with everyone else.  I’m not complaining, but part of the reason I’d booked a first award was that being sick I wanted the absolute minimum time standing around and waiting, and wanted to be as comfortable as possible.  Waiting in a cold bus, and long hot security lines…not my idea of fun.  Service failure:  Lufthansa.

Got to the lounge in Frankfurt with about five minutes to use it, but that was enough time to get a few glasses of water and freshen up again before heading to the next flight.  The lounge agents were very apologetic, but nothing they could do about the missed transfer request at this point.

Lufthansa Flight 118
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Munich, Germany (MUC)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 19:05, Flight Time 1:05
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIQK, Manufactured 1991, Seat 7F

For some reason, Lufthansa had blocked off nine rows for business on this flight, despite there only being 8 people total in business class.  Economy was pretty full, so no clue what they were thinking.  There was a small snack on this flight, but again, I skipped it and had only water so can’t really comment on it.  We arrived in Munich nearly 20 minutes early, and at an actual gate, so I had plenty of time to unwind in the lounge – over two hours!

The lounge was actually relatively full when I arrived just after 7pm, but it did thin out quite a bit by 9pm.  The lounge attendants couldn’t have been more wonderful.  I was blowing my nose a lot, and she actually brought me two small packs of kleenexes to take with me on the flight – that’s service!  Had several glasses of water, and couldn’t resist a couple glasses of champagne, otherwise just tried to relax and take it easy as much as possible.  Caught up on some stuff online, and before I knew it it was time to head to the gate and board.

Lufthansa Flight 730
Munich, Germany (MUC) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Depart 21:55, Arrive 16:05 Next Day, Flight Time 11:10
Airbus A340-600, Registration D-AIHU, Manufactured 2008, Seat 2K

This flight was absolutely wonderful.  That’s the only word I have for it.  First was only booked to 5 of 8 seats, including a mother and approx 8yo son in the first row…but he was perfectly behaved.  The minute I was seated, the pre-departure treats arrived!  Mmmm macadamia nuts and champagne.


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