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Eight Days in Thailand

Eight Days in Thailand
via Cathay & Emirates A380 First Class
February 2011
After our fabulous Singapore Airlines RTW last September, Mrs. SFO and I are off to Thailand for 9 days. 270K AAdvantage miles and we're excited about trying Cathay Pacific First Class TPAC service, SFO-HKG and connecting to BKK. The Emirates A380 BKK-HKG leg was an add on purchase after CX dumped First from this regional route.
-Cathay Pacific check-in and BA Terraces Lounge SFO
-Cathay Pacific First Class SFO-Hong Kong... our private 15 hour charter
-Cathay Pacific "The Wing" First Class Lounge HKG
-Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong-Bangkok
-The Peninsula Bangkok
-Thai Airways Royal Silk Domestic Lounge BKK
-Thai Airways Business Class Bangkok-Chiang Rai
-Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle
-Thai Airways Royal Silk Domestic Lounge CMX
-Thai Airways Business Class Chiang Mai-Phuket
-Trisara Phuket
-Thai Airways Royal Silk Domestic Lounge HKT
-Thai Airways First Class Phuket-Bangkok
-Emirates Lounge BKK
-Emirates A380 First Class Bangkok-Hong Kong
-The Intercontinental Hong Kong
-Cathay Pacific First Class Check-in HKG
-Cathay Pacific "The Wing" First Class Lounge HKG
-Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong-SFO


CX SFO Check in and the BA Terraces Lounge

A rainy Sunday morning in the City turned sunny on our 25 minute ride to SFO. Easy check-in at around T-90 at fully staffed counters where there were only a handful of pax. As Mrs. SFO and I walked down the empty First Class lane, a pleasant F agent came from behind the First Class counter to meet us in the line and escorted us back to his counter. Efficient check in with pleasant chit-chat about Bangkok and the agent's recent trip there.

Security was reasonably quick as we were the only ones in the Priority security line, jumping the queue of about 25 others. Unfortunately, priority line funneled into the Nude-o-scope line where we were stuck behind non priority pax including a mother and child who apparently hadn't been to an airport in a while.

CX uses the BA Terraces Lounges at SFO, with a full size cardboard CX FA "greeting" us at the door.

Since the next BA flight was not for some 5 hours, it was all CX during our stay. I've said it before when we flew BA... what a lame excuse for a First Class Lounge. Not that I'd want to fly UA TPAC, but their SFO IFL is so much nicer than his place. The First Class "lounge" is a small ante room on the way to the much larger main Business Class portion of the lounge. Today, the doors to the First lounge were wide open with no agent monitoring or controlling who wandered in. And a half dozen did join us within 15 minutes.

Not that it really mattered as there was really no attraction... slightly "better" wine and champagne options than the Business Class portion of the lounge, but a pretty weak selection of "snacks".

At T-30, the lounge dragon came into the First lounge and announce the boarding, at gate A-6 thru the library portion of the Business Class lounge. Direct boarding to the jetway from the lounge is one of the few positive features about this place.

CK879 SFO-HKG Our private 15 hour charter to HKG.

CX 879
January 31, 2011
11:50A-7:00P +1
Suites 1K and 2K

We were warmly welcomed on board by our two FAs for today's 15 hour flight, Grace and Sylvia, as well as our purser Bleble, who invited us to choose any seats we wanted as the cabin was only 3/6 today with the other person in 1A on the other side of the cabin and cabin wall. While I had originally chosen a middle and window, 2D for me and 2K for Mrs. SFO, I opted for 1K window seat as the middle seemed a little dark and confining. Since D really can't see or communicate with K, I think the double K or double A option is the best for a couple. We were still able to communicate without raising our voices too much. Plus, we each have our own "space".

After we settled into our seats, our FA Grace brought us our first glass of Krug.

And what a great First Class cabin with only 6 suites designed and decorated with very soothing colors. I personally prefer the lighter colors of the CX cabin to the brown and gold of the SQ cabin.

Video clip of the cabin...

And our inflight amenities kit, such as it is, and PJs.

Two more glasses of Krug later, we pushed back at 12:00P for the long taxi to 28R for take-off and today's nearly 15 hour journey into 100 MPH headwinds.

And for the other FT freaks out there, some HD video of taxi and take-off...

After departure, more Krug and warm almonds, a beautiful view of the Pacific coast and time to check out Studio CX.

And the presentation of today's menu.

The wine list which, other than the Krug, was pretty disappointing.

Showtime. This was actually the 2nd setting as FA Grace insisted on replacing the table cloth after mid-pour turbulence caused a few drops of Krug to spill onto the 1st tablecloth.

Caviar and smoked salmon, and more Krug. Excellent!

I decided to go with the Chinese Favourites today, starting with the Double boiled ginseng with chicken soup and the cold plate of soya beans with vegetables and tofu. Neither were memorable, although the Krug was excellent.

On the other hand, the Steamed Lobster with ginger scallion and imperial soy sauce was very good, served with steamed rice, kailan with mushrooms and carrots. I tried a glass of the Bouchard Meursault which was passable but not a Premier Cru. So it was back to the Krug for the rest of the meal.

Today's cheese course included Port Salud, Manchego, Stilton and Goat. The Ramos Pinto Quinta da Ervamoira 10 year old Tawny port was excellent!!

I finished lunch with fresh fruit plate with sweet rose water.

And pralines.

After a couple of movies (Killers and Social Network) on Studio CX and two hours of sleep, we both decided to try the Wontons in noodle soup. Wow, that was sensational. Even better with more Krug!

More Studio CX and a break from the Krug...

10 1/2 painless hours inflight and we've reach Japan... less than 5 hours to go, although quite frankly I am in no hurry to leave.

The only decision now is what movies next and do I have Dinner before we land, or Wings or The Pier. OK, time to review my notes from Short Hair Francis and plan the HKG lounge visits, although Mrs. SFO has told me she only wants one lounge where she will stay while I "run around checking out other lounges".

After a painless 13 hours, would I like some dinner? Why not? While Mrs. SFO sleeps, I'm back at the trough.

Ricotta cheese agnolotti with roast pepper coulis, asparagus and vegetables julienne was fabulous. I tried the 2004 Chateau Lynch Bages Grand Cru Classe. Maybe it's just me, but it wasn't a wow... perhaps if it had been opened a while longer.

And to finish, the fabulous mango and white chocolate cake with vanilla sauce.

After 15+ hours of bliss, we touched down at HKG. What an incredible experience. Amazing service, wonderful food, a couple bottles of Krug and the most comfortable First Class cabin I've yet experienced. 

The Wing First Class Lounge

After a beautiful landing, our flight pulled into Gate 4 about 45 minutes behind schedule at around 7:30PM, but still 2.5 hours before the scheduled departure of our connecting flight. After bidding adieu to our fabulous cabin crew, we walked the few minutes to the connecting pax security check. What a refreshing change from the stupidity of the TSA. Shoes on, liquids in the bag, just the laptop please. With that kind of efficiency, it was no wonder there was no line or wait.

Immediately post-security we took to elevator to Level 7 and the First Class entrance to The Wing, the closest lounge to our nearby connecting Gate 21. The Wing is a very attractive open air lounge with comfy seating, a business/computer area, showers and a very nice dining facility. And free wi-fi throughout.

Since Mrs. SFO slept thru dinner, she made a beeline for the dining room...

Great staff and a very attractive variety of hot entree and deserts, but with the most incredibly beautiful and fresh salad bar, with hand prepared and trimmed greens.

Just looking for a lav and I was escorted to one many shower equipped bathrooms.

Only another hour to go...

CX 709
January 31, 2011
Business Class
Seats 14AC

When I originally booked this flight, it was a 3 class 777. Unfortunately, CX downgraded it to two class leaving only the odd 3 class flight to BKK. The good news of the downgrade was that it led me to Emirates A380 service between BKK and HKG. And although Emirates operates the (convenient for our connection) A380 departing at 9PM, it was sold out tonight... so we'll have to wait for our return from BKK to experience EK.

A short walk from The Wing to nearby Gate 21

Priority boarding call for Business and Marco Polo members. Man, this plane was old and tired, a throwback to the 80's with the old projector TV system where the screen was flopping around on take off roll.

But the service was top notch, with each one of at least 6 FAs totally active. I can't recall when I have seen so much energy from a cabin crew, before and after take-off. It certainly helps to be young, slim and in shape vs. old, overweight and out of shape matrons that populate many US domestic flights.

Tonight's menu...

Dinner service began shortly after take-off with our three Business Class FA's efficiently completing dinner and drink service, including multiple rounds for drink service. Wasn't really hungry but wanted to see what the meal looked like and how it tasted... picked at the beef but not bad for a short regional flight.

On-time arrival in BKK. But with numerous other flights arrival around the same time, hundreds of people were taking the long walk to C&I. Amazingly, in spite of CIP Priority cards distributed to every J pax on our flight and presumably on other arriving flights, they all followed each other like sheep ignoring the "First Class/CIP" signs. Bucking the trend, we followed the sign to a C&I area with virtually no other pax! We were thru C&I and into the Peninsula limo within 15 minutes.

The Peninsula Bangkok

What an amazing hotel with one of the best and most helpful staffs of any hotel. Our Grand Deluxe Suite was beautiful and spacious with great views of the city. Excellent location, on the more peaceful west bank of the Chao Phraya with shuttle boat service every 5 minutes to the Peninsula Hotel Pier Lobby on the east side of the river. Combine the gracious and friendly nature of Thais with the Peninsula and the result is an amazing standard for service. Our 30th floor suite was huge with beautiful living room and bedroom, and a foyer with desk and 2nd bath. Huge main bath and closet. And fully equipped with 110V outlets in every room.

We tried all four hotel restaurants, with the highlight being Cantonese-style Mei Jiang, one of the best Chinese we've experienced. On the other hand, food at Thai-themed Thiptara was disappointing, but the riverside table provided a great front row view of night-time actiivity.

Photos do not this suite justice so I've also included a link from the Pen site.

Breakfast was included with our Virtuoso booking.

Two Days in Bangkok

While not a particularly attractive city, although it was hard to tell thru all the smog, Bangkok is an intriguing mix of old and new, rich and poor. One thing is indisputable though, Thais are some of the friendliest, most gracious and endearing people we have ever met. And the women!! Wow, now I get it why so many farang come to Thailand and leave with a +1. Unfortunately, I couldn't convince Mrs. SFO to bring home an "exchange student".

Through our Pen concierge, we met Arisa, a great local guide who we immediately bonded with, and who with driver, took us on day 1 thru the packed streets of Bangkok...

to The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keo, the Emerald Buddha Temple and collection of magnificent pavilions...

Day 2 started with the Bangkok Canals Tour by private long-tailed speed boat, which picked us up at the Peninsula pier on the Chao Phraya River.

The Chao Phraya is a major primary transportation and commercial thoroughfare in Bangkok, even more so with the city's horrendous road traffic. It is also one of the filthiest rivers I have seen in a long time, and that's saying something considering we lived in Cleveland. It's unmistakable brown color and floating debris will never be mistaken for the Bosphorus.

First stop today was the Cambodian-style Temple of Dawn...

And off to the canals of old Bangkok...

With a stop at the Royal Barge Museum...

Our guide Arisa gave us a primer on the fast SkyTrain and we were off for some shopping in modern Bangkok. The SkyTrain is a comfortable, convenient and air conditioned way to get around the major areas of the city. There is a Chao Phraya River station, which is serviced by shuttle boats from the Peninsula, Oriental and other river hotels.

After another night of eating and drinking and fearing possible irreversible weight gain, I worked out this morning. As we were leaving to head to the airport, we were treated to the Pen's Chinese New Year celebration...
Peninsula Bangkok CNY Celebration in HD

Our Peninsula driver dropped us off at Suvarnabhumi about two hours before departure.

TG mystery #1: For those unfamiliar with TG, they do offer OLCI and seat selection but they are both one of those "what's the point?" features. Supposedly one can select seats at T-24 but each time I checked in, seats had already been assigned and the change seat function was unavailable. Nor could I print BPs for any of my TG flights. In each case, I was instructed to "see airport agent". Not that is was a big deal today as we were the only pax in the entire B and C concourse.

We breezed thru check-in and security where we the only pax for 5 fully manned screening lanes... yeah just like TSA.
A few minutes later, we were in one of the worst airport lounge I have ever visited.

Crowded mostly with farang kettles including one Aussie couple and their obnoxious kids... apparently overturning furniture is a new sport down under. Never were thirty feet of space and Bose headsets a better friend. No departure monitors for updates and dragons that couldn't speak English. OK it's a domestic lounge but most of the pax were farang.

We both passed on the buffet spread ...


TG 134
BKK-CEI (Bangkok to Chiang Rai)
February 3, 2011
1:40P-3:50P (sked 3:00P)

At T-40 we headed to bus Gate 1D and the bus ride to our gate, which happen to be a jetway gate at another (non domestic) concourse. Three flights up and we're in the jetway and our A300, which featured dated but very comfortable Business Class seats with fluffy pillows and a pleasant looking cabin.

A reminder that today I'm not flying AA or DL or any other US legacy... young, attractive FAs...

Proof that a hot meal can be served to 28 J class pax on a 60 minute flight (or even a 30 minute flight)...

2:01P Wheels up
2:07P FAs jump to action
2:08P Linens on table trays
2:09P Carts rolling down the aisle with meals and beverage service (but no alcohol on domestic flights)
2:26P Service finished, trays picked up and cabin clean

Hot noodle chicken dish was pretty good...

Dessert looked and tasted a little scary. I passed...

Our one hour flight turned into 1:45 as we were forced to circle (2 gates only) CEI for 45 minutes for what the captain described as "VIP movement". OK, other than check-in, the ground experience was pretty nasty. But once on board, a most pleasant experience and introduction to TG.

Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle

Chiang Rai, Thailand

The only resort in the world to score a perfect overall 100 in the 2011 Conde Nast Traveler resort ranking.

Words cannot adequately express the beauty and serenity of this amazing and idyllic luxury resort. The Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle is one of the most special wilderness retreats one can imagine. But what makes this a perfect 100 is the most wonderful staff I have ever encountered at any hotel/resort anywhere in the world. Combine precise Four Seasons service standards with the endearing and beautiful personality and kindness of Thais (especially northern Thais) and you will leave with memories that can last forever and bring the occasional tear to even the most hardened tough guy.

This resort is not for everyone, especially city girls like Mrs. SFO who would have rather been in Paris or Hong Kong, and wasn't nearly as enamored as me. But for the rest of us, it is a spectacular getaway-from-it-all retreat.

The gallery section of the resort website has great pictures...

Set in the extreme northwest corner of Thailand on the border with Laos and Burma (Myanmar) and the Mekong River, the region is commonly referred to as the Golden Triangle. Our Four Seasons driver met us at Chiang Rai airport for the 75 minute drive north thru pretty rural northern Thailand to the FS launch pier and the beginning of our adventure.

Our Camp Manager Beer greeted us and gave us a brief overview of the area before departing on the 5 minute speedboat ride on the Ruak River to the resort pier.

Thailand on the right, Burma on the left.

And an HD youtube video...
Speedboat to the Camp

More staff awaited our arrival as we were escorted up the stair to the reception area of the restaurant overlooking the river and the natural beauty of the area...

... and then on a beautiful walkway to our Tent #5 (of a total of 14), the last tent on the main resort facility side before the suspension bridge.

The tent itself was well, a tent. A pretty plush tent but it was still a tent and city girl Mrs. SFO was not very excited, exclaiming "OMG, it's the Kasbah Tamadot all over again.". Not actually, Richard Branson's Marrakesh tents were a little less rustic. Welcome to my world. Anyway, I thought it was great although lacking in hanging space and drawers to unpack. The double zipper operated (anti-mosquito) screens and plastic "windows" as well as the manual horizontal blinds were a PIA. At these prices, remote operated electric openers would be nice. But each tent has its own high speed wi-fi and 110 volt outlets, a safe, complimentary mini-bar and heavenly beds!! And sufficiently distant from others that, other than the occasional guest walking by on the path, the only sounds were nature sounds.

The views and the outdoor rain shower were awesome, especially in the morning before the mid-to-upper 50F temps warmed to the mid-80s.

*From fourseasons.com

Incredible food and amazing service, with extraordinary attention to detail. How do they manage to pull this off in the middle of nowhere?? All outdoors in one of the most attractive and most comfortable dining rooms one can imagine. We had seven mostly Thai meals at the Nong Yao restaurant, all of which I would rate from excellent to incredible. All meals, drinks and (excellent house) wines were included in the room rate. Special thanks to Deaw, Phet, Ed and San for your wonderful service!!

A few pics of breakfast and lunch plates...

Every morning at 8:30AM, visitors arrive and join us for breakfast.

Late afternoon, we walked over the bridge to the Burma Bar... a great place to relax and share experiences with other guests, over cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

After dinner, one of the friendly camp "wardens" would greet us with the traditional wai and escort us by lantern back to our tent.
Each activity from transfer to visit to the Hall of Opium to elephant mahout training and trekking was seemlessly coordinated so we were met at every step of the way.
But the elephant training and trekking was the highlight of the visit. What amazingly gentle, intelligent and playful creatures.

In summary, an amazing and unique experience, in a beautiful setting with service that can only be described as flawless.


At 7AM, we had one final fond look at this beautiful resort...

With our luggage (one carry-on each... Mrs. SFO has come a long way!) and box breakfasts (delicious Thai omelet and rice) in the limo, we headed out for the long, mostly tedious 3.5 hour drive to CNX.

Arriving at roughly T-90, we had plenty of time to clear initial security to enter the terminal, check in, clear primary security before heading to the CNX Royal Silk Lounge.

TG Mystery #2: OK I get no row 13, but what's with the bizarre seat numbering system on the A300?
Version 1: The five J row 28 seat A300 (BKK-CEI)...
Version 2: And the eight row A300 (CNX-HKT)...

Again yesterday, OLCI showed seats already assigned, no option to change and "see agent" for BP. We were assigned 22AB the bulkhead in the second cabin, but opted for the front cabin bulkhead 11AB at check-in. A wise choice since boarding was by 2L, the door in between the two J cabins.

The CNX Royal Silk Lounge was much nicer than the BKK lounge, not so much for the food offerings but mostly for the gorgeous attendant, who I was unable to subtly photo close-up without her, but more importantly, Mrs. SFO catching me. Sorry guys.

As we board, the now familiar combination of electronic and manual/hand written signs.

TG 129
CNX-HKT (Chiang Mai to Phuket)
February 6, 2011
Seats 11AB

Excellent inflight service by another friendly and efficient Thai crew, tasty sweet and sour fried fish lunch, and an on-time arrival at HKT.