From the Heart of Africa to the Top of the World: SIN-LLW-LYR-YOW-PUS-SIN in C
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting the Lost Continent of Mu on some hard-earned award mileage, so now it's time to earn those miles back. No less then the single largest purchase I have ever made in my life, I hereby present:
Which works out to one CRWSTAR1 (28984 of 29000 mi used), plus separately purchased SIN-BKK-SIN & JNB-LLW-JNB tickets (in Y) and some driving around for the bits in italics -- I originally planned to fly LLW-MFU as well but alas, the schedules didn't pan out. Airlines on the agenda are SQ, SA, LH, SK, CA, OZ and TG.
With only a month to spare it's clear, if unfortunate, that I can't really spend time in every place I'm going through, so the highlights are:
LLW Lilongwe [Kumuzu Intl], Malawi 13°47'22"S 33°46'52"E
LYR Svalbard [Longyearbyen], Norway 78°14'46"N 15°27'56"E
YOW Ottawa [Macdonald-Cartier Intl], Ontario, Canada 45°19'21"N 75°40'09"W
PUS Busan (Pusan) [Gimhae (Kimhae)], South Korea 35°10'46"N 128°56'18"E
As you can imagine packing for this trip -- carry-on only, of course, and most of that full of camera gear -- was a bit of a challenge, what with a weather range of 35C to -10C with windchill factored in. I wonder how many people have brought along thermal underwear and mittens when visiting Zambia, or malaria medication and a yellow fever certificate for Spitsbergen, the northernmost inhabited point on the planet? Hang onto your pith helmets, it's going to be a wild ride
Just curious.. why Malawi, out of all African countries? Granted, it's not very well traveled and they do speak english, but any particular reason?
Why yes, there is a particular reason: a good friend of mine lives in Chipata, just across the Zambian border. Lilongwe is the nearest major airport, so for most part I'm just passing through -- although I haven't entirely discounted the option of spending a night or two at Lake Malawi.
Ever get a funny feeling before a long trip? I always do, and this time it hit the day before: I'd turned off the lights, locked the office and then suddenly realized that, da-YAMN, I'd be going around the entire freakin' world before I walked through that door again.
Still, of all the ways I could have started my trip, this was undoubtedly the most anticlimactic: the company only pays for Y, SIN-BKK is the sector I travel the most for work, TG's the airline I usually end up on, A330 is the most common metal and even colleagues joking about "flight 404: plane not found" has ceased to be particularly amusing. The only amusing bit was when asked at check-in if I'd be going to "Bangkok only", but to save the poor lady's head from exploding I had to answer "yes". After some last-minute duty-free shopping, I kicked back in the TG lounge with square cocktail sandwiches and a glass of gin tonic without the gin.
TG was as usual solid with decent seat pitch, decent food, decent service and a plane that got me from SIN to BKK in one piece, and I got to Bangkok with a full 24 hours to while away before actually setting off on the RTW. Today's theme seemed to be nostalgic country music: on TG it was Kiyoshi Hikawa's Hatsukoi Ressha about setting off to Hokkaido by night train, and in the taxi from the airport it was the cabbie performing a cappella, no doubt expressing the same sentiments about Thailand's rural backwater of Isaan.
Not much of a start, now was it? Tomorrow it'll be the same flight in reverse, but in SQ C instead. Stay tuned...
"But you have reservation for tomorrow. Not today."
(click to enlarge)
For me, going to Bangkok is like meeting an old lover with whom you're still on good terms -- both of you know exactly what you want and how to make it happen. I spent a leisurely day and night doing some last-minute souvenir shopping, browsing assorted guidebooks to prepare for the upcoming trip and, last but by no means least, eating all my favorite Thai dishes like som tam Thai (raw papaya salad), muu yang (grilled pork neck), khao niaw (sticky rice), khao phat ka kapi (rice fried with shrimp paste and served with a host of goodies to stir in), chaa yen (Thai-style iced milk tea)... I'm afraid, in a very mild sense of the word "afraid", that I'll be chained by my tastebuds to South-East Asia for life.
So the first sour note was only hit when I got to the airport and heard the above words at check-in. Turns out that while my printed itinerary said "SUN AUG21" (correctly), the actual booking was AUG22, and this was printed on the ticket itself but I'd been too blind to notice! The check-in guy commiserated and said that getting to SIN would be no problem, but he couldn't guarantee me a standby seat for SIN-JNB: the chances were looking "good" though, he said, and he'd waitlisted me already.
I contemplated the alternatives in a funk: if the seat doesn't materialize, best case is that I spend 11 hours cooped up in Economy, and worst case is that I have to wait until the next day's flight -- which also means flushing my JNB-LLW ticket, my lodge reservation and my friend's plans at the Zambian end. Ouch.
BKK-SIN SQ69 C B773 seat 12D
I'd been expecting to kick back with a glass of bubbly and start counting elephants as I boarded, but needless to say I wasn't in much of a mood to celebrate. KrisFlyer's on-demand audio was a little dodgy today, but otherwise SQ did an OK job of trying to cheer me up, even the stewardesses were positively effusive by SQ standards ("Hello there! Would you like a drink after take-off? You don't? Are you sure?" <pouty face>). It's just a two-hour flight, but the meal was served with full C regalia including enough knives to arm a division of al-Qaeda. Given a choice of beef, chicken and phad thai I opted for the "beef cheek in red wine sauce with saffron potatoes and somethinged asparagus", and the beef was just meltingly smooth -- or at least two out three pieces were, the final one turning out to be a glob of lard encased in a thin layer of meat. Ick; it's a good thing I had three knives for hacking away at it. The accompanying salad with what they termed "hot" smoked salmon (quotes theirs) was also excellent, the stuff is known as warm smoked salmon in Scandinavia and I've never seen it outside Finland before. Two thumbs up! Dessert was a choice of fruit, I opted for a slice of pomelo rather incongruously wrapped up in plastic wrap.
I then spent an hour hacking on the new Berlitz World Traveler language program, plowing my way through the Mandarin and Russian modules, both of which were, frankly, too easy even if you don't have a thorough grasp of the language. The program may work nicely enough for European languages that use Roman letters, but not being able to select between pinyin, characters or voice only for Chinese is a major handicap -- for most people because they can't read the characters, but for me because I can read them thanks to my Japanese studies, even though I don't have the faintest idea about the pronunciation!
The flight landed on time and I headed to Transfer Desk E, a Dantean pit of people with problems with their tickets. There was a queue just to get in, one frazzled guy was trying to shuffle people into the appropriate queues and I had to pester him three times before he finally gave me a queue ticket, after which I had to twiddle my thumbs for another half hour (no separate queues for Raffles/First pax either!). Once a Filipino maid with a bogus ticket was tearfully disposed of it was my turn, I presented my case and the lady at the counter tapped at her PC for a while. She made a phone call, then tapped some more with a puzzled expression on her face, then turned to me and said:
"Mr Jpatokal? I can't put you on standby for the flight... it looks like you're already booked on it!"
Yes, in business class, Spacebed all the way to JNB. Everything was going to be OK after all and a stone fell off my heart... and here I sit in the Silver Kris lounge, sipping on my glass of Piper-Heidsieck. Zambia, here I come!
Last edited by jpatokal; Aug 31, 05 at 6:03 am.
jpatokal: You have a woderfully energetic and engaging style of writing - something that I don't often notice on the Internet. I haven't enjoyed anyone's trip report in the same way as the few posts on this thread so far...
It's not even so much about the information but the delivery. Makes for a very entertaining read and even a few laughs outloud along the way.
Programs: OZ*G, QF QPPS, VA silv, NZ*roach, Former 'bottom-feeder' AC*G
jpatokal, I can already see that this is shaping up to be a classic. What a great trip, I am green with envy! I'd love to explore Norway, and I'd love to go back to Malawi... I'm sure you couldn't help but have a fabulous time on an itinerary like that.
When in Malawi, it would be a great pity not to get down to the lake for some chillout time. Nkhata Bay was my favourite place but I'm sure your friend can give you some good advice. Lake Malawi is one of the only places with great fresh water snorkelling, thanks to all the fish called cichlids, which look like multicoloured saltwater tropical reef fish but live in fresh water. (That is where most of the world's aquarium stock originally came from.) Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world (literally - when I was there in 99 it was in the bottom 10) but is clean, friendly and safe. Enjoy!
As for hot smoked salmon, it's one of my all time favourite foods but difficult to get here in Australia. In New Zealand it's easy to find though, should you ever be passing through...