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Thailand: A Gulf Air and Cathay Pacific special

Thailand: A Gulf Air and Cathay Pacific special

Old Jun 5, 10, 2:33 pm
  #1  
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Thailand: A Gulf Air and Cathay Pacific special

Introduction

My other half James and I have long been planning a trip to Thailand, ever since we got together he has been dying to take me round the islands that he travelled to on his gap year when he travelled round the world. We had been dithering over when to go and more importantly how to get there, when a little birdie told us about an interesting deal from Cairo to Bangkok on Gulf Air.

We ended up taking up the offer and ended up with the foundation of our trip, a one way CAI-BAH-BKK on Gulf Air, in First Class, for the grand total of £180.

Getting to Cairo was also easy and we used 30,000 bmi miles and £130 tax for a Business Class ticket on the direct LHR-CAI flight.

All that was left was the return, which was easily taken care of with some American Airlines miles. 70,000 miles each and a grand total of £13 tax for a BKK-HKG-LHR in First Class on Cathay Pacific.

To finalise things I insisted on an £80 fully flex BKK-HKT ticket on Thai to get us down to the islands just in case things went wrong with the GF deal, therefore giving us full flexibility over each ticket.

This was where my involvement with the trip planning ended. James was insistent that he wanted to plan the travel around the islands and book all the accommodation. Faced with a busy period at work this seemed like a good idea at the time…
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Old Jun 5, 10, 2:34 pm
  #2  
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Part 1 - London to Cairo

Date: 18/02/2010
No: BD771
Route: LHR-CAI
Time: 0915-1620
AC: A332
Class: Business
Seats: 2H/2K

As you will come to see as we progress with this trip report, the ethos of this excursion was to maximise the amount of luxury at the absolute minimum cost. So we started somewhat badly at striking that balance by taking the Piccadilly line to Heathrow. At 5am we spent five minutes on the bus before getting onto the tube at Manor House, settling in for the long journey to Terminal One. After nearly an hour and a half in the freezing carriage we disembarked and headed up the multitude of lifts and escalators to the blaze of unnatural light that is T1.

There was a small queue at the Premium Check In Desk, however as we had PYOB’d (in order to ensure the bmi staff had minimum reason to query our potentially dubious tickets) we went to the other side of the podium to the premium “fast bag drop” instead. The agent happily tagged our backpacks (Oh, I did mention we were backpacking right?) however she insisted that we had to drop them off at the outsize baggage belt. Noone else on our trip objected to the size of our bags so I was a little surprised. Nevertheless after ten minutes of very un-premium queuing here, we went through slow track (bmi refuse to pay for Fast Track for any of their customers) and sauntered down to the Number One Lounge.

We were greeted at a tiny podium stuck awkwardly in the centre of an oversized reception area and enquired as to whether we could take a shower. We were pointed behind us where we waited at yet another podium for about five minutes until the attendant arrived. Annoyingly they had no amenities at all apart from shower gel and shampoo which was especially annoying as all our toiletries were checked in.

After a much needed wash we took a seat over by the windows and “enjoyed” a breakfast looking out over runway 27R. The breakfast is exactly the same as that offered in the domestic lounge, with the exception of a few warm pastries and some rock hard toast.



Following our morning ablutions we had little time to enjoy the lounge facility and, spurred on by a red “Flight Closing” notice on the information boards, briskly walked to the complete opposite end of the terminal, out onto one of the piers. Here we were greeted by a massive queue of people and the first call for main cabin boarding. We had just missed the Business Class call and there was no evidence of any kind of priority boarding for latecomers. We took a seat and waited for about five minutes, until we noticed a trickle of people cutting the line and boarding via the staff member on the end of the counter. I enquired whether we could also cut the line as Business Class passengers. Our boarding passes faced much scrutiny and we were duly allowed to bypass the mammoth queue of people.

We were welcomed onboard and directed to our seats, the right hand pair of window seats in the middle of the cabin, Row 2. A chirpy northern member of the cabin crew team appeared and offered us a pre departure beverage and had no problem with both of us taking a glass of Champagne. They handed out our menus but I was disappointed that yet again there was no amenity kit, so still no opportunity to brush my teeth all morning. Yuck!



The cabin filled up with ten other people, so a total J load of 12 out of a capacity of 18 which isn’t too bad. Premium Economy seemed to be made up of a similar ratio of empty to full seats.

On this flight, brunch was served and our orders were taken as we taxied out. The menu consisted of:

Starter

Seasonal Fruits
Breakfast Pastries
Served with a smoothie, fresh orange juice, coffee and a selection of teas

Main Course

Fillet steak with lamb cutlet, rosti potatoes, Portobello mushroom and tomatoes
Bubble and Squeak with smoked trout
Pearl barley cake with creamed spinach and wild mushrooms

Dessert

Rhubarb and Custard Crumble
Coffee and a selection of teas

Wine List

Champagne Charles Lafitte Grande Cuvee Brut
Anjou Blanc Les Maillones – Gerard Depardieu
Chardonnay Unwooded Langmeil Australia
Chateau Mayne Vieil Fronsac
Aulente San Patrignano Rosso
Shiraz Brokenback Tyrells Australia

The starter all came as one course served on a tray. I had the steak washed down with a glass of the shiraz and James had the Bubble and squeak with another glass of Champagne. Both were cooked perfectly and were surprisingly refreshing even at the relatively early hour.





For the remainder of the flight the crew were excellent, always circulating the cabin offering top ups and engaging in conversation with those that wanted it. The seats were similarly superb, especially for what is a particularly short flight. Both of us had a little nap as the flight went on. The only downside to the aircraft was the entertainment system which was quite limited, but it kept us going for the short four and a half hours we were on board.

The arrival into Cairo was very smooth and we were first off the aircraft into a deserted Terminal Three and also the first to immigration where we received the stereotypical Egyptian welcome.
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Old Jun 5, 10, 2:34 pm
  #3  
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Part 2 – Cairo

The sole purpose of our visit to Cairo was to start our Gulf Air tickets which forced us into staying at least one night in the city. We planned to stay two nights, see the city on a budget and escape with our wallets relatively full for the main part of the trip. At the last minute a very helpful friend helped us out with a discount at the Marriott Cairo Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino which we decided to go for.




Perhaps slightly inadvisably we did not have any ground transportation sorted and braved the terminal façade to find us a good deal. We eventually negotiated the rate we were looking for and naively paid our money to book a driver for the following day to take us out on a tour. We drove through Cairo at breakneck speed and arrived at the Marriott in about 40 minutes. The hotel is attractively decorated from the outside, with well appointed grounds and a nice garden area with a large open pool. After being shown to our room we took a walk out along the river and retired early after a busy day of travel.

Our day with the guide and driver the following day soured us to Egypt quite significantly. We were driven around to a couple of tatty shops, some where we managed to escape unscathed, others where we were in no uncertain terms that if we didn’t buy something, anything, even just something small, we would have been made rather uncomfortable. By the time we were taken to another set of Pyramids and told to pay to get in, we had to confess that we had run out of money! Our guide was most insistent that Egypt was very cheap and that we should be able to do much more shopping, but the truth was we had spent triple our Cairo budget and just headed back to the hotel. Needless to say we did not tip our guide at all, although we did book the same driver to take us back to the airport the next morning.

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Old Jun 5, 10, 2:35 pm
  #4  
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Part 3 – Onwards to Thailand

Our driver picked us up from the hotel three hours before departure and after no more than half a hour we were dropped off at the dismal looking Cairo Terminal 2. Another friendly official Egyptian official greeted us at the entrance and checked our papers before allowing us through the first security checkpoint.

The two of us sauntered over to the Gulf Air bank of check in desks and were surprised to see a massive throng of people crowded round the empty desks. We found a place to sit and waited for five or ten minutes for the staff to come out but still no one appeared so I decided to go for a walk. There were a lot of interesting carriers checking in for flights around the Gulf and so I took another look at the information screens to see what else was going on in the terminal today. I felt a small bit of schadenfreude for the poor buggers who just had a delay posted for four hours. After all Cairo T2 is one of the most dismal places I can think of to be stuck. I scanned across to see which flight it was and it took me a second or two to realise that it was our Bahrain flight!

I told James the bad news and walked up and down the terminal building looking for an airline office. There was absolutely no visibility of staff from either the airline or the airport. Eventually a uniformed chap with pips on his shoulder walked past us and I collared him. He looked extremely disinterested at my plight until I pointed at our itinerary and repeated the words “First Class” a couple of times. His demeanour immediately changed and he started shouting for the soldier manning the security checkpoint to come and see him. He waddled over, as wide as he was tall, with an AK47 in his hands almost twice his size. The first guy rattled off some Arabic and they both gesticulated that I was to follow machine gun man.

He jumped up onto one of the baggage belts and disappeared behind it, beckoning me to follow as he scurried off. Weaving through a maze of corridors we passed the offices of every airline that serves the terminal before reaching a narrow doorway at the end of the passageway. He grunts and opens the door, pointing me out to the first person that he sees. I explained myself, which results in a shrug of the shoulder. I try again with the guy sitting next to him and still nothing. Finally a friendly and incredibly short lady comes up and asks me what the problem is, so I explain that the delay to their flight is going to cause us to misconnect and strand us in Bahrain.

She apologies for the delay and gives me some non excuse that it is due to delays in Bahrain. At this stage I am slightly concerned about my ticket. The vast majority of people who got in on this deal had their tickets cancelled, as both Expedia and Gulf Air failed to honour the deal. For a combination of reasons Expedia continued to tell me that my booking was absolutely fine, so when my new found friend tapped my details into her 1980s Amstrad I was expecting to be laughed out of the office or at best rebooked into Economy. For some reason my fare showed as £800 rather than £180 and it was only later on that day I realised I had been issued a new e-ticket number that showed Expedia as the ticket purchaser, with the additional balance to make up £800.

There were no complaints from me with that and whilst the very slow connection to Bahrain was holding up my rebooking options I took a closer look around this strange location I had suddenly appeared in. There were six people working in the office, four men and two women. All six of them were frantically garbling away on the phone and working the telex machines. At the same time the four men were all puffing away on cigarettes, filling the long narrow room with wispy blue smoke that floated around for ages, before finally escaping through the one and only window. The office was extremely chaotic, the station manager was on the phone to head office breaking in and out of Arabic and English as he argued over the latest business plan.

Eventually, I was told that they would put us up in a hotel in Cairo and send us off on the same flights the following day. I immediately rejected this as we definitely didn’t want to stay in Cairo any longer, and the later running service the following day would mean we could only get to our island 48 hours later than planned. They then offered us the option of flying to Bahrain on our original flight, overnighting in Bahrain and then taking the Bangkok flight the next day. However that would still have got us to our final destination 48 hours late. I made it very clear that this would not be acceptable to my travelling companion and he would be very upset and pressed them to find an option on alternative carriers. After refusing Etihad, Qatar or Emirates we were finally offered the option of taking Oman Air via Muscat. This would get us in late, but to our final destination 24 hours late rather than 48 hours late. The main downside was that we would have to downgrade to Business Class, however I accepted the option and asked if we could go back out into the terminal to check with James that this was alright.

As we clambered back over the baggage belt I caught a glimpse of James and he looked a hilarious sight. He was sat on a bench next to a man wearing full Arab dress and behind the two of them, on a lower semi-circular bench were seven or eight women travelling with the man, again all dressed up in the full burkah. James was of course sat there in skinny jeans and a t-shirt, with his backpack at his feet, dancing away to Lady Ga Ga on his iPod. Along bustles up my friendly Gulf Air Lady from the station managers office who bounds up to James and apologies profusely for the delay and explains that we are going to be rerouted onto Oman Air. At this point the plan is scuppered by James’s irrational fear of flying with an airline he has not heard of. After much bowing, scraping and apologising, we finally agree to the night in Bahrain option. All the while the man next to James has his jaw to the floor, trying to work out who the hell we are, getting such special treatment!

By this point the check in desks are starting to open up and we receive our boarding passes and lounge invitations, before dropping off our bags tagged only to Bahrain. We went through security and into the “First Class Lounge” where we waited for seven, dismal, mind numbing hours. A copy of yesterdays Times and a weak wifi signal kept us entertained. For about six hours we were the only people in the lounge, outnumbered by eight or nine staff. Throughout that time we were totally ignored and not offered any drinks, which we ended up taking from the fridges behind the bar ourselves. A massive pile of old pastries were the only food available and after the first one we left the rest well alone.
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Old Jun 5, 10, 2:35 pm
  #5  
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Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: San Diego
Posts: 2,456
Date: 20/02/2010
No: GF070
Route: CAI-BAH
Time: 1415-1725
AC: A343
Class: First
Seats: 2E/2F

Eventually seven hours were up and after James did something he’s never done before by having a quick smoke in the departure lounge, we headed into the gate pen. Here we were given our boarding passes for the following day’s flight and I was pleased to see that we had the new First Class seats for both flights. A few days before both our flights were showing the old set up. As boarding started the crowds thronged forward and there was clearly no attempt at priority boarding. I asked our new friend if we had to join the queue and was told “of course not”. For such a small Lady she was sure capable of barging people twice her size out of the way, and we made it as some of the first people onboard.

We were welcomed at the door and escorted to our seats. No Champagne on the ground here of course, but a nice glass of fresh orange juice tasted just as good after such a long time in the dry, soulless terminal. For a while we were the only people in the cabin, but eventually the other six seats filled up and we were the only westerners in First.

After a very refreshing cold towel the menus were handed out and I was amazed at what was on offer given the flying time of just under three hours:

Appetizers

Arabic Mezze – A variety of hot and cold Middle Eastern dishes, served with Arabic bread
Seasonal Garden Salad – tossed with a vinaigrette
Fennel and leek cream soup – sprinkled with cheese crutons

Main Course

Chicken kabsa – served with friend cashewnuts and onions, vegetables with Arabic flavours
Grilled hamour – on a bed of rosti potatoes and dill sauce, sprinkled with fried leeks
Saffron risotto – mixed with chick peas and feta cheese, julienne of vegetables, tossed with a red pepper coulis

Desserts

Hazelnut ricotta cake - served with chocolate and toffee sauce
International cheese – accompanied by dried fruit and crackers
Seasonal fresh fruit – selected from the local markets

Wine List

Champagne Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle “La Cuvee”

Chablis 1er Cru les Vallons “La Cuvee”, France 2007
Chateau d’Aragdens Bordeaux Blanc, France 2008
Estancia Chardonnay, USA 2008
Sandalford Estate Verdelho, Australia 2009

Chateau Cotes de Rol Saint Emilion Grand Cru, France 2006
Michel Picard Chassagne Montrachet, France
Sandalford Shiraz, Australia 2005
Torti Barbera, Italy

Wow! We both went for a glass of the Laurent Perrier and I was blown away, every bit as good as the Bollinger on BA, easily one of the best Champagnes I have ever tasted and in my opinion far tastier than the Krug we later got on Cathay Pacific.

I must also reiterate the fact that we are taking this sub three hour flight on a three class Airbus A340, with flat bed seats and AVOD. As we climbed away from Cairo the service rapidly commenced and our lovely sky chef Mark came down the aisle and got down on his knees to personally take everyone’s order. We both went for the Mezze which was delicious, especially washed down with more Laurent Perrier. I then went for the hamour which has got to be the best dish I’ve ever had on a plane, it was absolutely delicious especially washed down with the Chablis. James went for the equally delicious curry, washed down with more Champagne.




We both settled down to watch The Invention of Lying and I decided to go for the cake and a glass of what turned out to be a gorgeous Verdelho desert wine. It was absolutely delicious. The whole quality of the meal, the beauty of the flavours even at altitude, the immense pairing of the wines with the dishes and the simply exquisite service turned this into absolutely the best flight not only of the trip but also of my life. Especially given that this was all performed in under three hours made the feat all the more remarkable. We disembarked the plane in Bahrain on a bit of a high and ever so slightly tipsy!

As we got to the top of the jet bridge, the bubble started to burst. The office in Cairo has promised us that someone would be waiting to greet us off the aircraft, however this was not the case. Unperturbed we kept walking to the transfer area and found the Gulf Air Hotel Desk where I explained our situation. The guy manning the desk looked very stressed and tapped away at his computer where he informed us that the flight we were originally booked on that night was delayed as well and that we could still get to Bangkok that night. We were slightly annoyed at this as we’d planned our daytrip to Bahrain and were quite looking forward to it. Even more annoyingly the Hotel desk couldn’t rebook us so we had to go through security to the main transfer desk.

Here there was a massive queue so we went up into the terminal and up to the First Class Lounge who told us they could do absolutely nothing and we had to go back to the Transfer area. After the trek back down here the transfer desk told us that in fact there was no space in First Class and we had to downgrade to J or Y or stay the night in Bahrain. So off back through security we went to the Hotel desk, where of course by now a massive queue had built up. Eventually we reached the front and the by now even more stressed chap exasperatedly told us that there WERE seats in F and we had to go back through to transfers. He rang up the desk himself and told us to go to desk number one where finally we were put on the flight. It transpired we were the only First Class passengers and the previous agents had not wanted to reopen the closed cabin. Outrageous!

Unfortunately the hassle factor was not complete as we had to spend the next 45 minutes rebooking and planning our accommodation and travel for the next few days. The lounge in Bahrain is a large open space for Business Class passengers where all the facilities are. After using the computers for a while we went through into the First Class section of the lounge where another glass of the Grande Siecle was warmly welcomed.



We were welcomed into the lounge by a Sky Chef in full overalls, who’s responsibility it was to freshly prepare the buffet for the evening. Having just had a mega feast we declined all food but indulged in some more Champagne and had a little chat with the Sky Chef. He told us that we unfortunately had the old seats on this flight, but it would be more than made up for it by his friend Naomi who was the Chef on our flight. He insisted she was the best in the business and after having a few candid discussions about the future of Gulf Air and his future with Etihad in a few weeks time, we set off for the gate and joined the tail end of the boarding onto one of Gulf Air’s older A340s.
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Old Jun 5, 10, 2:36 pm
  #6  
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Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: San Diego
Posts: 2,456
Date: 20/02/2010
No: GF150
Route: BAH-BKK
Time: 2030-0710
AC: A343
Class: First
Seats: 2A/2B

Once again we were escorted to our seats and were introduced to Naomi, a very tall, very loud Australian who offered us a cheeky glass of Champagne “even though she’s not really supposed to”. The overwhelming sensation on board this particular aircraft was the smell of damp. I’m not sure if this plane has been stored somewhere wet for a long time or if it is just due a refurb, but it really did smell dank. The seats weren’t much better, my original seat, 2B reclined but refused to come up again. One of the crew tried to get an engineer but Naomi just shouted “Move them, there’s noone else in the cabin”. So 2B stayed fully reclined all flight and we settled in to the same seats on the opposite side of the cabin. By this point it was beyond 1am and we were still full from the previous flight so we decided to settle down for the night. I donned some very fetching GF PJs but James refused on the grounds of taste.



The seats weren’t actually too horrendous, they reclined to about 170 degrees and we both got a good few hours sleep before waking up for breakfast. The menu for dinner and for breakfast is below, the wine list was the same as the previous flight:

Appetizers

Arabic mezze
Thai chicken salad
Garden salad
Hot and sour soup

Main Courses

Beef Tenderloin
Filled chicken fillet
Arabian spiced hamour
Vegetarian biriyani

Desserts

Fresh fruit platter
Cheese plate
Raspberry cheesecake
Chocolate and coconut pudding

Breakfast Selection

Light Start

Fresh orange juice
Seasonal fruit platter
Yoghurt energy drink
Cereal selection
Natural or fruit youghurt
Selection of pastries and rolls

Main Courses

Eggs freshly prepared by your In-flight Chef – your choice of scrambled, poached, omelette, friend, hard or soft boiled eggs. Accompanied with your choice of grilled tomato, sautéed mushroom, beef sausages and parmentiers potatoes.
Pancakes – American style pancakes served with mixed berry compote and rich maple syrup
Asian Breakfast – Asian style breakfast consisting of garlic fried rice, grilled tomato, beef tapa and fried egg
Continental breakfast – a selection of sliced meats and international cheeses

I was very impressed to be offered a whole range of freshly cooked eggs. We both went for the fried and enjoyed once again the best breakfast we’ve ever had on a plane. The catering on both flights was just immense and I am still kicking myself for not forcing some dinner down me on this second flight.




We were soon in Bangkok and cleared immigration extremely quickly. I was paranoid that our bags would not have been retagged for BKK at BAH and our bags weren’t in the first load of priority bags that came off. Thankfully they arrived after about ten minutes and we set off for the Thai ticket desk. By this point my decision to buy a fully flex J ticket for our Phuket flight had been entirely vindicated as we had long missed the flight we were originally booked on.

We approached a very grumpy looking lady at the ticket desk and explained our situation. She was clearly unable to do anything herself and walked us round two or three check in desks before telling us that all flights were full and we would have to go to the standby desk. After about twenty minutes of queuing we were finally told we couldn’t be confirmed on any flight and to come back in an hour and a half to see space opened up. This was not what I was expecting from my first encounter with premium class travel on an Asian airline. We hung around BKK for a while and went back to the desk at our allotted time where we were admonished for being late, handed our boarding passes and told to run! Naturally on arrival at the gate there was a massive queue, but after a short while Business Class was called and we boarded a bus out to the international terminal.

Date: 21/02/2010
No: TG215
Route: BKK-HKT
Time: 1410-1520
AC: A333
Class: Business
Seats: 24H/24K

Annoyingly once on board there were plenty of empty seats, despite being told that the flight was oversold. The A330-300 was more than adequate for the hour long hop as was the food. No alcohol on Thai domestic, but the hot three course meal hit the spot after the long wait. Finally some fantastic scenery was observed as made our long awaited arrival into Phuket.

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Old Jun 5, 10, 2:37 pm
  #7  
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Posts: 2,456
Part 4 – Thailand

The following ten days were a magnificent masterclass in relaxation and doing nothing so I shall not bore you with many details other than the itinerary:

Phuket – 1 Night
Koh Lanta – 2 Nights
Koh Phi Phi – 3 Nights
Koh Phangan – 4 Nights
Koh Tao – 2 Nights
Koh Samui – 1 Night

Many, many, many uncomfortable hours spent on boats, buses, taxis and tuk tuks were endured to make this achievable!



One of the many places we stay was notable by its horrendousness. I strongly advise at least one night in the Lighthouse Bungalows resort on Koh Phangan. It puts luxury travel into stark perspective:





As part of our budget constraints we had decided to take the sleeper train from Chumphon to Bangkok and had reserved First Class cabin tickets before we left the UK. However as we travelled around Thailand we couldn’t find a single place, on any island, that would actually issue a ticket for that reservation. By the time we were in Thailand the train was completely full, but our reservation remained intact. Even the supposed rail offices were unable to ticket the reservation, so presumably our two berths went out empty because of this frustrating, inept and inflexible system! So in the end we had no choice but to fly from Koh Samui back up to Bangkok. We had a choice of Flex Economy or Business on Bangkok Airways (Thai was full), both for £100 and of course went for Business.

The flight that gave us the longest weekend was the 7am departure and we were picked up from our hotel at 6am, getting to the airport five minutes later. After a five minute wait at the Business Class check in we approached the desk and before I had said anything was told:

Agent: The line is over there
Me: Excuse me?
Agent: The line for check in is over there
Me: We are travelling Business Class
Agent: Oh

Fine, we were wearing shorts and a t-shirt and had back packs, but this is Koh Samui, so did everyone else! After this initial setback we walked the few hundred metres from the check in area up to the departure gate area and took a look in the VIP Lounge.



The lounge was unmanned but someone made a cursory visit every ten minutes to check boarding passes. Juice and pastries were all that was required at this early hour and soon it was time to board. The airport in Samui is fascinating in that it is an almost entirely unwalled structure, quite unlike anywhere in the world.



We went through the gate and were personally escorted to a little golf buggy type vehicle. Economy passengers had to board a larger bus type vehicle. We drove across the airport and boarded our only narrow body of the trip, our A319 to Bangkok.

Date: 06/03/2010
No: PG104
Route: USM-BKK
Time: 0745-0850
AC: A319
Class: Business
Seats: 2D/2F

This was another swift flight, with excellent service and a meal far exceeding what would normally be served on a similar flight anywhere else in the world. The flight was totally full and J was filled with plenty of leisure travellers and families like ourselves. We were given a menu which was filled with all the choices throughout the day, so if anyone wants to see the rest of the menu then I’ll be happy to share. For breakfast the choice was:

Seasonal Fresh Fruits
Blueberry Yoghurt
Scramble Egg Served with Fried Chicken Chipolata, Fried Potato Rosti, Sauted Spinach and Grill Tomato
Assorted Bread
Coffee/Tea



Once again, excellent service on such a short flight. Our bags were on the carousel by the time we reached it and we were soon in a battered old taxi en route to the Intercontinental. Here we had a lovely Club Suite where we based ourselves for the weekend.


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Old Jun 5, 10, 2:37 pm
  #8  
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Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: San Diego
Posts: 2,456
Part 5 – Bangkok to London

Sadly it was time to head home and even more sadly it involved a 5.30am start. After a speedy check out we entered a slightly nicer taxi for our trip out to the airport. Arriving at the airport we walked up to the First Class check in which was closed. However as we walked towards it a member of staff quickly walked over and opened it up for us so that we didn’t have to queue! Our bags were tagged all the way through to London and we hit the Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge for about an hour. The food and drink contents resembled the kind of product you would find in a 7-11 so we decided to save ourselves for a long day of fine dining onboard.

Date: 08/03/2010
No: CX700
Route: BKK-HKG
Time: 0825-1155
AC: B773
Class: Business
Seats: 14H/14K

This flight was on one of the massive 777-300 series aircraft that frequent many of Cathay’s high density intra-Asia routes. This flight was completely packed with nearly 400 people, however boarding completed on time. Unusually we were escorted to our seats by one of the cabin crew which was very unexpected on a short haul business class flight.

The service on this short 2.5 hour flight was once again exemplary and a great introduction to Cathay Pacific for both of us. The breakfast food quality wasn’t amazing though, only ever so slightly better quality and more plentiful than BA Club Europe:

Breakfast Menu

Starters

Juice selection
Fresh seasonal fruit
Fruit yoghurt

Main Courses

Mushroom frittata with roesti potato, grilled chicken sausage and oven roasted tomato with oregano
Thai chicken with bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms, flat yeloow noodles and mixed vegetables

Bread Basket

Assorted breakfast bread served with preserves, honey and butter

Tea and Coffee

Nevertheless it stood us in good stead for the rest of the day and we arrived uneventfully into Hong Kong.

Annoyingly there is no fast track security at connections here so we had to endure a ten minute wait to get back into the departures area. We had arrived into one of the very far gates out on one of the piers. Given that our London flight was yet to show a gate, it made sense to head into The Pier First Class Lounge first. Just as we had been welcomed into the lounge and offered a table for dinner, the receptionist chased after us and told us that our gate had just been posted. It was right next to The Wing, so he advised us that we would be much better served walking down to the other lounge.

This we did and on arrival headed straight for a cabana. We took the last one available and enjoyed a wonderful hot bath as well as a little snooze out by the stream. There were no issues whatsoever with the two of us sharing either, which made us feel extremely welcome.




After an hour or so we were feeling a little peckish and went to the restaurant area. We had to queue for about 5 minutes until a table came free, however it is clear that the staff manning the lounge are not airline employees, but proper 5* hotel trained. They were extraordinarily professional and even though the restaurant catering was nearly identical to that you’d get in any other airport buffet (with the possible exception of the dim sum) the service was fantastic.

We decided not to stuff ourselves too full and went out onto the terrace with our glass of champagne and overlooked a humungous queue for our flight, which had just started boarding beneath us. It was very hard not to feel quite smug at this point and after a few minutes of enjoying ourselves we headed down to the gate and walked straight onto our 747.
spanishflea is offline  
Old Jun 5, 10, 2:38 pm
  #9  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: San Diego
Posts: 2,456
Date: 08/03/2010
No: CX253
Route: HKG-LHR
Time: 1455-2010
AC: B744
Class: First
Seats: 1A/1K

Up until the moment we boarded, the seatmap showed us as the only passengers in the cabin. After what seemed like an eternity, the cabin slowly started to fill up to the point where all the seats were taken. People were talking on their phones about their lucky upgrade, so it was pretty clear the flight was busy and there had been a lot of operational upgrades. Nevertheless, from the privacy of the Cathay Pacific First Class Suite, you really cannot detect there being anyone other than yourselves in the front row. 1A and 1K are perfect for couples as you can easily lean over and talk to each other, there is no passing traffic and you can’t see behind you without standing up.

We were offered our pre departure beverage and both went for the Champagne. It was our first time tasting Krug and I was looking forward to the experience. I was quite surprised not to taste anything hugely sensational and it was no more interesting than many of the Champagnes that BA serve around the £40-£60 mark. I was ever so slightly disappointed, but it was still wonderful to sit there in the nose of the 747 with a glass of bubbly, having been three years since I had last done it. The safety demo was nearing the end and James needed the bathroom, so I told him it would be fine to just go in. Unfortunately he was reprimanded, sent back to his seat like a naughty schoolboy and then ushered back to the toilet once the video had completed!




The boarding process really did seem to take an age, however once complete we were soon underway and climbing out over Hong Kong. Our menus and Bally washbags were handed out and our order was taken for dinner. Having had something to eat already for lunch we asked that dinner be served in two hours time, but we agreed to have the Caviar course then and there. The rest of the menu is as follows:

Lunch

Caviar and Balik

Caviar and Balik salmon “Tsar Nicolaj”

International Favourites

Lobster bisque
Mesclun salad with asparagus, sun dried tomato and balsamic vinaigrette
Grilled beef tenderloin with gratin potato, asparagus and baby carrots
Or
Pesto tortellini with tomato sauce and pine nuts

Chinese Favourites

Pork soup with winter melon and dried duck gizzard
Cold plate – deep fried sea bass with sweet vinegar dressing
Prawn butterfly wrapped with bean cud skin
Or
Braised duck with onion sauce

Served with steamed jasmine rice, stir-fried asparagus, pepper and shimeji mushrooms

Cheese and Dessert

Forme d’Ambert, Manchego, Arenberger, French Brie
Fresh berries and ginger syrup
Cheery clafoutis cake with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis

Tea and Coffee

Pralines

Snacks

Beef Skewer with salad and capsicum relish
Assorted sandwiches
Ice cream
Shrimp wontons with noodle in soup
Szechuenese dan dan noodle in soup

Dinner

Starter

Seasonal fresh fruit

Main Courses

Pan fried cornfed chicken with rosemary, grilled new potatoes, French beans, capsicum and mushrooms
Steamed cod fillet in preserved olive, steamed jasine rice and stir-fried broccoli
Mushroom and garlic agnolotti with basil tomato concasse and mixed mushrooms

Cheese and Dessert

Cambozola, Comte, Double Gloucester, Chaumes
Selected pastries

Tea and Coffee

Pralines


Wine List

Champagne – Krug Grande Cuvee Champagne

White Wines:

Henri de Villamont Meursault 2005
Helen’s Hill Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2006

Red Wines:

Chateau Lynch Bages 2003
Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2007
Bouchard Pere & Fils Morgon 2009

Port – Ramos Pinto Quinta da Ervamoira 10 Year Old Tawny Port


The caviar was again another experience I was looking forward to and once again it was slightly underwhelming. The salmon was actually a lot more flavoursome than the caviar and the part I enjoyed the most. It was however washed down extremely pleasantly by the Krug. We both started to relax and watched a couple of films on the excellent and plentiful AVOD system. The Helen’s Hill Chardonnay is an excellent aperitif to sip on whilst watching a film and the seat is absolutely perfect for this day flight, with an infinite range of positions designed to suit even the most fidgety person like myself.



Two hours was soon up and we were asked whether we were ready for our lunch. I had the Lobster bisque paired with the Meursault and then the braised duck paired with the Pinot Noir. I then finished off with the cherry cake washed down with the Port, which was easily the loveliest drink they had on board that day, more than making up for the lack of a specific pudding wine on the menu.




The flight seemed to pass pretty quickly, helped in part by the excellent AVOD and also due to the wonderful teas that kept being served throughout the flight. There is nothing more pleasant than lying back with a premium cuppa whilst flying over the centre of the world.



As we came towards London we were asked what we’d like for dinner, but we were stuffed from the three meals we had already had and politely declined anything further. I settled on a glass of the Bordeaux, which sadly failed to impress contrasted against some of the beauties BA have had on board and in the lounges over the last few years. Sadly the reached top of descent and I headed back to join the queue to change out of our PJs. Whilst waiting in the galley, the crew got chatting and were absolutely adamant that we were in some kind of rock band and refused to take no for an answer. In the end I relented with a wink, but refused to sign any autographs!

We touched down on 09L and disembarked into an empty T3 out of door 1L.

Conclusion

Without a doubt the star of the trip was Gulf Air. Even though their ground handling and operations were a shambles, the in flight service was simply amazing. It is a massive shame that they no longer offer a First Class product as it is something I would have loved to have gone back to in the future. Cathay followed a very close second, with an amazingly consistent product that cuts right through that of all but the very best carriers in the world. On future Asian trips I will have no hesitation whatsoever redeeming onto CX instead of BA as BA have such a long way to go to reach that level of product consistency.

And as for Thailand, well we will definitely be heading back there very soon!
spanishflea is offline  
Old Jun 5, 10, 3:02 pm
  #10  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Suburban MD
Programs: Delta Diamond Medallion; HH Gold; SPG Gold; Marriott Silver
Posts: 18
Very Nice Trip Report!!!
Mikagirl is offline  
Old Jun 5, 10, 5:43 pm
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Programs: AAdvantage, CO OnePass, ANA Mileage Club, DL Skymiles, UA Mileage Plus
Posts: 23
What a great trip report! I absolutely enjoyed seeing the happy young couple have such an enjoyable adventure. You guys really got lucky with the Gulf Air ticket being honored! What a deal!!! Please be sure to post more trip reports in the future!^^

Last edited by RyanOKC; Jun 5, 10 at 5:55 pm
RyanOKC is offline  
Old Jun 5, 10, 6:01 pm
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Sydney, Australia
Programs: QF, Skywards, SQ, Centurion
Posts: 391
Great report guys!

The Lighthouse Bungalows looked ferral
haydensydney is offline  
Old Jun 5, 10, 8:40 pm
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: ORD
Posts: 277
What a lovely trip, thanks for the report. And the warning as to the Lighthouse Bungalows is duly noted.
falconred is offline  
Old Jun 6, 10, 10:52 am
  #14  
 
Join Date: Dec 2001
Posts: 3,139
I remember about 10 years ago a Gulf Air 737 from Cairo to Bahrein crashed on landing. I don't know the reasons.

I thought Gulf Air had a bad reputation. Fun report. Thanks for the pictures.
Bretteee is offline  
Old Jun 6, 10, 11:35 am
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Programs: NW Gold, '06. Good times.
Posts: 7,204
A wonderful trip and a wonderful report.
hoyateach is offline  

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