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Lazing in Laos and Gallivanting a Wee Bit Around Asia

Lazing in Laos and Gallivanting a Wee Bit Around Asia

Old Jun 22, 20, 3:58 pm
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Lazing in Laos and Gallivanting a Wee Bit Around Asia

Hello Flyertalk Trip Report section, long time no see welcome to yet another trip report, in which we will travel to Malysia, Laos and Japan - flying among others in J on Aegean, Saudia and Japan Airlines and see some extraordinary destinations on our way.

Since my last Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan trip report which I posted a year ago, I have made quite some trips but haven't had the time to post them here. Although I have been posting in quite some other Flyertalk forums and glanced through some nice recent TRs on this forum, I just didn't have the time and energy to contribute here, as in the same time I've been spending a lot of my spare time on building my own website to chronicle my travels and save all my pictures and experiences for eternity. Given that Flyertalk has given me so much inspiration and information over the years, it would however be a fallacy if from henceforth I'd only post these new trips on my website and not to give something back to the community here.

The entire Laos trip report is already online on my website (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest) but I will post every installment here as well, to begin with the introduction to this new trip.

A trip to Laos


Some trips look perfect on paper at the moment you book them but might not be as good of a plan at a later point. This is the perfect example of such a trip. Laos is one of the few countries in south-east Asia which I haven’t visited to date, so it made for a logical destination. There are some great sights and wonderful nature to see in the country – and the food should be equally superb.To get to Laos, I booked a one-way ticket from Bucharest to Athens, from where I booked a great 350 EUR one-way journey to Kuala Lumpur on a recent Saudia business class deal. For a lie-flat bed all the way to Asia that is an unbeatable price.

From Kuala Lumpur it is then a short hop on low-cost airline Air Asia to the Laotian capital of Vientiane (40 EUR one-way).

China stopover

The return journey looked excellent on paper too. I booked a business class ticket on China Eastern from Luang Prabang to Dubai with a 24-hour stopover in Kunming, China, using a chunk of my Flying Blue miles (74,000 miles plus 233 EUR in taxes). Although not a particularly good value for miles, it wasn’t bad either – and a paid ticket would have set me back well over 3,000 EUR for these flights.

More importantly, it would give me the opportunity to fly a new airline (which includes China Eastern’s excellent Boeing 787 from Kunming to Dubai) and explore Kunming for a day as China gives visa-free access to many cities if you have a stopover en route to a third country.

From Dubai I would then head back to Bucharest via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines in economy class (240 EUR one-way). Itinerary decided and settled for, you would think.

Then as my early February trip slowly approached came the corona virus crisis.


The trip as originally booked

Rebooking the ticket

When most countries giving a negative travel advisory to China and doctors warning that it is perhaps better to rethink all non-essential travels to the country, I decided to cancel the return journey. Luckily, most airlines have issued waivers allowing you to cancel a booked trip to China for free.

Although even in normal circumstances I could refund my China Eastern ticket as I booked it using miles, Air France as the issuing carrier was this time also waiving the 50 EUR redeposit fee which the airline normally charges to deposit the frequent flyer miles of a cancelled award ticket back in your account.

As the Dubai-Bucharest ticket was now no longer needed, I decided to cancel this too as the ticket was semi-flexible. I however had to pay a 120 USD cancellation fee for this, which Turkish Airlines deducted from the refund.

Alternative travel plans

After a lot of last-minute stress (and admittedly, also a wee bit of fun puzzling together a new itinerary!) I finally managed yesterday – only a day before departure – to come up with an alternative way how to get home from Laos.

I would say that the new route is perhaps even more exciting than the original route when it comes to airlines flown and places visited on the way!

Japan Airlines

In the end, I thought it would be a fun idea to route my travels through Japan instead of China. Even though there were quite a few corona cases in Japan too, at least there wasn’t the danger of being quarantined, which was probably a worry as big as the actual disease itself.

The reason why Japan was that I somehow found an excellent miles redemption to fly in business class from Bangkok to Tokyo on Flying Blue partner Japan Airlines (JAL). I could hop straight on the direct Bangkok to Tokyo flight, but as that flight is only three-and-a-half hours long it is not really getting the most out of the business class experience.

For the same amount of miles – and only a fraction more in taxes – I could route the trip through Jakarta, first flying on Garuda from Bangkok to Jakarta where I would connect to the JAL flight to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. As the Jakarta to Tokyo flight is seven-and-a-half hours overnight flight, it would be a great opportunity to try out Japan Airlines’ new Apex Suites in business class on the Boeing 787.

For both business class flights on Garuda and JAL I only paid 55,000 Flying Blue miles plus 115 EUR in taxes, which I thought was excellent value for money (err.. miles). And as I had never been before in Japan, it would be an excellent opportunity to explore Tokyo!

Booking the last few flights

I still had two minor problems at this point. First of all, I needed to find a way to get from Luang Prabang to Bangkok. Second, I now found myself stranded in Tokyo and still required a flight back home to Europe.

Luang Prabang to Bangkok was relatively simple as the route is flown by four airlines. I settled for an economy class ticket on Thai Smile (95 USD) as it was the cheapest and had the most reasonable departure time.

Japan to Europe

Finding a flight from Tokyo to Europe was a bit more difficult than I initially expected. There was a cheap flight on Aeroflot when I started rebooking my flights, but when it actually came to buying this flight the cheap fare classes had already disappeared. In the end it left me with no other choice than to buy a relatively expensive one-way economy class flight home on Turkish Airlines (550 EUR).

From a financial point of view it would have probably been better to ditch the whole Japan idea completely and just fly home from Bangkok for half the price, but as I was now dead set on flying JAL in business class and seeing Tokyo, I didn’t bother cancelling the miles booking again and decided to just bite the bullet.

As a bit of silver lining, at least the Turkish Airline flight was in a booking class which earned me a full 100% mileage, which would all but guarantee re-qualification for another two years of Star Alliance Gold status in Turkish Airlines’ own Miles&Smiles frequent flyer programme.

With the last flights decided on, the final route map looks like this:


The final itinerary for this trip to Laos

Highlights

In this ‘Lazing in Laos and Gallivanting a Wee Bit Around Asia’ trip report, you can expect the following highlights:

– Business class experiences on Aegean Airlines, Saudia, Garuda and Japan Airlines
– Exploring the night markets of Kuala Lumpur, Vientiane and Luang Prabang
– Biking and tubing fun in the gorgeous backpacker town of Vang Vieng
– Three days between the temples, food markets and French cafes of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Luang Prabang


Lazing by the pool in Vang Vieng, Laos.


Watching the sunset on the mighty Mekong river in Luang Prabang


The Japanese breakfast set on board my Japan Airlines flight from Jakarta to Tokyo


A perfect winter day in Tokyo

The first chapter, detailing a business class flight on Aegean Airlines from Bucharest to Athens, will be posted soon!

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Romanianflyer is offline  
Old Jun 22, 20, 4:32 pm
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Chapter 1: Aegean Airlines Business Class Bucharest to Athens (Airbus A320)

There are multiple airlines which fly the Bucharest to Athens route. Greece’s Aegean Airlines, Romania’s TAROM and Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair all operate daily flights on this short intra-European route, which means that flight prices are often low.

As I had book a great Saudia business class deal from Athens, I had to make my way to the Greek capital from my home base of Bucharest. Both the Aegean and Ryanair flight were priced around 30 EUR and departed within 30 minutes of each other, allowing me three hours to make the Saudia flight to Jeddah.

Choosing Aegean over Ryanair was a no-brainer as not only does the airline have a substantially better on-board product, it is also far more reliable. As I would not be protected in case of a flight delay or cancellation with the Bucharest to Athens ticket booked separately from my Saudia ticket, I knew that Aegean would be the safest bet.

I have previously lived in Greece and regularly fly the Bucharest-Athens route on Aegean, and always thought the airline runs a smooth operation with mostly on-time flights.

Upgrade to business class

A week or so before departure I decided to participate in the Aegean Airline upgrade challenge (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest) and put in a 60 EUR bid, which was the minimum amount to participate. Three days before departure I received an email that Aegean accepted the upgrade offer.

Given that I only paid 35 EUR for my economy class ticket, a total of 95 EUR for a seat in business class is not bad at all.

Bucharest (OTP) to Athens (ATH) on Aegean Airlines
Flight A3 961 – Airbus A320-200 – Business class, seat 1A
Departure: 10.40am – Arrival: 12.15pm
Flight time: 1h35m – Distance: 471 miles
Costs: 35 EUR for the economy class ticket, 60 EUR for the upgrade to business class


Boarding

Even though I arrived relatively late at the airport I still managed to visit the TAROM business lounge (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest) at the airport for about 10 minutes and drink a coffee. The lounge is nothing spectacular, so in case you miss out of it – you don’t miss much.

Boarding began exactly on time, with business class passengers and Star Alliance gold members being called forward for priority boarding. There were a handful of Aegean Miles+Bonus gold members on today’s flight based on the baggage tags they had attached on their carry-on bags, but it turned out they were all seated in economy class. In the end, I was the sole passenger in the small business class cabin of two rows.

Business class seats

Like most other European airlines, Aegean uses normal economy class seats for its business class passengers. The sole difference with economy is that the middle seat is blocked with a tray table. So while the seat itself is not more comfortable than those flying economy, at least you have some more privacy and shoulder room.

A movable divider and curtain separates the business cabin from economy class. The divider can be moved as many rows back and forward as the airline likes given that the seats are the same. This way, they can adjust the business class cabin size based on demand. It is not uncommon on business-heavy routes such as Athens to London Heathrow for business class to stretch eight rows deep.

The seat itself was by the way fairly comfortable and certainly not bad for a short intra-European hop. Legroom in the bulkhead seats of row 1 was decent too. Do note that there are no personal in-flight entertainment screens, and no plug sockets or USB ports, although there are overhead screens playing the route map and some promotional videos of Greece’s magnificent sights. There is also no WiFi available on the planes of Aegean Airlines.





Service

I was warmly welcomed on board of the flight by one of the stewardesses and even helped with stowing my luggage in the overhead bin. After I sat down, on of the two flight attendants in the forward cabin inquired whether I wanted a newspaper. I was given the New York Times, which in Greece is distributed exclusively with the English edition of Greek paper Kathimerini.

Moments later the flight attendant also came by with a tray on which a glass each of water, sparkling wine and orange juice was placed. I opted for the sparkling wine as pre-departure beverage.

Aegean serves solely Greek wines on board of its flight. The reds and whites on the menu change frequently as different Greek winemakers are featured. These underrated and relatively unknown wines by international standards can often be amazing, although I wasn’t a too big of a fan of the Amalia sparkling wine served by Aegean.

Shortly before departure, a flight attendant also distributed some small candies to passengers in both the business and economy cabin.



Food and drinks menu

Before departure, a neat-looking business class food and drinks menu was handed out. The menu features selected Greek wineries and winemakers as well as prominent chefs – which are rotated on regular basis. It is well worth sampling some of the Greek wines offered on Aegean flights.

There are always at least two reds and two whites featured on each flight. Another interesting aspect of Aegean Airlines is that the company offers proper espresso, cappuccino and Greek coffee in business class.







Breakfast

The 10.40am departure meant that my flight was a breakfast flight. Unfortunately, Aegean is no exc eption to the rule that airline breakfasts are generally unmemorable on short flights, even in business class. From my experience the food is substantially better on lunch and dinner flights. On this flight, the choice was between an oven baked omelet with sauteed asparagus and grilled Haloumi cheese or cheese bread with scrambled eggs.

You can pre-select your meal online in advance if you want to be ensured of your choice of meal, as otherwise there is always the slight risk that they might have run out of your preferred choice on a full flight. Instead of pre-selecting one of these two options I opted for a seafood meal, which is one of the two special meal choices besides a vegan/vegetarian meal.



Departure

We departed spot on time from Bucharest. There were some decent views over Otopeni Airport upon takeoff, although soon after we penetrated the cloud cover and visibility became zero. When the fasten seatbelt sign went off, one of the flight attendants immediately closed the curtain separating the business class cabin from economy class.





Meal service

Some five minutes later when we crossed into Bulgarian airspace meal service started with one of the crew members inquiring what I wanted to drink with my meal.

I opted for a glass of white wine to accompany my seafood breakfast – in fact, I actually ordered both of the white wines so I could taste and compare them. After all, seafood is best matched with a glass of white and it is afternoon at least somewhere in the world

About five minutes late the flight attendant returned with my meal, which turned out to be a prawn omelette. The meal was presented on a tray and looked quite nice. It also contained a large fruit selection, small salt and pepper shakers, a protein bar, a cup of butter and a cloth napkin in which the cutlery was folded.

The flight attendant also passed by with a bread basket, from which I selected a small bun.

Although I find airline breakfasts mostly forgettable even in business class, this meal was actually quite decent. The omelette contained three big prawns inside which were nicely cooked. On the side were some hash browns as well as some broccoli. The fruits which came as dessert were fresh and tasted excellent. Although nothing spectacular, I thought it was a solid meal for a short intra-European hop - and that comes from a person who usually isn't a fan of prawns.



Wine

The two white wines which I ordered to accompany my meal were brought to my seat one-by-one. You can see that the flight attendants of Aegean Airlines are properly trained as they first show you the bottle, then pour in your glass at your seat. This is far more classy and preferable than them preparing the drinks in the galley out of your sight.

Unfortunately the first wine, the Savatiano, was stored too cold to properly taste it. The bottle was covered in ice crystals and it wasn’t much better in the glass. While that is of course better than getting served a white wine at room temperature, it does kill off all the soft flavours.

The Malagousia (one of my favourite white wine varieties) was however chilled at the right temperature and tasted excellent.



Coffee

One of the great aspects of Aegean’s business class product is its coffee menu. As one of the few European airlines, Aegean Airlines offers proper espresso, cappuccino and even Greek coffee on board. After the meal, I ordered an espresso, which was strong and rich in taste – as it should be.

I also asked for a glass of Chios Mastiha liqueur as a digestif, which was promptly brought with two small chocolates. For those who do not know it, Mastiha is a resin obtained from the mastic tree. These trees are only found on the Greek island of Chios and on Turkey’s Çeşme Peninsula at the other side of the sea from Chios.

Mastiha has a sweet pine and cedar taste and is absolutely delicious. If you ever visit Chios or Çeşme, be sure to also try mastiha ice cream, mastiha chewing gum and all other foods in which the resin is used.


An espresso and glass of Mastiha liqueur on my Aegean Airlines flight.

Wonderful Greek views

One of the best things about flying to Greece is to see the country’s gorgeous coastline from above. I adore Greece. It is by far my favourite travel destination in the world and I even called the country home for a while in the past.

Seeing the azure blue sea, the reflection of the sunshine in the waves, the mountains, the towns – it all brings back fond memories.







Arriving at Athens Airport

Views on the slow and gradual approach to Athens International Airport continued to be amazing. We finally touched down on the runway on the dot. After a short time taxiing around the airport, the pilots parked the Airbus A320 at a remote stand on the tarmac.



Athens ground services

Aegean Airlines’ ground service at Athens Airport is superb. If you are unlucky enough to arrive at a remote stand instead of a proper jetbridge gate you should not despair. Business class passengers have their own dedicated airport bus which brings them immediately to the terminal building before economy class passengers are even allowed to disembark.

Within 10 to 15 minutes after we touched down on the runway, I already found myself in the arrivals hall of Athens Airport as there was no queue at all for passport control for EU passengers.



For the full version of this chapter and for a few more pictures thrown in, you can read the article on my website (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest):
https://paliparan.com/2020/02/01/rev...s-airbus-a320/

Next chapter: Goldair Handling Lounge Athens Airport
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Romanianflyer is offline  
Old Jun 23, 20, 9:46 am
  #3  
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Chapter 2: Goldair Handling Lounge (Non-Schengen) Athens Airport

As I had already checked in online for my onward flight on Saudia, I could theoretically head straight to the gate area and to the lounge. But as I wanted to get a proper boarding pass – and because the transit desk could not print them for Saudia – I decided to quickly get landside again.

As I was arriving from a non-Schengen country (Romania) and Greece is inside the Schengen Area, it meant having to clear passport control. Fortunately, there were no queues for the e-gates and I was through within a minute.

Check-in

The departure hall of Athens Airport is one floor up from the arrivals hall. The Saudia check-in desks open three hours before departure. As the flight from Athens to Jeddah is operated by an Airbus A320-200 with only 110 seats (20 in business class, 90 in economy) I don’t think that at any moment it gets really busy, especially because there were three check-in desks in total for the Saudia flight.

As a business class passenger (and holding SkyTeam Elite Plus frequent flyer status), I could use the Sky Priority check-in desk. Within a minute I had a proper paper boarding pass issued.





Security and passport control

Athens Airport basically consists out of a single terminal. After check-in you either head left to Hall B (for departures within the Schengen area – including domestic Greek flights) or to the right into Hall A (for departures out of the Schengen area).

Although the queues on arrival can be at times long (especially for those who do not hold an EU passport) it is an entirely different matter to get airside again upon departure. There were no queues for the e-gates for EU passport holders when I headed back to the gate area. As I fly in and out of Athens a lot – I can say that this pretty much is the case no matter which time of the day you are flying. Only in high season can waits be a bit longer.

After passport control the security check was equally fast. There is a dedicated priority line for business class passengers and frequent flyers to the far left – which might easily be missed if you do not pay attention. Note that the crew/diplomat line on the far right is not a priority line for passengers and you will be refused here.

Athens Airport Hall A

After passport control and security you are led into a retail area which in the end feeds into the departure gates. There are numerous shops, as well as a couple of cafes and restaurants in this area. Although Athens Airport is fairly modern and overall is a convenient place to connect or depart, it is not an airport for which I would come early if you do not have lounge access.

Especially in high season the gate area and the few seats at the cafes can be enormously crowded. As the airport is not big at all compared to major European hubs such as Frankfurt or Paris, it will probably a long wait.





There are however a few lounges in Hall A of Athens Airport. These are the Aegean Airlines Lounge, Swissport Executive Lounge, Skyserv Handling Services (named the ‘Aristotelis Onasis Lounge’) and the Goldair Handling Lounge. Note that Aegean, Skyserv (‘Melina Mercouri Lounge’) and Goldair Handling also have lounges in Hall B for Schengen flights.

Goldair Handling Lounge

The Goldair lounge is used by Aeroflot, Alitalia, American Airlines, Ellinair, Emirates, Saudia, TAROM and Turkish Airlines for its business class passengers and frequent flyers. You can also gain access with Priority Pass, Dragonpass and Loungebuddy – but lounge pass holders should note that at busy times you might be refused entry if the lounge is at or near its capacity, which often happens when there are Turkish and Emirates wide-body departures close to each other.

Upon showing my Saudia business class boarding card I was swiftly welcomed into the lounge, which was nearly empty at this time of the day in the early afternoon.



Goldair Lounge seating

The Goldair Handling Lounge is well-arranged and easy to navigate it being a relatively small lounge. There are some sofas near the windows to the right and in the middle of the lounge, some couches in the front area near a TV playing CNN, some dining tables in the middle area and a large worktop table to the back. All the lounge seating is separated from the buffet area on the left by a low divider wall running through the lounge. The two lounge toilets can be found in the back.

My preferred seats are the comfortable sofas next to the windows as you have some daylight here. Unfortunately, there are no views to speak of as you are just looking over some airport offices. Wherever you decide to seat, you will find for sure a socket close to your seat. The WiFi network was fast and reliable, making the lounge a good place to get some work done if needed.





Goldair Lounge buffet

When it comes to food and drinks, the Goldair Lounge is probably the best lounge of entire Athens Airport. There are always a few hot dishes available, as well as some snacks and desserts. The coffee is of good quality, there are plenty of soft drinks, bottled beer and some eight wines available, including sparkling wine.

There is also a good selection of stronger alcoholic beverages. Besides some mid-shelf gin, rum and whisky brands you can also find Greek favourites such as mastiha liqueur. Whether you are looking for a decent meal or a healthy salad before flying out in economy class to your destination, or want to have a coffee or glass of wine, the Goldair Handling Lounge does certainly not disappoint.













Showers

The only real downside of the lounge is that there are no showers available, although this is the case in every single one of the Athens business lounges. If you are in desperate need for a shower your only choice at Athens Airport is to head towards the only hotel at the airport: the Sofitel Athens Airport.

Boarding call

I had a quick snack at the lounge of rice and meatballs, which was tasty. The meatballs were well seasoned in some kind of cinnamon sauce. As I would soon be flying on Saudia – a dry airline – I also had one or two glasses of wine before going alcohol-free for the next couple of hours.



A nice feature of the Goldair Handing Lounge is that boarding announcements are made by the lounge employees, who walk through the entire room and inquire if some of the persons are on the announced flight. As I wanted to be on board of my Saudi flight among the first in order to snap some good pictures, I however left the lounge already a bit before the announced boarding time.

For the full Goldair Lounge Review and for a few more pictures thrown in, you can read the article on my website (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest):

Next chapter: Saudia's lie-flat business class on the Airbus A320 to Jeddah
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Old Jun 23, 20, 10:34 am
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Chapter 3: Saudia Business Class Athens to Jeddah (Airbus A320-200)

After spending some time in the Goldair Handling Lounge, I arrived at the gate some ten minutes before the announced boarding time. A small crowd had already gathered at the gate, although fortunately most people were just hanging around and chatting a bit with fellow travellers instead of unnecessarily queuing in a line well before boarding even starts.

There seemed to be quite a jovial atmosphere among a small group of European-looking passengers who stood out among the mostly Arab and Asian passengers. I chimed in as well in the conversation when I overheard them talking about the great Saudia business class deal. It turned out that two of them (a British and a Czech) booked exactly the same deal as I did and would also fly Athens-Jeddah-Kuala Lumpur just like me. The Czech guy was even a fellow FlyerTalk member, which was pretty cool.



Boarding began right on time with business class passengers and Sky Team elites being called forward first. I was the second person to board the flight. Even though I had flown Saudia a few times before in business class, I was excited to see how much the on-board product has changed as I heard that the airline has introduced some enhancements when it comes to food, drinks and service since the last time I flown them.

Athens (ATH) to Jeddah (JED) on Aegean Airlines
Flight SV192 – Airbus A320-200 – Business class, seat 1A
Departure: 3.15pm – Arrival: 7.40pm
Flight time: 3h25m – Distance: 1,441 miles
Costs: 350 EUR for ATH-JED-KUL


Saudia Airbus A320-200

Saudia currently has two different configurations of their Airbus A320s, of which they have 46 in total. The planes with the old interior have 12 leather recliner seats in business class, while the updated cabins have 20 lie-flat business class seats. A quick look at the seat map will show you whether a newly configured aeroplane or an older one is scheduled to operate your flight.

The airline is working hard to configure more airplanes to the new cabin interior – which in the future will be used on all mid-haul flights to Europe which are not operated by widebody planes (such as Madrid which currently has the Boeing 787 operating the flights). I have flown the non-reconfigured A320s with recliner seats before and thought they were comfortable enough for a short daytime flight, although needless to say these lie-flat A320s constitute a huge improvement of the hard product.

Saudia business class seat

When I first set foot on the plane I was warmly greeted by the flight attendants. The first thing you note on the reconfigured Airbus A320 is just how big the business class cabin is. It is certainly twice as big as the old cabin with recliner seats, which is no big surprise as these lie-flat seats do take up more space.

As there are five rows of business class in a 2-2 configuration, it makes for a very premium-heavy flight as in economy class there is only space for 110 seats. In comparison, most low-cost airlines such as Wizz Air and Air Asia have around 180 seats in their Airbus A320s.

The plane interior looked modern and clean with its soft colours of brown, beige and white. I had assigned myself the bulkhead seat of 1A as the seats in the first row have a larger footwell than the rows behind as those are slightly restricted by the seat in front of you.







Amenities

Each business class seat had a pillow and a blanket placed on it. Headphones could be found in a case which was placed on a storage shelf on the top side of the seat, where also one of the two plug sockets and USB charging ports are located. The headphones itself are of decent enough quality. Also the menu card was already placed here.

Unfortunately, Saudia no longer hands out amenity kits on short and mid-haul flights in business class.





Seat controls

A control panel at the side of your seat allows you to move every part of the seat. It is very straightforward to adjust the recline, the footrest, or to put your seat fully flat and up again.

The seats in business class have a big, high-resolution entertainment screen. It is easiest to operate the in-flight entertainment by simply tapping on the touchscreen, although you can also use the controller found in the side of your seat, which is handy when you have put the seat in full flat mode and cannot reach the big screen easily.

I found the film and series selection of the Saudia in-flight entertainment system to be decent enough. It was by no means exhaustive such as airlines like Emirates have, but it wasn’t bad either. There seemed to be a good mix between classic movies, new released and episodes of popular TV series.



Menu

The menu card for the flight was already placed above each seat (next to the headphones case) upon boarding. Although as a dry airline Saudia does not serve any alcohol, there are a good number op non-alcoholic options.

I was pleased to see that Saudia diversified it’s beverage options, as compared to my previous flight on the airline there were now numerous special teas and mocktails listed.
Cabin crew

Saudia traditionally has an all-female cabin crew hailing mostly from Asian countries, who are led by a male Saudi Arabian senior purser. I always found the Saudia crews a mixed bag, with most of the female flight attendants just going through the motions and the male pursers being downright lazy and even rude at times.

I was however in for a great surprise as the enhancements of the Saudia business class product were not only visible in the seat, but also in the crew. The crew was just absolutely fantastic on this flight – and perhaps no-one more than the male Arab purser. He and one of his female colleagues both stopped by my seat before take-off to introduce themselves and to thank me for choosing Saudia.

They told me that if at any time during the flight I need something, I should not hesitate to ask them. Indeed, they would also inquire multiple times throughout the flight if I perhaps wanted a refill or if they could do anything else for me.

Pre-departure service

Just moments after I sat down in my seat, a flight attendant handed out a warm refreshment towel and offered a welcome drink of choice. I went for the non-alcoholic Bellini, which tasted excellent.

Shortly before departure, the crew also distributed dates and Arabic coffee in small cups, which is a tradition among most Arab airlines in business class. That Saudia has been working on improving its in-flight product could even be seen here, as I was presented with a choice of different varieties of dates.





Prayer

Before departure Saudia traditionally plays a short prayer on the in-flight entertainment screens. It is an old prayer which the prophet Muhammad used to say before embarking on one of his journeys on the Arab Peninsula, wishing for a smooth and fast journey without any ill outcome for his or his family’s health.





Takeoff

After a short distance taxiing on the apron of Athens Airport, we lined up on one of the airport’s two runways for takeoff. Views upon takeoff were magnificent. Just like the beautiful views on landing in Athens on my previous flight, there were again gorgeous views over the Attica coastline.







In-flight service

Around 30 to 40 minutes after takeoff while flying over the Mediterranean island of Crete did the crew commence with meal service. Already before departure did they inquire what our preferred choice of meal was – so as soon as the fasten seat-belts sign went off they could jump right into action.

First a table cloth was placed on my tray table, after which a flight attendant placed an individual bread basket on it. Then the starters were distributed. I had chosen the Arab set, which had a selection of Arab mezze (hummus, moutabal and labneh) as starters. To drink I opted for the San Pellegrino sparkling water.

The starter was decent enough. I had better mezzes before on Saudia, although it wasn’t bad at all.


Dinner service started while flying above Crete. Note the snowcapped mountains – not many people know that you can find snow on Crete in winter!



Meal

My main, the hamour sayadiya (a baked fish) with basmati rice was excellent. The fish was tender and fresh and the spices made sure it had lots of flavours.

As dessert I selected the apple and blackberry tartlet and a praline eclair, accompanied with a cup of peppermint leaf tea. I’d wish that especially the tartlet was a bit bigger in size – as it was absolutely delicious.

Overall, I was very satisfied with the entire meal service and quality of the food. All the dishes were beautifully presented and drink refills were proactively offered. Besides, the meal was concluded within one-and-a-half-hours after departure. It didn’t take forever but also didn’t feel rushed – which is exactly the way I like it on a day flight.





Lie-flat seat

After the meal service I played a bit with my seat to check how the quality is in full flat-bed mode. The seat buttons are extremely easy to use and you have put the seat completely flat in under half a minute.

In the fully flat position, there is not much shoulder room – I found the only comfortable way to lie down was to move on my side as sleeping on my back or stomach did not leave for much space around your shoulders.

That said, I can imagine getting a decent enough sleep in these seats. The overall quality is certainly good. And given that we are talking here about seats on a plane operating short to mid-haul journeys you can only conclude that it is about the best product imaginable on a narrow-body plane like the Airbus A320.



Entering Arab airspace

One aspect which I absolutely loved about this flight were the great views. After crossing the Med we entered Egyptian airspace. There were some beautiful desert views – with nothing to see but emptiness and sand save for the odd escarpment.





WiFi

Saudia uses OnAir WiFi, which I think overall is not one of the best quality satellite internet providers. That said, on this flight it seemed to worked decently enough, although there were a few coverage gaps (most notably over the Egyptian desert) when there was no signal at all.

Each passenger on the flight was given a few megabytes of data (if I remember correctly – 15mb) for free which could be used only for messaging apps. That said, this also worked to browse the internet. I easily managed to load a few internet pages and to sent some messages over WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Additional data packages – including a full-flight plan – were also available for purchase and were decently priced. As I had some offline work to do on my laptop, I did however not bother trying any of these out.

The only thing which puzzled me is that normally, Saudia business class passengers get a voucher code by email which they can use for a certain amount of megabyte in additional data. For whatever reason, I did however not receive any such email before departure. Also the crew was oblivious about it.



River Nile

While I tried to get some work done I ordered a coffee – which tasted fairly good. It was nicely served with a few chocolates and even another refreshment towel.

After a while I decided to ditch my laptop and just enjoy the views from the window. We were currently flying over the River Nile, which I think is one of the more amazing sights you can see from the plane window. I just love the contrast between the fertile lands on each side of the river and the desert which immediately begins afterwards. What a stunning view – especially so at sunset with some stormy clouds closing in!













Toilet

There is one lavatory in the front of the cabin which is exclusively for the use of business class passengers. Although the toilet is the same size and model as you can find in any other Airbus A320 – it was stocked with some nice quality toiletries and even featured a small flower to give it a bit of the business class touch.

The crew made sure that the toilet was kept immaculately clean during the entire flight, basically checking the toilet after each passenger used it to see if it might need some cleaning.



Arrival

Even though our arrival into Jeddah was less than one hour away, the crew had no problem serving out another coffee refill, which was this time served with some shortbread.

Some 40 minutes before landing the crew even passed by each seat offering each business class passenger a glass of juice before arrival. I selected a glass of orange juice, which tasted good.

I always like arriving at airports in Saudia Arabia (be it Jeddah – or even better Riyadh) by night as the city lights and the mostly rectangular street grid just looks impressive from the air. Unfortunately, my phone camera was nowhere near good enough to capture this in darkness.

We landed spot on time in Jeddah and after a short taxi time we arrived at our gate of Jeddah’s new airport terminal.







For the full Saudia Airbus A320 review and for a few more pictures thrown in, you can read the entire article on my website (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest).

Next chapter: Transiting from Jeddah's gleaming new terminal to the old terminal and a visit to the Alfursan Lounge
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Old Jun 24, 20, 6:24 am
  #5  
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Chapter 4: Transiting Jeddah Airport and the Saudia Alfursan Lounge

After the excellent flight on the Saudia I arrived at Jeddah International Airport. It marked my second visit to this major Saudi Arabian airport – and a lot has changed since my last visit a year prior.Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, as it is fully called, is working hard on the completion of a new terminal which is simply called Terminal 1. Once fully finished, this terminal will replace the ageing North and South terminal currently in use.

The South Terminal is exclusively used by Saudia and some second-tier Saudi carriers, while the unconnected North Terminal at the other side of the airport is used by all other foreign airlines.

A first glimpse

Some foreign airlines and a handful of Saudia flights have currently already shifted to the new Terminal 1. This includes Saudia flights to and from Athens, from where I had just arrived. As my onward flight to Kuala Lumpur was however still departing from the South Terminal, I had to somehow change terminals.

After I disembarked the airplane using a jet bridge it was a long trek towards arrivals, where I was told that just before Saudi immigration there would be a separate pathway towards the transfer area for international connections.

My first impressions of the new airport were positive. It seemed to be spacious, modern and bright, although it was clearly still under construction and far from completely finished.




Security check

At the transfer area there was a single baggage screening point and X-ray machine you have to pass through before being led again into the main departure hall. Note that you are forbidden to carry products forbidden under Saudi law in your hand baggage such as alcohol, pornography and pork products. This even counts for transit passengers who buy such products in an airport duty free shop and are solely changing flights.

If you plan to bring along a bottle or wine or anything similar and are transiting through a Saudi airport – make sure that you place the product in your checked luggage and not in your carry-on.

Terminal change

As there were no queues at the security checkpoint I was through in half a minute. Unfortunately, I was denied access to the new Saudia lounge in Terminal 1 as the receptionist said that I could only access the lounge in the South Terminal as my flight was departing from there and there are only a limited number of inter-terminal transit buses.

She told me I had to make my way to gate A30c – a bus gate on the lower level of the new terminal which is currently exclusively used by Saudia to transfer transit passengers to the old South Terminal.




Long wait at A30c

There were no Saudia employees to be seen at gate A30c, so I inquired with some staffers standing at a nearby gate if this was indeed the location for the transit bus to the south terminal. After checking the boarding pass of my onward flight to Kuala Lumpur they indeed confirmed that I was standing at the right place.

When I inquired when the transit bus would come they gave the typical answer “soon”. Knowing the Arab world and its “Inshallah” mentality (which means “God Willing/if God wills” – a phrase which can be used in a wide variety of circumstances) I knew I was in for a fairly long wait.

Fortunately a small crowd of fellow passengers slowly formed. It turned out that there were a bunch of other Western travellers heading to Kuala Lumpur who came of the same Athens flight as me, all of us having found the same great business class flight deal. The time went by fairly fast discussing Saudi Arabia, Kuala Lumpur and our previous travel adventures. Before I knew it an airport bus stopped at gate A30c to bring us to the South Terminal.

South Terminal

For those who have never been to Jeddah’s South Terminal before: it is a hellhole. I’m not exaggerating. The average airport in a Third World country in Africa gives a far better experience than this old, overcrowded terminal. The terminal consists out of one duty free shop, two or three cafes and just five bus gates.

As Jeddah Airport is a major hub for Saudia with flights departing to four continents, it means that the small terminal hall is way beyond its original capacity. The few benches are all occupied by a few lucky passengers, which means that everyone else has to stand or sit on the ground.

This is seriously not an airport I would like to transit through if I was an economy class passenger without lounge access. Especially not if you have an overnight layover – which is not uncommon the way how Saudia structures its timetables with many late night departures. Fortunately, the new terminal will vastly improve the situation – but as long as this is not fully functional there are still lots of flights using the old South Terminal. Be warned!






South Terminal business class lounge

The Saudia Alfursan business class lounge is weirdly located almost within the duty free shop of the terminal. If you have a business class ticket on Saudia, or hold Sky Team Elite Plus status as an economy passenger, you have access to this lounge.

Note that this is the only lounge in the South Terminal and that it does not accept lounge membership programmes such as Priority Pass. According to the Saudia website, other passengers can however buy access into the lounge for 126 SAR (31 EUR). If you ask me, that is a no-brainer given how dire the South Terminal is.



The Alfursan lounge

To set expectations straight right from the start: the Alfursan lounge is nothing particularly special, but it is so much better than waiting in the overcrowded terminal. Compared to the sheer squalor of the gate area, the Alfursan lounge is an oasis of tranquility and quietness.

The lounge has roughly a square shape and is centred around a large buffet area in the middle. Around the buffet there are dozens of dining tables, seats and sofas.

The Alfursan lounge has some weird purple mood lighting as well as some large windows overlooking the airport. It being night, there was unfortunately nothing to be seen outside. As I never visited this lounge during daylight hours I therefore don’t know if during the day there are some good planespotting opportunities over the tarmac or whether the views are only towards some other airport buildings.




The buffet

On both of my visits to the Alfursan lounge I thought that the quality of the buffet is actually quite good. There are always a few hot dishes available, as well as multiple sandwiches, snacks and desserts. It is certainly a lot better than your average lounge in Europe.

The drinks selection is decent enough. The coffee machines make a decent brew to keep you awake at night, you can get a glass of fresh juice from large canisters, and the open fridges are well stocked with soft drinks.

It being Saudi Arabia, you can of course also get some Arabic coffee and dates. Unfortunately, being a dry country also means that no alcohol is served in the lounge. Don’t be mistaken by the cans of Budweiser next to the sodas! This is the undrinkable non-alcoholic version of Bud – something you should stay well clear of (not that the normal Bud beer is any good, but that’s an entirely different discussion).














Top tip: don't drink non-alcoholic Bud

Lounge WiFi

The WiFi in the lounge worked like a charm during my stay in the lounge. Unfortunately, not all seats in the lounge have power sockets nearby, so charging your electronic devices might be a bit of a challenge if the lounge is near capacity during peak hours.

Toilets

Even though the lounge itself is quite clean and modern, the same cannot be said of the toilets. The men’s room existed of a single toilet and two urinals – which is nowhere near enough of a lounge this size, meaning that queues are common. There is supposedly a single shower cubicle as well – although I did not test this out myself.

Although there is a toilet attendant who cleans the toilet after each usage, the floor of the entire toilet area is soaking wet. This is partly due to the fact that Arabs prefer using a bidet sprayer to clean themselves instead of using toilet paper, but also due to Muslim passengers using the wash basin to clean their feet.


Wudu

I understand and respect that followers of Islam need to clean themselves before prayer time. This is a purification ritual called Wudu, requiring Muslims to wash their faces, hands, arms, and feet before they start to pray.

You would however expect that a country like Saudi Arabia would have a specific prayer area for Muslims where they can do this! I would certainly not expect them to be forced to use the single sink in the toilet area. It is beyond me that the airport authorities did not take this into account when constructing the South Terminal, especially considering that so many Muslim pilgrims use Jeddah Airport each year on Hajj or Umrah to visit nearby Mecca!

I hope the situation in the new terminal will be much better, not only for Muslim passengers to have a proper place to clean themselves before prayers, but also for all other passengers to enjoy a bathroom which is not splashed all over the place with water.

People watching

Even though the toilets are a subpar experience, the Alfursan lounge is however a good place for people watching. As the airport operates flights to destinations on four continents (North America, Europe, Africa, Asia) it brings together people of different cultures.

On both my visits to the lounge I ended up having interesting talks with other passengers hailing from places as diverse as Pakistan, Britain and the United States. Given the fact that there are so many passengers who have long overnight layovers, people tend to either kill the time by trying to get some sleep or finding a conversation partner.

Not a dead body, but a man sleeping... I think!

For the full Saudia Alfursan Lounge review and for a few more pictures thrown in, you can read the entire article on my website (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest).

Next chapter: An excellent flight on the Saudia Boeing 787-10 to Kuala Lumpur
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Old Jun 24, 20, 8:43 am
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Very entertaining TR so far. Thanks!
zip10001 is offline  
Old Jun 25, 20, 5:35 am
  #7  
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Originally Posted by zip10001 View Post
Very entertaining TR so far. Thanks!
Thanks for reading zip10001! The best is however yet to come! Will post more chapters shortly.
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Romanianflyer is offline  
Old Jun 25, 20, 5:51 am
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Chapter 5: Saudia Business Class Jeddah to Kuala Lumpur (Boeing 787-10)

After an excellent first flight on the Saudia Airbus A320 with all-lie flat business class seats and a downright poor ground service at the horrible South Terminal of Jeddah Airport I was curious how the final part of my Saudia flight itinerary would play out.Jeddah’s South Terminal only has five bus gates, which means that there is not any priority boarding. After scanning your boarding pass you are led a floor down by escalator, lift or stairs into a holding pen, from where you are brought by bus to the aeroplane.





Jeddah (JED) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) on Saudia
Flight SV834 – Boeing 787-10 – Business class, seat 1L
Departure: 1.45am – Arrival: 3pm
Flight time: 8h15m – Distance: 4,394 miles
Costs: 350 EUR for ATH-JED-KUL




Saudia Boeing 787 cabin

Saudia’s Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner has a total of 357 seats: 24 in business class and 333 in economy class. As I was booked in business class I headed left into the business class cabin upon boarding the plane.

Saudia uses reverse herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 layout, which means that every seat has direct aisle access. Of course, these B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats as they are officially called turn into fully flat beds at the push of a button.

I thought the cabin looked aesthetically beautiful in its understated way using light colours such as white, grey and beige and faux wooden panels next to each seat.





The Saudia Boeing 787 seat

As all seats are positioned away from the aisle it means that you have maximum privacy. There are really no bad seats in this configuration, although when you are travelling alone you should arguably choose a window seat. I would however not opt for a window seat in row 5, as these seats have a misaligned window.

Couples are better off selecting the middle seats, although even as a single traveller you really cannot go wrong with a middle seat as you can raise the divider between the seats after take-off.

At each seat, a blanket and pillow was waiting. On top of the compartment next to each seat you can find a headphone case, small bottle of water and the menu for the flight – all of them being beautifully arranged by the crew.







Taking a closer look at the seat

I had assigned myself seat 1L in the front of the cabin. Even though on paper the seat is located close to a lavatory and the galley in front of the plane which might be reason enough for some people to avoid this seat, I did not find it bothersome at all. The lavatory door is still located a few feet further away down the aisle and I never heard any noises at all from a flushing toilet or the crew working in the galley.

Each seat contains a lot of storage space. The footwell has enough space underneath to store a small bag. On both the left and the right of your seat is a console which you can open to store additional smaller items such as a pair of glasses or your passport and wallet. This way, you can always keep your most needed and valuable possessions close.

Each seat also has some USB outlets as well as a power socket to keep your electronics charged. Although the Saudia Boeing 787 is equipped with satellite internet, it was not functioning at all (or simply switched off the entire time?) during this flight.



TV screen and tray table

One aspect which you immediately notice when looking at the Saudia 787 business class seat is the large TV screen in front of you. The TV is in a fixed position, with the roll-out tray table located underneath it. This has the additional advantage that you can move the tray table back and forth when seated, meaning that you can easily get out of your seat even during meal time.

Seat controls

The in-flight entertainment system can be used by tapping the touch screen or by using the remote controller located in each seat.

At each seat you will also find the controller to adjust all aspects of your seat. With a single push of the button you can put your seat in fully flat mode. Of course, you can also adjust your seat recline and footrest manually to whatever position you prefer.



IFE

The in-flight entertainment selection was seemingly the same as on my previous Saudia flight on the Airbus A320. The selection of films and series is quite good. It is by no means as exhaustive such as airlines like Emirates have, but it wasn’t bad either.

There seemed to be a good mix between classic movies, new released and episodes of popular TV series. Just take into account that according to the country’s Islamic principles, some scenes might be edited out of movies (think about romantic kisses, sex, overt homosexuality etc).

The Saudia headphones are decent enough quality, although by no means as good as full sound-cancelling Bose headphones.





Amenity kit

Just a few seconds after I sat down in my seat the flight attendant serving my aisle passed by to formally introduce herself and to welcome me on board. This was followed by the male senior purser and the on-board chef doing the exact same.

The on-board chef told me that I could order anything from the menu anytime I wanted as the airline shifted to a dine-on-demand concept in business class instead of opting for fixed meal times.

The female flight attendant serving my aisle passed by again some minutes later to hand out amenity kits. The Saudia amenity kit was made by Missoni and actually rather swish. The leather pouch contained Grown Alchemist toiletries and all other essentials like an eye mask which you might need during the flight. It also contained a pair of socks.





Pre-departure beverage service

Just like on my previous Saudia flight, the flight attendant asked me whether I wanted any pre-departure beverage, allowing me to pick any drink from the menu. I opted for a refreshing glass of lemonade.

Soon before we departed towards the runway the crew came by again for the traditional Arabic coffee and dates, which is a welcome tradition on board many Arab airlines in business class. There was even the choice out of several different types of dates.







Pre-departure prayer

While we were slowly taxiing towards the runway a brief and basic safety video was played on the screen. This was followed by a traditional prayer which is broadcast by Saudia before take-off.

This is an old prayer which the prophet Muhammad used to say before embarking on one of his journeys, wishing for a smooth and fast journey without any ill outcome to his or his family’s health.



Take-off

The Boeing 787 took off on time from Jeddah Airport. Although I don’t think it is as quiet as the Airbus A350, the Boeing 787 is surely a lot more silent than older generation planes such as the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 – which clearly increases the comfort on board.

The business cabin was completely full for today’s flight to Kuala Lumpur – and most people seemingly went straight to sleep as soon as the fasten seatbelts sign went off.

Dine on demand

For review purposes (alright, and because I love food) I decided against sleeping immediately and took up the offer of the on-board chef that I could order food any time I wanted during the flight.

Saudia has tweaked its on-board food and beverage service in business class to a full dine on demand product. This is most notable on flights with a red-eye departure time such as this 2am flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Menu

Prior to Saudia overhauling its on-board soft product it was not uncommon for the airline to have a full meal service straight after departure on flights departing late at night. Needless to say, this can be bothersome for people who have already dined and wish to go straight to sleep – which is not surprising given the time.

The new dine on demand menu on flights like this has therefore listed breakfast as the main meal of the flight – and some ‘light dining’ options for those who still might want a snack after departure or mid-flight. That said, even though some courses are listed under ‘light dining’ does not mean that portions are necessarily small!



Food

I decided to order both the beef noodle soup and the lamb biryani after take-off when the flight attendant passed by. Moments later the amazingly friendly on-board chef (who seemed to hail from Indonesia based on his looks and name) returned to confirm my order and to inform me that it would take approximately 20 minutes to prepare the food as the ovens needed to heat up first.

He inquired if I perhaps wanted an aperitif and the ‘drinks tapas’ listed on the menu while waiting for the food to be ready. I accepted his offer and ordered the mojito mocktail, which was served with a ramekin of pecan and macadamia nuts and a bowl of pickled beetroot with feta.

The snacks were great – the mojito mocktail tasted unfortunately rather chemical and somewhat off. The Bellini mocktail which I enjoyed on my previous Saudia flight clearly is the better choice!



Late night dinner

Soon after I finished the tapas the chef arrived back at my seat with the beef noodle soup, which tasted fairly good. The lamb biryani which followed after was much better – and is easily one of the best dishes I ever ate on a plane. It was full of flavour, the meat was tender and it packed exactly the right amount of spice.




Aragorn approves of the food as well

Time to sleep

To finish the meal, I asked the pro-active flight attendant serving my aisle for a cup of ‘Moroccan Nights’ tea, which was presented with some shortbread. While sipping my tea I watched the remainder of ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’.

It was tempting to watch the entire trilogy on my TV screen during the flight to Kuala Lumpur, but I wisely decided it was better to get some shut-eye.



Breakfast

I managed to get a solid three-and-a-half hours of sleep before I woke up again. Checking the route map I saw that there were only two hours left to go until we reached Kuala Lumpur. I therefore decided that it was perhaps better to fully wake up.

I quickly refreshed myself in the toilet and when I came back to my seat, the flight attendant immediately walked up to me to ask whether I wanted to have breakfast and a drink. I ordered a glass of fresh orange juice and the Arabic breakfast set, which came with a first course of hummus, moutabal, labneh and kibbeh.

The starter was beautifully presented, with proper table cloths being put on your tray table. I was also given my own little bread basket which was well-stocked with several types of bread.



A slight mistake

For my second course, I asked for the shakshouka – which is one of all-time favourite breakfast dishes. Unfortunately, the crew made some sort of a mistake as they came back with a portion of scrambled eggs.

When I asked them about my shakshouka – the chef apologised and took the plate back to the galley, only to return moments later with the same plate with some sausages added extra to the dish! As it seemed it was probably all a big misunderstanding between the crew and me (perhaps not helped by the fact that although their English was certainly good – it was certainly not fluent) I decided not to push it and to keep my scrambled eggs.

It was probably a good choice as the dish was excellent. The second course also contained some smoked salmon and a side dish of fresh forest fruits. There are certainly worse moments in life than eating such a breakfast while admiring the views out of the big windows of the Boeing 787!


A breakfast worthy of the hobbitses

Service

I have to say that despite the small mistake with the breakfast service I thought the service on board was flawless. Just like on my previous flight, the service was genuinely friendly. All flight attendants, as well as the purser and on-board chef, were extremely welcoming and pro-active.

It clearly shows that Saudia has not only managed to tweak its soft product when it comes to food and beverages, but also when it comes to the training of the crew. Although it is not on the same world class level of professionalism as let’s say Singapore Airlines crews, I thought they really were excellent.

Coffee

To finish my breakfast I ordered another espresso, which was beautifully presented on a tray next to a glass of water. Saudia nowadays serves proper coffee made by Illy on board its flight – and the espresso and cappuccino are as good as you can get on the ground.



Landing in Kuala Lumpur

Before I knew it the captain announced that we were about to descend into Kuala Lumpur, after which the crew slowly prepared the cabin for landing.

The large windows on the Boeing 787 make for some excellent views down the plane window over the lush Malaysian rain forests. After a slow and steady descent we touched town safely at Kuala Lumpur International Airport just before our scheduled arrival time.

After a short while taxiing we parked at our gate at Satellite Terminal A of ‘KLIA’ – the acronym the Malaysians tend to use when referring to their main airport.









For the full Saudia Boeing 787 review and for a few more pictures thrown in, you can read the entire article on my website (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest).

Next up: A Kuala Lumpur stopover and a lot of street food
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Romanianflyer is offline  
Old Jun 26, 20, 2:52 am
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hate to disallusion you but BKK to Tokyo is not 3 1/2 hours, its more like 6.5
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Old Jun 26, 20, 12:39 pm
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Originally Posted by BRITINJAPAN4 View Post
hate to disallusion you but BKK to Tokyo is not 3 1/2 hours, its more like 6.5
Thanks for pointing out, and indeed - it is a quite obvious error! I'm not entirely sure how that slipped into my write-up, to be honest!

All I can remember was comparing BKK-TYO flights through the Air France website using Flying Blue miles, and the option through CGK sounding more appealing as 1) I got an extra flight and 2) the overnight 787 JAL flight was longer; although somehow I must have written it down wrong.
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Old Jun 28, 20, 9:36 am
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Chapter 6: CitizenM Hotel Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur

After my great flight in Saudia’s business class I arrived fully rested at Kuala Lumpur Airport despite the long journey of three flights it took me to get to South-East Asia.

There were some big queues at passport control but fortunately Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) has separate immigration queues for business class passengers which only had one person waiting in line.

Getting to the hotel

To get from KLIA to Kuala Lumpur’s city centre you can the airport train, bus or a taxi. As taking the train or bus would still not get me directly to my hotel and required at least another change of public transport, I opted for the taxi to cover the 33 miles from the airport to the citizenM hotel.

There are several sorts of taxis which you can take at KLIA. I opted for the pre-paid airport taxis as it gives most peace of mind as you do not need to worry of drivers trying to overcharge you or rigging the meter.

As KLIA is located 35 miles out of the city centre of Kuala Lumpur, it takes at least an hour to reach downtown KL, even at times when the traffic is light.

Hilariously, my taxi driver was initially unable to find the hotel despite it being located on a major thoroughfare as he never heard of the name ‘citizenM’ before. Only when we finally found the hotel and saw the hotel name sign did he say in true South Park ‘shitty wok’ style: “Ah you meant the shittyzenM!”

It was hard to contain my laughter.

Selecting a KL hotel

For my one-night stay in Kuala Lumpur I had opted for the citizenM hotel (which is written with a lowercase c according to the hotel’s own style guide) as it ticket off all the boxes on paper.Even though hotels in KL are generally well-priced, I managed to snag a great rate of 197.32 MYR (44 EUR) for a king room including breakfast. Given that the hotel is centrally located in one of the best areas of the city and had great online ratings, it seemed like a good choice.

CitizenM

For those who are unfamiliar with citizenM: it is a chain based in the Netherlands which brands itself as “offering an affordable luxury lifestyle” to “a new generation of modern travellers”. The target audience is clearly millennials and young professionals, to whom the hotel chain offers open work spaces in the lobby.

Currently there are 20 citizenM hotels around the world. The citizenM in Kuala Lumpur was only opened in 2019 and still felt rather new when I arrived.

Check-in

My first impressions of the hotel were great looking at the beautifully decorated lobby with its high ceilings. Yet I could already notice during check-in that citizenM is not like your average hotel. There isn’t even a reception desk as to speak of!

Rather, there is a high top table on which some tablets are placed for self check-in. First you need to fill in your own personal details into the system and scan your passport, although there are hotel employees around to help you with the entire process. Once done, you need to pay for your stay by putting your bank card in a payment terminal in case your room is not prepaid.

When this is all done, you can grab an empty hotel key card which you need to hold against a card reader to load your room details onto it. You can then proceed with your hotel key card to your room.





Reception staff

This might perhaps all sounds rather complicated (some steps were for me!) but fortunately I found the reception staff to be wonderful. They pro-actively came over to welcome me to the hotel, asking if this is was my first time staying at a citizenM hotel.

When I confirmed that this was indeed the case, the receptionist couldn’t have been more helpful in guiding me through every step of the self check-in system. He also told that if I have any requests or questions during my stay, I could always ask them.

At later points the reception staff indeed proved to be helpful when asked about Kuala Lumpur’s public transport and some general restaurant tips.

Room

I had booked a king room with double bed for my night’s stay. Upon check-in I could decide whether I wanted a room facing the big avenue in front of the hotel or one towards the courtyard in the back. I chose the former.

My room was located on one of the upper floors of the hotel, which can be accessed by both lift and staircase. The corridors and public spaces of the hotel all looked fresh and seemed to be taken well-care of.



Quirky

Just like you would expect from the chain, the rooms at the citizenM aren’t the typical ones you would expect to see at a Hilton or other business hotel. If one word describes the room decor best it is probably ‘quirky’. Whatever your own style preferences are, you for sure cannot call the room design boring!

Upon entering the room the first thing you note is the wash basin, which is not placed within the bathroom but rather inside the room itself. To the left is a door to the actual bathroom, which has a separate shower cubicle.





Bed

The king room had a large, high double bed which was placed against a big window overlooking the street. Another unusual design feature is that the length of the bed is exactly the same as the the room, meaning that you need to climb on the mattress and to crouch towards the window in order to look outside.

There were plenty of sockets next to the bed, as well as a small desk with chair. At the foot-end of the bed a flatscreen TV was placed against the wall. A cute cuddly toy was placed on the bed as well, which I thought was a nice touch.

I though that the mattress and bedding were of excellent quality and I had a great night of sleep. Even though my room faced the main street, there was no noise pollution.






View from the room

Room controls

One thing to note is that everything in the room is controlled by tablet. Whether it is the TV, the window shades or rollers, the air-con and even some of the lights. It is all part of the citizenM brand of wanting to be a modern hotel for youngsters.

Although the controls were easy to operate, your granny might certainly struggle with it and wish she’d booked a more old-fashioned hotel!

Room amenities

Each room contains a fridge as well as some basic amenities and toiletries which you would expect in a chain hotel.

Toiletries are all in dispensers as part of a drive of the hotel to be eco-friendly (which is admirable). There are however some packaged kits next to the sink such as a dental kit in case you forgot your toothbrush at home.

The packaging is also definitely quirky. Some of these packs contained some cliché motivational slogans, while others such as the hairdryer had outright funny texts printed on them.



CitizenM breakfast

Breakfast is served each morning in an open area next to the lobby. Even though the breakfast spread was by no means extensive, the quantity was certainly not bad. More importantly, the overall quality of all produce was rather good.

Both Western as well as Asian breakfast favourites were available. There is freshly made bread, croissants and pastries, cold cuts, scrambled eggs, sausages, fried potatoes, steamed buns and congee among others.

Fresh juices are available as well. You can order coffee or tea from the lobby bar – which is a nice touch as a proper espresso or cappuccino surely beats a pot of pour-yourself-coffee. Overall, I was certainly satisfied with the breakfast.











Public spaces

An interesting detail about the citizenM hotel is that the public spaces of the hotel are fully utilised. As I already wrote before, the chain is trying to attract a young public with one of the target groups being young professionals. The hotel actually encourages people to work from the open spaces in the lobby.

On my second day in KL I spent the late afternoon doing a bit of work on my laptop from the hotel lobby and can only conclude that the concept indeed works well. There are sockets everywhere, a wide array of seating options ranging from high top work tables to comfy sofas and there is a well-stocked bar.

Overall, I think the public spaces in the hotel are beautifully decorated, making it a nice place to actually spend some time in.







Culture

Another interesting detail about the citizenM hotels is that they try to bring their guests closer to the local culture by holding regular cultural events.

During the afternoon, a performance group did a traditional Chinese dragon dance on the occasion of Chinese New Year (KL has a large ethnic Chinese population). It was good fun to watch, although perhaps newly arriving guests might not be as appreciative as the dance groups and onlookers completely took over the entire lobby for half an hour.



Hotel location

The citizenM hotel has an admirable location on one of the main streets of the lively Bukit Bintang neighbourhood. The area is known for its many restaurants, hawker stalls and huge shopping malls and is clearly one of the better areas of town.

Just five minutes away is the night market of Jalan Alor, which is basically a huge open-air food court of restaurants and food stalls and a must-visit on any KL itinerary.

China Town and the Petaling street market is just a ten minute walk away while also the historic sights around Dataran Merdeka square are within walking distance. Only the modern high-rise area of KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre, known for the Petronas Towers) is a bit further away (45 minutes walking or a short public transport ride).

Bukit Bintang is well-connected by public transport, including the monorail, underground and suburban railway lines.

There are also many chain hotels to be found in the KLCC area, although personally I would definitely prefer to stay in Bukit Bintang as it is much more lively and closer to about all of the main KL sights except for the Petronas Towers.





For the full CitizenM hotel review and for a few more pictures thrown in, you can read the entire article on my website (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest).

Next up: Exploring Kuala Lumpur for a day and visiting the Batu Caves
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Old Jun 30, 20, 10:45 am
  #12  
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Chapter 7: Exploring Kuala Lumpur

I had visited Kuala Lumpur (affectionately abbreviated as KL by the locals) before on a backpacking trip with friends some seven years ago – and I was excited to revisit the city again.I basically had a full day to explore KL as I had the late afternoon and evening on my arrival day, as well as the entire morning and afternoon the day after.

Hot and humid

The first thing you will notice when arriving in Kuala Lumpur is the humidity. The city is basically located in the middle of a rainforest and is noteworthy of having consistently high temperatures throughout the year.

Another consistent factor in KL is the precipitation – there is just always a chance of rain. September to the end of March are most noteworthy for their rains. June, July and August are the driest months, relatively speaking, although given the humid climate even in those months the rainfall exceeds on average 140 mm (5.5 inch) a month.





Colonial Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia used to be a sort-of British protectorate (some parts even a formal colony) and it is no surprise that you can still see the British influences on the streets.

By that I do not only mean the fact that the Malays drive on the left side of the road, but also the many colonial-era buildings. There is no better area to see this than the area known as the Padang – which is by far the best spot to start your sightseeing day of Kuala Lumpur

Padang

Officially named Merdaka Square (Independence Square), the Padang – which in Malaysian means field – is basically a large grass lawn in the heart of the colonial district of Kuala Lumpur. In the days of British rule, this large grass field was used as a cricket ground by the Selangor Club, which Tudor Revival-style timber building can still be admired at one side of the green.

It was here that the Union Jack was lowered and the Malaysian flag raised for the first time when the country gained its independence in 1957. The large green field is still home to the annual independence parade on 31st August and to many other festivals.





Architecture

Besides the Selangor Club and the huge flagpole, there are some more noteworthy sights to see around the square. You will instantly notice the tiny St. Mary’s Cathedral, another major colonial-era sight, close the clubhouse.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building is another famous colonial building on Merdaka Square. It is designed in a neo-Moorish and is currently the office of the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture of Malaysia. There are plenty more Mughal style buildings in the surroundings – some still as busy as always, some near-abandoned. It is well-worth it exploring a bit around the area.









Mosque

Just across a small river you will find the Masjid Jamek, which is Kuala Lumpur’s most elegant mosque. The 1907 mosque is designed in Mughal style by British architect A.B. Hubback (who also designed the neo-Moorish train station of the city).

Islam is the official religion in Malaysia and a majority of Malaysians are Muslims, although the multi-ethnic country also has a significant Buddhist and Hindu population (mostly Chinese and Indian immigrants), as well as a small percentage of Christians.





Central Market

Close to the Padang (and right next to Chinatown) you can find the covered Central Market if you fancy some more souvenir shopping. Also this wider area is nice for a random stroll as you can get a vibe of the old Kuala Lumpur before high-rise construction projects started to dominate the urban landscape.









Bukit Bintang

As the evening was setting in I decided to walk back to my hotel (the CitizenM) in Bukit Bintang. Among other reasons, I opted for this hotel because of its location, as the Bukit Bintang neighbourhood is one of the most happening, safest and best-located districts in the city.

A lot of the main sights are easily accessible on foot, and the district is well-connected by metro, suburban train and monorail. So far I did not even had to take public transport at all, nor had to use taxi or Grab (the preferred rides-hailing app in KL – highly recommended to install before your trip commences as Uber is not available in the city).

My evening destination was also within easy walking distance: the famous Jalan Alor night market.

Jalan Alor

If you only have one night in KL and looking for a place to eat look no further than the Jalan Alor night market. Sure, there are plenty of other interesting food markets, as well as upmarket restaurants, in Kuala Lumpur. But Jalan Alor is an experience on its own – and has some of the best street food you can taste in the entire city. No wonder the market is popular with locals and tourists alike!

The Jalan Alor night market is basically a long street full of hawker stalls and restaurants which put out dozens of chairs and tables on the car-free street. Even if you do not stop here to eat (which is almost impossible!) it makes for some very photogenic scenes and a fun walk.









Food

I settled down at a restaurant called Sai Woo for dinner, but basically any restaurant will do in this area, just follow your nose and eyes and stop at a place which you fancy.

To start, I had a small satay platter, followed by some smoked chicken wings which apparently is a house specialty. To finish the meal, I opted for the mamak mee goreng with chicken (spicy fried noodles) which is another signature dish of the restaurant. Especially the mamak mee goreng was delicious – I’m getting hungry again thinking about the dish!

Note that alcohol – although freely available – is relatively expensive in Malaysia, especially when compared with neighbouring Thailand. I paid roughly the same amount for the above three dishes (5 EUR) as for one pint of beer.











Chinatown

The following morning I woke up relatively early to discover more of Kuala Lumpur. I decided to first focus on Chinatown, a short 15-minute walk away from my hotel in Bukit Bintang.

China Town is basically centred around Petaling Street, also known as the Petaling Street Market. Not as lively as Jalan Alor when it comes to food, Petaling is more of a place to buy cheap souvenirs and to have a nice stroll. That said, the area is much more alive in the afternoon and evening than in the morning hours when I made my visit.







Temples

When you are in Chinatown you should not forget to explore some of the side streets as well. I stumbled upon the lovely Taoist Guan Di Temple which was full of worshippers because of the Chinese New Year.

Kuala Lumpur has large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities. It was therefore not a surprise that directly opposite Guan Di Temple was a Hindu temple (Sri Maha Mariamman Temple). There are many such temples of different faiths scattered around the area.









Indian food

Although I did not have time to visit KL’s Little India proper, I did manage to find a nice place to stop for Indian food. Yusoof Dan Zakhir is a Muslim-Indian restaurant located just outside the Central Market and well worth a stop for a tasty Indian meal.

I had some garlic naan as well as beef massala for lunch – which were both excellent. Even better was the rose-lime juice – which was so refreshing and delicious that I even asked for a second one to take-out. I forgot however that in true Asian tradition, takeaway beverages are often served in a plastic bag with a straw in it.









Petronas Towers

Kuala Lumpur’s most iconic sight is arguably the Petronas Towers. These twin skyscrapers of 88 floors each are located in the area known as the KLCC: Kuala Lumpur City Centre.

The KLCC is not what I would say the real heart of Kuala Lumpur, but rather a focal point of the modern-day city. It is home to many of the city’s luxury hotels, exclusive shops and restaurants and high-rise apartment blocks. The area is easiest to reach by subway (known as the KTM Komuter), although also the monorail has stops nearby.

Even though I find the area a bit sterile (I rather stay in more lively Bukit Bintang) it does make for a fun stroll to admire the skyscrapers and modern architecture. Especially the KLCC Park in the middle of it all has some excellent infrastructure, including some fountains and playground which make it a great location for those who travel with children.







For the full Kuala Lumpur stopover article and for a few more pictures thrown in, you can read the entire article on my website (Disclaimer: This link is to a website to which I contribute/have a financial interest).

Next up: a visit to the Batu Caves
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Old Jun 30, 20, 11:11 am
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I knew something was missing from FT Romanianflyer and it has been your reports. This one is as ever, excellent and it's great to see you posting again. Your website looks like a winner too.
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Old Jun 30, 20, 11:15 am
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Great report so far! Can't wait to read more. I hadn't seen Citizen M hotels before - interesting to hear about your experience.
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Old Jul 1, 20, 7:06 am
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Originally Posted by lhrpete View Post
I knew something was missing from FT Romanianflyer and it has been your reports. This one is as ever, excellent and it's great to see you posting again. Your website looks like a winner too.
Ha that's too much praise, lhrpete! Thanks again for reading, I'll try to post the remaining chapters here in the next few days so I can move on to the next trip report, either my wee little Balkan trip in March just before the corona lockdown, or my upcoming island hopping trip to Greece later this month if all goes according to plan.. plenty of stuff to catch up on!

Originally Posted by dcmike View Post
Great report so far! Can't wait to read more. I hadn't seen Citizen M hotels before - interesting to hear about your experience.
Thanks dcmike - I haven't heard about them before either, but they are seemingly opening up hotels in quite a few cities. Their KL hotel made for a pleasant stay and I would certainly consider returning when I'm again in town.
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