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Sri Lankan (UL) in J on A343- after some ramblings about CMB

Sri Lankan (UL) in J on A343- after some ramblings about CMB

Old Apr 2, 07, 9:23 am
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Sri Lankan (UL) in J on A343- after some ramblings about CMB

SIN-CMB (SQ Y)-some time in Colombo- CMB-SIN (UL J)
Since my current assignment includes coverage of our operations in Sri Lanka, I figured the time had finally come to look into ex-CMB fares to get us back to the west coast of the US. We had been using a mix of NW “B” and “Y” coach fares and miles to upgrade, mostly we had success with that, but we were often having problems making last minute changes. The goal was to find an ex-CMB fare that allowed us to be in business class (so we could easily change dates) and have stopovers both inbound and outbound (so we would be able to hold the last leg of a ticket to fly back to Colombo to pick up a new ticket). After some initial investigation, we found a very reasonable NW fare that booked into C, allowed intra-Asia stopovers and allowed use of UL (Sri Lankan Airlines) to/from Singapore. Overall we are paying about the same amount as we were under the coach+miles upgrade tix, so now we have added convenience (of full C fare) and no need to burn miles. The other kind of "fun" benefit (At least we thought this until the incident at the adjacent military airport the night we left!) is that we figured out how to use the last leg of one ticket and the first leg of the next to get a weekend getaway to Sri Lanka. So this trip was really just about getting to CMB, me working a bit, getting our tickets and then hanging out for part of the weekend.

SQ 468 SIN-CMB in Y- Well, we had to get to CMB to start this process, I had a one way ticket I purchased through my corporate travel agent, and I was able to cash in 20k UA miles to get my wife a ticket on this same flight. UA considers CMB in the SAsia, hence only 20k in Y-- I figured 20k to get there and throw away the return was a perfectly good deal since a one way Y ticket on SQ was over $500. The flight is just a bit over 3 hours, it’s kind of late if you are on Singapore time, leaving at roughly 10:45PM. The plane is not one of SQ’s best, I find the India region gets the older planes (but then again so does Beijing and... actually I'm not as impressed with SQ as are many others, they have their share of pretty crappy J seats). This plane had some pretty uncomfortable seats in economy (ok, maybe it’s that I rarely wind up in coach!) but we got a row of 3 to share. The service, even in economy was really impressive. We didn’t try the food, but we got hot towels and all the drinks we wanted during the 3 hours. The flight lands around midnight CMB time, but it really feels late! The one plus is that once you get through immigration (only took around 15 minutes) you are home free and out of the airport in minutes. We had a driver from the Hilton waiting and were happy to find that the benefit of leaving the airport at 12:30am is that there is almost no traffic to the Hilton. We made it in 30 minutes tops.

The Hilton- Many people have reviewed this place, so I won’t say much except that the common areas trick you into thinking it will be nicer than it is. The hallways when you get out of the elevator (at least on our floor) were very worn and mildew smelling! Our room was pretty worn too, with a rock hard bed. For me, the only really nice thing about the location is that the Hilton is connected the building where my offices are. So, even though I didn’t get to bed until 1:30AM, I was able to sleep until 8:30 and still get into the office by 9am. Sweet, at least for the first night. Later in the day I would learn of 2 other hotels that would have been a better choice for our second night, a Friday night, since I wouldn’t have early meetings to worry about getting to. I am a Hilton Gold (wow, I didn’t even know this until I checked in…) and that got us free breakfast, it’s an ok buffet, nothing to write home about. Our room had a nice view to the south, so we could see the water and the coast line. The staff here are pretty helpful though, I really needed that being in Colombo for my first time. The concierge helped with cars, finding artwork that I like to shop for, etc. Overall they get really strong marks for this assistance.

Out and about in Colombo- After meetings on Friday, one of my co-workers who works in our Sri Lankan subsidiary invited us out for drinks with her husband. This wound up being the best part of the trip. We first went to the Galle Face hotel, which it turns out we could see from our room at the Hilton. It’s a great old colonial hotel that’s been fixed up quite nicely. Our hosts tell us that there is an old wing (that has huge but more modest rooms) and a new wing that has really nice new rooms. The hotel has a beautiful interior courtyard facing the sea, a great place to have an evening drink. What a complete escape from the mayhem outside on the streets! Our hosts offered to hook us up with a room here on our next stay as they know one of the owners of the hotel, so I think this will be where we stay the next time in Colombo. Our next stop was dinner at the Mount Lavinia Hotel, and this is another gem. It’s about 30 minutes south of Colombo in moderate evening traffic. Like the Galle Face, it’s a classic colonial property with a great setting on the coast. We got there just in time to sit out and watch the sun set and look up the coast to the buildings in downtown Colombo. We had a relaxing dinner outside on the second floor balcony. Our hosts also knew the head chef here and so we were invited to a small Malay dinner that was being cooked by some local Malay women. We really wanted Sri Lankan food, but oh well, this was pretty good and we were serenaded most of the night by a Malay band. This was kind of surreal, because we eventually go them to break out of traditional Malay songs, and for kicks we got them to play “Hotel California” and some Mexican folk songs. The Hotel California thing is a joke between my wife and I, we’ve heard bands sing this song in so many different styles in so many countries, so why not add one more?

Our hosts were so welcoming and really helped us understand what is going on in Sri Lanka right now, where to go/ not go, why there are all these security check points, etc. It’s tough for me to take the US and UK government warnings on travel completely at face value (if I did I wouldn’t have been to 3 or 4 countries that I thoroughly enjoyed) so it was nice to have the perspective of some locals. I know there are some places we just won’t go, but after talkng with them I felt more comfortable about Colombo and some other areas in the mountains that we want to visit. Unfortunately, the rebel attack of the military airport a couple nights later really has me unsure again.

Our hosts also helped us make a plan for our third night, Saturday night, since we wanted to move from the Hilton. We had originally planned on just moving to the M Lavinia Hotel , but they told us that would result in a very, very long trip to the airport for our 7AM Sunday morning flight to Singapore. So they helped us find a hotel in the Negombo area, a beach area north of Colombo near the airport. I had read in guidebooks that the hotels in Negombo were mediocre, but they told us about “The Beach Hotel” one of the “Jetwing” brand hotels. So we made plans to move up there on Saturday after collecting our airlines tickets and looking for some paintings.
After some coffee and breakfast, we headed over to the KLM ticket office. It’s a short drive from the Hilton, a bit south past the Galle Face Hotel and then a few blocks inland. The office is actually called “Carsons Airline Service” and they are the GSA for NW in Colombo. We’d been set up with Dushanthi, and she took about 15 minutes to get our tix ironed out and issued. Sweet, I can’t believe this was so easy! Back to the hotel to drop the tix and head out to the street across from the National Gallery, which is where we heard we might find some artwork. There are hundreds of pieces on display, but most of it is poor quality. We did find a few pieces we thought we could use, after getting an initial offer of 4000LKR we tried to bid 2000LKR, which is what the concierge suggested, but that didn’t even bring a counter offer. We then tried 3000LKR and said we’d walk, again nothing, so we walked… that was the ticket, they “grudgingly” took our 3000LKR. This is under $30US, which is a good deal for the pieces we found, but probably still more than we needed to pay. I suck at bargaining when it’s over relatively small amounts.

The Beach Hotel- We returned to our room and had the Hilton book us a car to the Beach Hotel. Traffic was pretty heavy in the afternoon and it took us about an hour to get out to Negombo. The area is a long strip of hotels, most look mediocre as the guidebook said, but the Beach Hotel is pretty nice. It sort of reminds me of Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap, in that it’s colonial but modern with clean lines. It’s impressive considering what I had in my mind from reading the guidebooks. But it’s $200US per night, so it better be decent! We were put in a nice room on the second floor with a nice view over the pool at the sea. We walked out of the hotel and checked out the other places on the street, I’m guessing these are the typical places mentioned in the guidebook, they wouldn’t be the worst place to spend a night if you were making a quick turn, but that’s about all you could say. The street has a number of jewelry and handicraft stores, there are some places where you can get very, very cheap gemstones, but they are of medium to low quality. But that’s fine if you just want a big gemstone to make into a ring or necklace for everyday wearing.

UL312 CMB-KUL-SIN J A340- Well, I’ve been on Emirates, but this was my first leg in long haul J on Sri Lankan. It wasn’t bad but I’m not impressed either. The seats aren’t the worst, they are old style recliners but they don’t really recline far enough to sleep (if you were on a true long haul and wanted to do that). Actually they are kind of like the Emirates J seats I've been in, it wouldnt surprise me if they are the same. The service is decent and the FAs are friendly, the food is pretty bad though. We had a meal on each leg, the breakfast was almost ok, but the snack on the second leg was gross (it was a flat hard bagel stuffed with some curried flavor stuff and a stale mini baguette with some shredded vegetables). The plane is in OK shape inside, definitely not torn up, but the seats are a generation behind and actually a disappointment. The AV system is ok, it is a 2 part system, there are movies that you can access on various channels (not on demand), plus you can ask for these small cassette tapes that plug into your seat (these were the new releases I guess). The screens are fairly decent sized though, and like Emirates they have cameras in the nose that you can watch, so that was fun. Overall, I would not use UL for anything longer than the SIN-CMB portion of this particular fare, I’ll definitely stick to NW for the majority of the sector to NRT. I have numerous pictures of the cabin, both Y and C, you can PM me if you want to see them.
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Old Apr 2, 07, 9:50 am
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I appreciated your report on the ground in Colombo. I have been phlegmatic about travel there myself, though the attack on the military adjacent to the airport finally forced even me to take note.

It was good to read about some alternative hotel choices to the Hilton. Report back after you stay at the Galle Face, please. Did you actually get in to see any of the rooms?

I've eaten at Mount Lavinia; it's a beautiful setting facing the sea and they have an excellent buffet at lunch.

I was hoping that you'd find a star in Negombo that was well priced - but such was not to be.
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Old Apr 2, 07, 10:06 am
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Originally Posted by SanDiego1K View Post
It was good to read about some alternative hotel choices to the Hilton. Report back after you stay at the Galle Face, please. Did you actually get in to see any of the rooms?

I've eaten at Mount Lavinia; it's a beautiful setting facing the sea and they have an excellent buffet at lunch.
It has been a while, but the rooms at the Galle Face are pretty disappointing. Old fashioned and colonial in the sense of tatty with indifferent plumbing.

The Seafood Hut on the beach at the Mount Lavinia is a lovely place to eat.
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Old Apr 2, 07, 10:28 am
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Thank you for the trip report, stephem. There is definitely a scarcity of information about UL on FlyerTalk so your report is a big help. Did you sample the lounge at CMB? Any comments on it? Also, did you notice any sleeping rooms or slumberettes?
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Old Apr 2, 07, 2:29 pm
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Originally Posted by SAT Lawyer View Post
Did you sample the lounge at CMB? Any comments on it? Also, did you notice any sleeping rooms or slumberettes?
While we're waiting for stephem to answer, I'll push in. I like the Sri Lankan lounge very much. It compares favorably with any lounge around the world. It has a good assortment of food, including hot dishes. You can have a free 10 minute massage. There are two masseuses giving massage in the right back corner. You chose one of 6 parts of the body. There are 12 or so computers. I think there is also wireless access. I did not see a sleeping room or slumberettes, but then I wasn't searching as I've always arrived an hour or two before my outbound flight.

If you want a longer massage, go across from the lounge to the Dr. Scholl massaage room. There you can get 20 minutes foot reflexology for $9. It's great.
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Old Apr 2, 07, 5:30 pm
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A few more thoughts--
The lounge (and the CMB airport in general): As SanDiego1K explains, the UL lounge is actually quite nice. In fact, I would say the entire airport is a surprise. There is a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in there, for my wife from SoCal, this was a huge hit. The airport has nice duty free, is clean, spacious... It has nothing in common with airports in India, I somehow expected something much worse.

Galle Face- I didnt check any of the rooms out, but my friends tell me there is a new wing that has much better rooms. That's what we'll try next time.
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Old Apr 2, 07, 6:02 pm
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Thanks for the report stephem ^

Is there a shower at the UL CMB lounge?
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Old Apr 16, 07, 1:11 pm
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Originally Posted by Kiwi Flyer View Post
Thanks for the report stephem ^

Is there a shower at the UL CMB lounge?
To answer my own question, I couldn't find a shower. My latest trip report includes Sri Lankan in J on A332.
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Old Apr 16, 07, 1:12 pm
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Originally Posted by SanDiego1K View Post
I did not see a sleeping room or slumberettes, but then I wasn't searching as I've always arrived an hour or two before my outbound flight.
There are 3 slumberettes, on the right hand side just past the computers. They were all in use when I arrived after midnight - and still all in use (by the same people) when I left a few hours later.
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Old Apr 19, 07, 5:09 pm
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Originally Posted by stephem View Post
A few more thoughts--
The lounge (and the CMB airport in general): As SanDiego1K explains, the UL lounge is actually quite nice. In fact, I would say the entire airport is a surprise. There is a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in there, for my wife from SoCal, this was a huge hit. The airport has nice duty free, is clean, spacious... It has nothing in common with airports in India, I somehow expected something much worse.

Galle Face- I didnt check any of the rooms out, but my friends tell me there is a new wing that has much better rooms. That's what we'll try next time.

I'll chime in w/ another good review of the UL lounge at CMB. Much better than the lounge used by other carriers just inside the new concourse. But any of the new lounges are a VAST improvement ove the old ones. The entire airport has improved dramatically in the last couple of years. I've booked The Beach a couple of times and it's always been in the US$125 range, which isn't all that bad for a Small Luxury Hotel of the World.
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