I’m an idiot. No, don’t even pretend to disagree with me. It is true, I am an idiot. When we finally made it out of the house and on to the bus, then train, I was looking forward to a classic airport experience. The kind of experience you get when you are flying from the international terminal with an airline you’ve never flown before. Pretending that you are an inexperienced traveller and adding a frisson of the fear of the unknown to the thrill of going somewhere.
The queue at the Thai Airways desk was non-existent. Our boarding passes printed, then “Ms Lang, do you have a visa for Thailand?”
“No. I didn’t think I needed one. I’ve visited before without a visa.”
“I’ll check. Malaysians can stay for 30 days without a visa.”
“That’s okay then, because we are leaving on the 29 March.”
“Your ticket has you departing on the 29 April.”
It was true. Somehow in my blind rush to change from a Japanese only holiday to including a week in Thailand I had managed to select the wrong month. What’s more I didn’t even check the emailed reservation details either.
After a long call to Zuji it turned out that they and we could do nothing until we arrived in Thailand because I was already checked in (I did it online) and hence the booking was unabled to be opened until the completion of this first leg.
No time for leisurely wandering now.
Thankfully immigration and security were very short. The lady at the immigration desk stamped Alex’s hand with “Not valid for further travel” so guess we are now authorised to use invalid facilities! We soon emerged into the shopping mall that is airside Sydney Airport. Most of the shops were luxury international brands we wouldn’t dream of owning. But there was a Lonely Planet shop (never heard of that before!) and some reasonable eating options, if we had the time to sit down and eat.
I searched in vain for a book to read on the holiday. Nothing caught my eye.
After the heavy rains of the past few days it was wonderful to see some sun outside. It was almost inspirational flying weather! I was just wandering around snapping shots of our Thai Airways A340-600 and an adjacent Qantas A380 when the call came for families with young children to board. That’s us!
The first thing that strikes you upon entering a Thai Airways flight is the colour. The flight attendants were wearing bright shimmery silk dresses and the seat colours alternated between pink, purple and yellow. It was all highly attractive in comparison with the staid corporate designs of many airlines.
Other than that the interior was the same as the many A330s that we had caught in recent times, lacking the romance of a 747.
There was a decent amount of pitch between the somewhat narrow seats, though legroom was reduced by the entertainment system boxes under the window seats. The recline was very nice, especially as there was nobody behind me. The cabin was a bit dirty though, with a blood or sauce stain near my window.
We plonked Alex down in the window seat, I took the aisle and so did B opposite of me. According to the attendant the flight was only half full, so there was plenty of space to stretch out. During our flights to Singapore and Rockhampton last year I taught Alex about the seatbelt light and how he had to keep his seatbelt on when it was lit. Now a headstrong toddler, the lesson was very useful, but I was still forced to concentrate on him rather than the safety demonstration.
I had set the seatback screen to the forward aircraft camera, but it proved pretty useless during the flight.
After taxiing out in front of another A340 (bound for New Zealand and Chile) and watching another land (from New Zealand and Argentina) it was our turn to take off towards the north. Watching tiny toy trains, an Olympic park still large from above, then crossing the ridges of Hawkesbury sandstone as we leave the city.
Alex was given a Finding Nemo sticker book. He’s into stickers right now.
The flight attendants came through and handed out nuts, drinks and menus. The Thai 7-Up lemonade is pretty nice! Lunch was served soon after. Alex was served first, a child’s meal of hamburger, roll and potato gems, with salad and a Tim Tam. B and I both chose the Thai options. The Thai adult options were much nicer, a delicious chicken red curry with rice and vegetables, soft potato salad and shaved turkey slices, soft and warm breadrolls, cheese and crackers and an orange and almond slice. Possibly the best airline meal I’ve had outside of that sole business class flight last year.
There was another bun run once lunch was finished.
After lunch the lights were dimmed and the mood lighting came on, an orange glow above the overhead lockers. Business class looked like it was on fire! Outside the landscape was one of scrub and river channels, possibly flowing with water after all the recent rains in the north.
The flight attendants fawned over Alex the entire flight. At first one hostess (and it said “air hostess” on her badge!) asked if she could take an iPhone photo with him. Later they gave him gifts of a cardboard tuk-tuk, puzzle and an inflatable aeroplane. They played peekaboos and taught him “sawadee”. He was in and out of the toilet, dragging us up and down the aisles, pretending that the empty row behind me was a printer. Very active but, for the most, very happy as well.
Eventually he fell asleep next to B. She somehow managed to watch two movies, Black Swan and The Kings Speech, while I could get through none. I can’t understand why she found the ending of Black Swan so depressing: she wasn’t sad when Natalie Portman’s character died at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
I had to laugh when I saw Bridget Jones’ Diary available on the IFE. This was the movie that introduced Colin Firth to B when we saw it on our honeymoon flight via Bangkok almost 10 years ago! The selection of movies was pretty good, the flight map brilliant, the music not so, but at least they had a soundtrack (John Williams’ first Harry Potter score) – take note Qantas! What let them down was the hardware. They touchscreen was dreadfully unresponsive, the manual controls inconveniently located at the side of the armrest so it was always being bumped. The screen itself only displayed a limited number of colours, making it look like an old system.
Alex woke up after the seatbelt signs were switched on in case of turbulence. I admired the Thai captain’s approach to turbulence, always being cautious, warning us in advance where it could be expected. We didn’t actually experience anything bad, but I didn’t trust the seatbelt to hold Alex down in case of some severe bumps so it was nice to be prepared.
I enjoyed some of the great scenery below during the flight. The dry Australian landscape going from green to brown to red and back again, threaded by usually dry streambeds. East Timor was literally a blink and you’ll miss it country. Islands of Indonesia, green, farmed, volcanic mountains, coral reefs.
We were served a light dinner of prawns and noodles in black bean sauce, which looked nicer than its somewhat bland taste. Alex stole most of my fruit salad rather than eat his tasty chicken sausages and hash browns. The kids meals tend towards the unhealthy.
I was most excited to be crossing Vietnam and Cambodia. Paddy fields alongside big brown rivers. Puffy tropical clouds sharply contrasted in the late afternoon light. Alex was well behaved as we began our descent into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, carefully watching the seatbelt sign. Golden-brown light reflected off paddy fields, long lines of canals and roads dividing the landscape into rectangles. Factories interspersed with temples. It’s the best time of day to arrive into Bangkok.
I was really impressed with Thai Airways. The service was impeccably, frequent, fast and friendly. The food was great, the seats comfortable. I would definitely be happy flying them again.
Once inside the airport it was time to revisit the consequences of my earlier idiocy. We had to find a Thai Airways service desk to rebook our Fukuoka flight before passing through immigration. This involved going up to a higher level, through security, trying to find our way down again, two trips in lifts when we found a dead end (Alex was happy) and out through an obscure exit. It took us over an hour before we passed through immigration and out to collect our baggage.
Alex was happy running along the travelators.
Our baggage was waiting for us outside the Baggage Service Centre then we caught the packed airport train to Phaya Thai station. The elevated railway line gave us fantastic views. The best time to view an Asian country is in the golden late afternoon and evening light. There were run down houses in between tall city towers.
At Phaya Thai station were took the lifts down and changed to the Skytrain system, another elevated railway. There was a deep growl as a diesel locomotive hauled a passenger train along a different line, one which looked more at home in a rural area.
The Skytrain took us a single stop, whereupon we were confronted with a problem. Alex was asleep in the stroller and there was no lift and no down escalator to street level, only stairs. B managed to carry Alex still in his stroller, initially with the help of a security guard while I hauled all of the luggage.
The VIE Hotel was very nice. Over a berry and pandan flavoured welcome drink we were upgraded to a Deluxe Suite which was totally posh with plenty of sofas, cushions and doors for Alex to go nuts with. From our windows we could see one of potential choices for this first night, the Baiyoke Sky Tower, the tallest building in Bangkok. Around the top of it was a brightly lit display screen showing various adverts and messages.
After putting our bags down we went looking for a late snack from the street vendors nearby. The selection was pretty poor and we ended up eating western food: chicken and beef with tiny salads and a few chips on the side. Oh well, it was cheap.
Then we returned to the hotel and I was allowed to forget my idiocy and fall into a desperately needed sleep.