Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bangkok to Krabi and back again!

After recently returning to Bangkok from Melbourne I had planned a short trip to the beaches in southern Thailand. I chose Krabi after having a good experience the last time I visited in 2007. Managed to get some cheap seats on Air Asia - 2200THB return from Bangkok, not bad!! The flights were both to be on ageing Boeing 737-300's, I prefer the nice new A320's but an old 737 still gets the job done!!

OUTBOUND: BANGKOK-KRABI --  ThaiAirAsia FD3165

Operated by : Boeing 737-300 HS-AAS (first flight 31/8/85 -- ex- Continental and Air Asia Malaysia)

Departure: DELAYED 1 HOUR

I was travelling with 2 of my Thai friends today, one of whom had never flown before, I was looking forward to seeing her reaction! We caught a taxi to the airport from home in the eastern parts of Bangkok, only about a 20 to 25 minute trip, and no tolls from here. Cost is less than 200 baht! The taxi driver was driving casually, was not aggressive on the road and got us there safely, A++, deserves a tip... I always tip drivers who do not drive like Hollywood stunt drivers!

good driving - even whilst chatting on the phone!


Thai Maintenance Area - as seen from the approach road to the terminal

Check-in was quite busy, particularly the Air Asia international check-in. Domestic check-in was a little less busy and I noticed that staff were actively checking the queue for those whose flights were about to close, and holding up signs to get those people checked in. That was good to see. I reached the counter to check-in, with no bags this all happened quickly and easily but upon looking at the boarding passes I found my group of 3 had been split up across the aisle, and no window seat allocated. I admit I had not paid for seat selection in advance, but I had (wrongly) assumed that with 3 people in a single booking, we would receive seats ABC or DEF... apparently not! Considering the flight was only half full I was pretty disgusted. I questioned this with the check-in agent, who refused to move us to 3 seats together...

- "sorry sir, cannot sir"
- "but I don't care which row I sit in, I just want ABC or DEF, 3 in a row together"
- "cannot sir, it is random sir"
- "yes but I just want you to move us to an empty row, the back row if you like!"
- " no sir, you must pay first sir"

I just gave up... decided to just fix the problem once on board. I really wanted my first time flier friend to have a window! I am surprised they refused to budge on this, my experience with Tiger Airways was that even if you don't preselect a seat in advance you could choose a window or aisle etc at check-in if one was available! I probably could understand if the flight was full, but with 15 minutes left until checkin closed we were sequence number 50, meaning this flight was far from full. Next time If in this situation I will pay for seat selection... I left check-in with a nasty taste in my mouth.


when seeing a letter after the gate number, you know you are in for a bus ride

The next thing to annoy me was to find we were boarding from gate B1D. This gate, along with all those with a letter following the number are BUS TO AIRCRAFT gates! Originally we had been scheduled to leave from an airbridge equipped gate B4. It seems the move to gate B1D was due to an aircraft change... and the flight was now subsequently delayed. Of course we were never told this, as the flight information displays in the B1 gate area were not working. Nor could anyone hear the PA's as they were too quiet... So our flight time came and went and I had no idea what was going on, I wouldn't even know if I was at the right gate if I didn't ask someone eventually. I let the supervisor know that the system down here in this holding area was not working, and nobody had any idea what was going on!  There was literally a thousand people waiting around there with various Thai and other Air Asia flights leaving all at once...


masses of people wondering what is going on!


By this time I was swearing never to fly Air Asia again and I was getting agitated! I really hate having to bus to aircraft, it is such a pain! Being squashed in with all these other people and their bags just doesn't do it for me. One would think that with an airport as new as BKK these things would have been sorted, but when flying domestic, even with Thai Airways, you regularly get bussed to the plane. A lot of the time this is because the aircraft keep switching between domestic and international, so you have to get bussed to aircraft parked at international gates from the domestic concourse. Other times it is simply because of a lack of gates at domestic, with many parking far from the terminal.


I spent a bit of the delay time using the new free internet terminals recently installed at BKK

We started boarding ( the bus ) at about 40 minutes after scheduled departure time. I expected a short bus ride out to the remote stands between A concourse and the Thai maintenance facilities, but no, our aircraft was parked on the cargo apron, right around the other side of the airport!! About a 3 km taxi ride!


our aircraft on the right, along with an A320 on the cargo apron

It started to rain just as we were getting off the bus (great timing!) so it was a mad rush to the aircraft door and out of the rain!


HS-AAS - looking old, dirty and worn out

Soon after boarding I spoke to one of the flight attendants and asked to be moved, she immediately offered us a choice of several free rows at the rear of the aircraft, which we took. Problem solved, but I was still bitter about the check-in experience. Just before we pushed back a storm hit the airport, with heavy rain and lightning. Great for a first time flier! As soon as everyone was aboard it was doors closed and away we went. I expected we would takeoff from the nearby runway 19R, just a few hundred metres behind us, but no, it was a long taxi right back around to near where we got the bus from, to runway 19L.


couple of minutes before pushback - and the rain comes


poor quality pic showing the rain, and the tail of an unusual airline for me, Uzbekistan Airlines

After a 10 minute taxi we were onto the runway and up and away in light rain, despite the storm activity there was only the bit of occasional light turbulence and we were soon above it all and flying across the gulf of Thailand. The crew were up and commencing service quickly, and with a smile. I chose to buy a smoked chicken foccacia and a coffee, 130 baht all up.


my snack - taste was not bad


cabin view - mid flight


Air Asia B737-300 seats, seat pitch is better than A320


last bit of light, as we cruise along the gulf of Thailand - down there is the coastline

After my sandwich and coffee the crew came around with a trolley offering the Air Asia merchandise, I didn't buy anything, but a few of the other passengers did. The crew came around clearing rubbish at the same time. We were cruising at 34,000 feet according to the Captain who apologised for the delayed flight and announced our arrival time as 19.15, 50 minutes behind schedule. Weather in Krabi was mostly clear.

We were soon descending into the darkness and made a smooth approach and landing to Runway 32. We used the sole airbridge at Krabi airport, which was free only because we were delayed, I believe normally there would have been a Thai flight using the bridge at that time.


parking at Krabi Intl Airport


HS-AAS taking a short rest before heading back to BKK

We were the only flight using the terminal at this time, so it was pretty quiet on arrival, just a few taxi operators hanging around for our business. We booked and paid for an 'Andaman Limousine' at the desk in the arrivals area - 600 baht to Ao Nang area where we were staying.


arrivals area - Krabi


Honda Civic 'limousine'


DESTINATION: Krabi and the Aree Tara Resort

Mostly I'll just put some pics in here - but I will say that the Aree Tara Resort was a great choice. It is still quite new and everything is finished just beautifully in the room. We were upgraded to Deluxe rooms, as the hotel was only at about 25% occupancy. The pool is quite lovely also. Only things lacking are a nice swim up pool bar, but due to the hotel's small size it would be uneconomical to have one staffed all day. Also, the pool closes at 7pm, I like a night time swim so that was disappointing.
















the pool is shaded a lot of the time due to close proximity of the next hotel

Sadly it rained most of the trip, which really was a downer!! Also, I felt that everyone was trying to rip me off in Ao Nang, particularly the long tail boat operators, they overcharge big time, and are very lazy! Considering it was low season, and there was virtually nobody walking around Ao Nang - I thought this was weird. You would think they would be jumping over each other for business, but no, most of them prefer to just laze around. Obviously they have plenty of money already!

It's an essential to take a speed boat tour of the nearby islands, including Phi Phi, and take in some snorkeling and sunshine. We attempted to do this on the second day, we departed Ao Nang by speed boat, but after about 30 minutes we were fighting quite large waves, with one guest being sick out the side of the boat, and the other tourists on board all shitting themselves big time!! I thought a few times we were going to capsize! Eventually the boat driver decided it was all too much and we headed home, a very tense trip back with very rough seas and heavy rain. We were all soaked on return to Ao Nang, I was so so glad to be back on solid ground. Fortunately we got a full refund as we were unable to rebook for the following day.


leaving Railey beach on the speed boat heading towards that storm, I suspected things might get rough, and I was right!

Here are a few other pics around the area

Ao Nang beach - not particularly nice, but a short long tail boat to Phra Nang or Railey and you are in  paradise


arriving at Phra Nang beach by longtail


hungry monkey at Phra Nang


beautiful rock formations all around the area


Singapore Sling in Thailand


would you like some Cock with your meal sir?

On the morning of our departure day, the sun finally came out! Doh!! So typical isn't it. Oh well, I spent the day swimming in the pool and drinking beer chang! Before long it was time to head back to Krabi International Airport for the return flight.



INBOUND: KRABI-BANGKOK --  ThaiAirAsia FD3168

Operated by : Boeing 737-300 HS-AAR (first flight 14/8/85 -- ex- Continental and Air Asia Malaysia)

Departure: On Time

We used the same car service to get back to the airport, and got picked up in the same Honda Civic. It was a pleasant 30 minute drive out to the airport. On arrival check-in was open for both Thai Airways and Thai Air Asia flights to BKK. Check-in was quick and painless with no queue... and I was happy to see that we were in seats 21D/E/F, all together and including a window seat.

I popped to the upstairs restaurant for a sandwich. It was interesting to note that this restaurant is operated by Thai Airways catering department. And you can buy airline meals in airline trays! Also, sandwiches and pastries are all given to you in Thai Airways catering packaging/boxes.

Thai B737-400 arrives from Bangkok


busy time at KBV - our B733 arrives


Hs-AAR arriving from Bangkok for a quick turnaround

Both the Thai passengers and us Air Asia passengers were all waiting in the domestic departures area which had plenty of room for both us, and a jewellery store selling local pearls and a black canyon coffee shop. I had a latte while waiting.

I was really surprised to see a Thai Airways crew arriving at the security area and boarding the Thai Boeing 737-400. I had no idea that Thai would be overnighting crews in Krabi? Seems quite strange!

Boarding for Thai Air Asia was announced first, and away we went down the stairs, todays flight is about 90% full.


walking out to our flight, the Thai B734 is yet to board


welcome aboard!


the quite large terminal as seen from the apron




the CFM56 hopefully will GO and get us back to Bangkok. The spinner looks like it needs a repaint!


lining up Runway 14


up and away, about to make a sharp left to head north

This flight was quite routine, we flew at 33,000 feet, a lot of the time skimming the tops of clouds and a bit of turbulence. The flight attendants on this leg were more interested in having their lunch rather than focusing on inflight service. They brought the food card out and whisked it down the aisle in about 4 minutes flat, they never even stopped at my row to ask me if I wanted anything. They offered merchandise over the PA but did not bring out the merchandise trolley. I visited the lav and saw them huddled around in the rear galley having a bag of fruit. I guess they hadn't had much of a break for the day?

The descent into Bangkok was nice, it was an unusually clear day, with no haze at all, meaning you could see all the high rises of Bangkok really clearly! We were landing on Runway 19R, which means a U shaped pattern when approaching from the south, with right hand turns onto final approach.


rice paddies crossing the coastline on approach to BKK


nice view of BKK out to the right, flying Downwind leg


on short finals


EVA B777-300ER and El Al B747-400 around E concourse


one of the few MD-11 passenger operators left, Finnair


parked at an F concourse gate, meaning bus back to domestic for us, and our bird is off somewhere other than Thailand!


the state of play at Domestic Arrivals - our flight arrived early! See, sometimes Air Asia are ok!


On the bus ride to Domestic arrivals there was 3 British men who were travelling with Thai women talking about the flight. They seemed to think we had almost crashed, they were raving on about the aircraft suddenly descending after takeoff and that the Captain was perhaps drunk? These guys had no idea what they were talking about, in fact I think THEY are the ones who must have been drunk. Only thing I could think of is that when we took off there was a sharp left turn at about 1000ft to head north, it may have felt like a descent to them with the ground suddenly in their window on the left side of the aircraft, combined with a bit of turbulence? Im not sure, but I know it all seemed quite routine to me!! They were also horrified at the landing, which was I would say solid, but nothing unusual. I had to bite my tongue not to say anything, but what's the point, it would go in one ear and out the other!

Trip over, it was back in a cab and off home to Ramkhamhaeng... and back to reasonably priced food again!

As for my friends first flights, it all seemed pretty uninteresting to her, she dozed off for most of it!



Friday, September 25, 2009

In Krabi

Well, as it turns out - HS-AAI, the aircraft I was scheduled to travel on to Krabi had a problem somewhere, and instead I travlled on HS-AAS, another B737-300. Flight was delayed 1 hour and we left in stormy conditions with rain and lightning. The flight however was relatively smooth and we arrived in Krabi about 55 minutes late. The Hotel, Aree Tara is fantastic at the price. I don't have much easy access to internet here as I did not bring the laptop down from Bangkok, so further picture reports will come in a couple of days!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leaving for Krabi

Heading off to Krabi for 3 nights this afternoon. I have just checked and found out my flight this afternoon is being operated with a 23 year old Thai Air Asia Boeing 737-300 HS-AAI. This particular 737 is painted in the 'Amazing Thailand' colour scheme. I have done some research and found out that it had it's first flight all the way back in June 1986 when I was just 4 years old.  It was delivered new to Piedmont before operating with USAir until 2003 when it was transferred to Air Asia (Malaysia). It's been at Thai Air Asia since mid 2007. The Boeing 737-300 is currently being phased out by Thai Air Asia and will be replaced by A320's in the near future.

HS-AAI in Amazing Thailand colours


It's quite interesting to consider the history of an aircraft as your on it, the places it has been in it's lifetime and the different kinds of people it has carried in its lifetime! Time is rapidly running out for HS-AAI as it approaches the end of its useful life as a passenger airliner, perhaps this trip to Krabi and back will be my last couple of rides on a 737 classic?


HS-AAI in a previous life

Singapore to Bangkok – in video!

 

After a pleasant hour and a bit in the SATS Lounge terminal 2 sipping vodka and orange juice, it was time to head for Bangkok. SQ978 is the last Singapore Airlines flight of the day to Bangkok, now that they have cancelled the Singapore-Bangkok-Tokyo run (so sad!). Currently, Singapore Airlines operate only 4 services a day, and all Boeing 777-200’s, on the Bangkok run. This is a huge reduction from the previous schedule which included at least 6 flights a day, some of which were 777-300’s, and in the past Boeing 747’s also.  There also used to be First Class, now there is only Business and Economy, so SQ service to Bangkok is just a shadow of its former self. I hope to see increased frequencies return to Bangkok in the future, it should happen as long as the country can remain reasonably stable (with no airport closures!).

We departed the gate about 15 minutes late with a load of I would guess of about 75% in economy, just after a storm cell passed over the airport. The weather for taxi out and takeoff was light wind and very light rain. Daylight was rapidly fading as we made our way to Runway 20C for departure to the north. The takeoff run was extremely quick, one of the fastest I think I have experienced in a Boeing 777, even on a short sector. See for yourself in the video!

Watch the video!



Despite the large number of storm cells in the vicinity of Singapore we had a nice smooth climb out to cruise altitude, and the dinner service commenced. Singapore Airlines recently dropped the ‘appetiser/salad’ component of the catering to Bangkok, yet another cost cutting measure and another step closer (albeit a very tiny one) towards Low Cost Carrier type service! I hate seeing services cut, particularly on SQ who pride themselves as being a ‘5 star airline’. Also, the cart does not contain anything other than beer,wine and soft drinks, meaning its difficult to get a famous ‘Singapore Sling’ with the crew working hard to get the meals out in time. Tonight's offerings included curry fish on rice, and pork with potato, fairly typical catering for this sector. I took the pork option, which was surprisingly tasty! You can see it in the video… the rest of the tray consisted of the usual bread roll (in a plastic wrapper), and dessert was a small tub of cheap looking chocolate ice cream.

By the time the trays were collected we were well into the gulf of Thailand and the familiar sight of what seems like a million fishing boats. Surely they must be almost running out of fish in the gulf of Thailand! I often wonder what it would be like looking up from the fishing boat at the passing Singapore 777, what a contrast in lifestyles!

Map picture

Bangkok Suvarnabhumi satellite photo

We headed up the eastern seaboard of Thailand and commenced our descent for a smooth approach onto Runway 19R in Bangkok, my second home! It had been 8 weeks since I was last here and I was glad to be back. We parked at gate D1, conveniently right near to Immigration which was almost totally deserted, took 1 minute to get through, then a few minutes waiting for the bags. Thankfully the priority tags had done their job well and bags were one of the first ones through. Out the door and into a public taxi for the ride home! Next destination is Krabi via Air Asia in a couple of days.

 

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