Posts Tagged ‘frequent flying’

It’s been a while since Aude and I have been on a proper vacation, so we planned two weeks in Asia to coincide with the long Easter break, starting with three days in Singapore and then just over a week in Vietnam.

Aude on SWISS flight to Bangkok

Settling into our seats on the SWISS flight to Bangkok

Tickets were courtesy of my frequent flyer miles, which unfortunately meant that we were flying SWISS rather than Singapore Airlines, since they don’t release award seats on their A380 aircraft. Neither of us particularly like flying with SWISS, at least not on the old planes with their extremely slopey seats. You spend the entire flight trying not to end up curled into a little ball on the floor every time you fall asleep.

It nearly went from bad to worse – a quick look at the menu revealed that dinner offerings were a main-course soup, a vegetarian couscous, or a steak.

The first two choices both break some of my long-held dietary beliefs, namely 1) soup is not food and 2) a meal isn’t a meal without meat. I’m not a big fan of steak on planes, but in this case, it was the best of a bad lot.

We were sitting in the very last row of the cabin. It was touch-or-go about whether they’d run out of steak before they got to our row, but in the end, we were in luck. I ended up with a steak (not great, but not terrible) and Aude chose the vegetarian couscous (just as lousy as it sounds, reports Aude).

I know that no one flies for the food, but come on, SWISS. On an 11-hour flight, you should offer a proper meal. When you’ve spent the better part of $4000 on a business-class ticket, it’s a bit cheeky to try to fob someone off with a bowl of soup.

Okay, that’s my white whine for the day.

Singha Beer and dim sum at the Thai Lounge at BKK

Almost worth the stopover in Bangkok: Singha Beer and dim sum at the Thai Lounge in BKK airport

We changed planes in Bangkok for our connecting flight to Singapore (on Thai – bigger, more comfortable-seats and better food, despite a flight-time of just under two hours) and arrived mid-afternoon. As always at Changi airport, we were through passport control in minutes, and our bags came out almost immediately.

A quick flip through my blog reveals that I haven’t been to Singapore since December 2009. That’s not entirely true – I passed through the airport on my way to Indonesia in January, but I barely had time to change planes, so that doesn’t really count. In any case, a lot has changed in 18 months, including the completion of the Singapore Flyer (a huge Ferris wheel) and the construction of an incredible new casino complex.

It was Aude’s first visit to Singapore, though, so we made sure we hit all the highlights. We started with dinner at a hawker centre, a great first taste of Singapore (see what I did there with that clever pun?) followed by a walk along the waterfront and a drink at Indochine. We spent considerable time looking for the Merlion (“I swear it was right here the last time I was in Singapore”) only to discovered that it’s been covered in cladding as part of a temporary art exhibit. At least we got views of the spectacular new casino, which was still being constructed the last time I was in Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino, Singapore, at night

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino, Singapore

Singapore Merlion and Merlion Hotel

We spent ages looking for the Merlion, which seemed to have disappeared since my last trip. ("No, I swear Aude, it was right here the last time I was in Singapore!") Turns out it was housed in the red 'Merlion Hotel' in the shot -- some art project that most of the locals dislike.

Singapore CBD skyline at night

Skyline of the Singapore Business district, as seen from the harbour

Singapore Flyer at night

The Singapore Flyer, Singapore's answer to the London Eye

Esplande Centre in Signapore

The Esplande Centre in Signapore, otherwise known as the 'Durian' CentreThe classic Fullerton Hotel in Singapore

Over the next few days, we hit all the big sights in Singapore: shopping on Orchard Road, visiting Chijmes, Arab Street and Little India. We hit the Funan centre to buy a new camera for Aude, and sampled some of the nightlife at Clarke Quay. We had white pepper crab at No Signboard Seafood (where we encountered the fiercest, rudest dragon of a hostess I’ve ever encountered).

Aude in Clarke Quay

Aude absorbs the ambiance of the nightlife in Clarke Quay

Mosque on Arab Street, Singapore

Mosque on Arab Street, Singapore

Arab Street, Singapore

Arab Street, SingaporeArab Street, Singapore

Singapore buildings

Singapore buildings

Little India, Singapore

Little India, SingaporeLittle India, Singapore

Aude in Little India, Singapore

Aude in Little India, Singapore

Finally, we hit Raffles for a Singapore Sling – horrendously overpriced, but a must-visit spot on any trip to Singapore.

Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore. Be sure to throw your shells on the floor.

Singapore Sling and Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Singapore Sling and Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore. At US$25 a drink, something of an expensive photo opportunity.

Aude poses with a Singapore Sling

Aude poses with a Singapore Sling

Matthew drinking a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel
Drinking a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel

All-in-all, a great visit and an easy way to get into the swing of Asia before starting off on our real adventure: Vietnam.

Haven’t had a chance to write on my blog for a while, but I was looking at my TripIt account and saw the tally for 2010:

17 trips, 132 days on the road, 32 cities in 14 countries, and 136,123 actual flight miles.

A pretty light year, travel-wise.

Hong Kong skyline, as seen from The Peak

Hong Kong skyline, as seen from The Peak


I had meetings in Mumbai last week, and I need to be in Beijing next week for another series of meetings.  There are no direct flights between the two places, so I used my schedule as a good excuse for spending the weekend in Hong Kong – one of my favourite cities in Asia, and culinarily-speaking, probably my favourite place in the entire world.  It was a chance to recharge my batteries, visit old friends, and eat some good food.

Mumbai flight schedules are terrible, but mercifully my Cathay flight took off as scheduled at just before 2am.  I managed to settle in quickly and grabbed about four-and-a-half hours of sleep, arriving just before 10am in Hong Kong. 

My colleagues in Mumbai had presented me with a gift before I left.  What was meant to be a generous gesture has instead turned into a bit of an albatross around my neck.  I’d very carefully packed my suitcase to manage my two-week, three-city tour with nothing more than hand-luggage, but now that I’m lugging along a piece of artwork as well, my plans have been scuppered.   My bag went into the hold, and thanks to the efficient ground services at HKG airport, was waiting for me as soon as I’d cleared immigration.

My friend Sean was waiting for me, which was a real treat.  Flying as often as I do, it’s very rare to be met off the plane anymore, except by the airline representative, hotel rep, or driver.  Aside from flying home to see my parents, it’s rare for anyone to meet me off the plane.  But it’s great to see a familiar face.

Touristy photo in Hong Kong

Posing next to the mini-busses at The Peak. Mini busses, full-sized Matt


Sean dropped me at my hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes, then we headed out for dim sum at the Kee Club where I proceeded to make a pig of myself.  After eating, uh, “delicately” in Mumbai for the past week, I was ready for some real food. 

Matthew with giant dim sum

They take their food seriously in Hong Kong. Here I am posing with a giant meatball and an oversized tray of dim sum.


I managed to stay awake through lunch, then headed back to the hotel for some serious power-napping.  Got up in time for a quick drink at Sean’s apartment, where I finally got to meet his adorable daughter for the first time after more than a year of Facebook photos.  She lives up to her billing, and is even more adorable in person than she is in the photos.  We hit a local Japanese place for sushi, then followed up with a quick drink at the bar at the top of my hotel.

After a blissful ten hours of sleep, I got up late and wandered the streets around my hotel, grabbing a quick breakfast of pork-and-cabbage buns at one of the local shops.  There was a lot of pointing and gesturing involved.  Sunday afternoon meant more dim sum, this time at the Grand Hyatt with Sean’s extended family, something of a tradition and an event I’ve enjoyed with Sean and his family every time I’ve visited Hong Kong.  Loads of good food, including a roast pigeon ordered especially for me.  (Thanks, Sean!)

Roast pigeon at the Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong

From my "food with a face" files, this is roast pigeon at the Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong


After lunch, we headed up to the Peak for a short walk and a coffee.  Though it’s been seven years since I’ve last been here, and the skyline has changed somewhat, it still reminds me of my first trip to Hong Kong.

I’ve got one more evening here, and half-the-day tomorrow – tonight’s dilemma is basically “what should I eat?” followed by tomorrow morning’s dilemma of “what else should I eat”?  Then off on a plane to Beijing, where I won’t have to ask myself that question.  The banquets have already been arranged – all I need to do is turn up.

View from the Four Seasons hotel over the Worli skyline in Mumbai. Our offices are beside the circular building on the left-hand side of the photo.


Back in Mumbai for a three days of meetings.  Managed to avoid the worst of the monsoon rains, and even managed to get a room with a view of the water this time instead of the slums.

My trip nicely summed up a lot of Indian culture.  Coming out of the airport, I was greeted by a cacophony of horns and the ubiquitous trucks and rickshaws with ‘Horn OK Please’ painted in bright colours across the back. 

I ate dinner at the hotel restaurant the first night, a hugely-expensive Asian-fusion place.  It wouldn’t be my first choice of restaurant, but it’s convenient when you’re jetlagged and don’t want to venture out.  I figured I’d order something straight-forward and quick – two orders of sushi rolls.

I counted 14 chefs and at least a dozen waiters for the ten customers in the restaurant. Yet still it takes more than 30 minutes for an order of tuna rolls and an order of salmon rolls. India at its chaotic finest!

The next day I caught an early flight to Hyderabad for the day.  Having flown a number of domestic Indian sectors, I think I’ve seen it all. Seatbelt signs routinely ignored, people standing up while the plane is still taxiing, seat swapping, the lot. And a very different sense of ‘personal space’ that we’re used to in Europe. No one bothers to get out of their seat to allow you access (eg, someone in the aisle seat getting up to let someone reach the window seat). They prefer you to crawl over them, no matter how limited the space.

The thing that always gets me, though, is deplaning in India. Rather than deplaning by row, there’s always a mad rush for the door with people climbing over one another to get out. On my flight from Hyderabad, I was in the (ugh) middle seat, and immediately upon reaching the gate the guy at the window was trying to crawl over me into the jam-packed aisle. I don’t know what he thought he was trying to do, or if he figured that I preferred to stay on the plane, or where he thought he was going to go once he’d passed me? Presumably onto the lap of the chap sitting in the aisle seat?

Still, we had a good series of meetings in India and it was a good investment of a three days.  Off to Beijing next for another three days of meetings.

Online check-in tickets

My tickets are in-hand and I'm ready to go...


My flights are confirmed and I’m checked in all the way to Basel. With a bit of luck and a following wind, I’ll be home tomorrow.

Never has German sounded so sweet: Ab Donnerstag, den 22.04.2010 gilt der reguläre Flugplan. Damit bietet Ihnen Lufthansa wieder die gewohnte Planungssicherheit.

Or, in other words, flights are back to normal and I should be able to fly home tomorrow.  It’s only been two weeks, but the uncertainty of the return journey and squeezing in three cities means that it feels like I’ve been away much longer.  I know I was in Taiwan only a week ago, but it seems like ages.

It’s definitely been a trip of new experiences.  New foods, new friends, new massages.

I don’t know if it was a sense of adventure or just sheer boredom that encouraged me to try an ear massage, but I can add it to the list of life’s more bizarre experiences.  It wasn’t particularly unpleasant, but I can’t say that it will be at the top of my list on my next visit to the spa.

One more day, one more banquet to get through tonight (Peking Duck, so I can’t complain too loudly), one more sleep…  then home.