Friday, June 21, 2013

Trip to the Land of Golden Pagodas - Part 1

I visited the Land of Golden Pagodas in early May.  This is my first trip into the country which has been closed for years.  Even now, I still need to get visa, although I hold ASEAN country passport. 

The process of taking visa is actually quite easy, 1 working day process.  You submit today and you will collect it tomorrow afternoon.   However, as I was lazy to go to Myanmar embassy in Singapore, I decided to use a travel agent service.  I went to Peninsula Plaza which is known as Little Myanmar to look for travel agent.  Apparently, due to a week of New Year holiday in Myanmar, the embassy was closed.  So some travel agent has back-log and they told me they can only submit the application for a limited number (some say 5, some say 6) per day.  I managed to get the agent that can do it for me (as I need to be in HKG on Monday before Labour day) and my trip to Yangon was on 3-May.

I took a very early morning flight (0755) out of SIN to RGN, as only the morning flight is SQ flight and the rest is MI flight, as I prefer to fly on non-single aisle plane as much as I can.  Here is the plan that will take me to Yangon

The flight was quite empty.  I think the load may not even 50%.  Most of the passengers are Myanmarese.  I guess not many Singapore-based business people flies to Yangon on Friday morning.  May the belly is full.

The flight was nothing to talk about.  The plane is rather old B777-200ER (10+ years) which still have a very small screen in economy, although it is AVOD.   The aircraft registration is 9V-SVK.

After about close to 3 hours, we were about to land at Yangon Mingaladon International airport.  From above, you can see a big river, I suspect it should be the mighty Irrawady river.

My friend told me he saw a big Pagoda when he about to land.  We suspect it is the Shwedagon Pagoda which I will cover later.

To be very honest, I expect that the RGN airport will be a very run down airport and nothing much to expect.  But oh boy, I am very very wrong.  Although, it is not very big, it has a very modern look and clean.

My flight just arrived from SIN and they have aero-bridge :)

There were some traffic on the late morning in RGN.  Most of the airlines that I never see before.

The terminal is very clean and modern look.

The arrival is on the 2nd floor, so you have to go down to pass the immigration and custom.  There is a sign welcoming you to Myanmar.  Mingalabar!!!

The luggage area is just after you pass immigration.  Immigration is fast.

You need to put your bag in X-ray machine to pass the custom.

There is a money changer just after you pass the custom to your left.  It is advisable to exchange some local money here, Kyat (pronounce likes Chat) - MMK.  The rate is quite good.  If I am not mistaken 1SGD = MMK 718 at that time.  When I took money using my Citibank ATM on the hotel the following Sunday, the rate is MMK695.   Now a days, you can withdraw money through the local bank ATM using MasterCard/Visa, but they will impose some small fee (cannot recall) on top on what your bank will charge you.You need to calculate carefully so that.

Please be warn also, you can forget your Credit Card in Myanmar.  Everything is in cash.  The hotel only accept room bill settlement using Credit Card.  What I heard, MasterCard is planning to be the first one to introduce credit card in Myanmar but this will only happen toward end of 2013.

Here is the scene after you pass the immigration.  Many people are waiting.  It seems they are waiting for their relatives or families member come back from overseas.  There is also a monitor to display flight arrival information like many other airport.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Qatar Airways (QR638) SIN-DPS

I took Qatar Airways to Bali utilizing my Privilege Club miles which was about to expire in Dec-2012.  So I managed to get a confirm economy seat to Bali from for 25-28 Jan 2013.

The flight was using B777-300ER (B77L).  The flight registration is A7-BAA . 

Here are some pictures of the cabin and the meal served.

The cabin is clean with typical 3-3-3 configuration in economy cabin and the seat pitch is comfortable (I am 6"/180cm tall).  One thing I notice that the seat recline is quite good compare to other airlines (sorry no picture on this).  The In flight Entertainment is very good.  "Huge" screen for economy which is comparable to TG A380 or SQ A333/B777-300ER.   The selection may not be as good as SQ, but still quite decent.

The flight to DPS from SIN is about 2 hours flight and they food served for late afternoon flight was quite decent.  I think this is much better than the KLM meal service (see my other post about KLM).

This was the third time that I took QR flight to DPS since they launched it in early 2010.  The first 2 flights were on C class, which were very nice.  Economy class also not bad.  However, QR has increased the price between SIN-DPS significantly and they do not over daily flight compare to KLM.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Courtyard Marriott Bangkok

As I need to clock 6 stays within 3 month to complete the Marriott Rewards Gold Taste, I decided to divide my 2 nights stay in Bangkok on early April 2013 into 2 different properties,  Marriott Bangkok Sukhumvit and Courtyard by  Marriott.

The hotel is located off the Ratchadamri Road.  There is a soi before Four Season hotel, and it is about 200 meters deep inside.  There is also small street that bring you to Langsuan area.   There are quite some numbers of hotel inside  Soi Mahadlekluang 1 itself.

The lobby has a very interesting décor and I found it rather colourful.

As a Gold member I have been upgraded and able to access to club lounge.  I later found out (when I stayed in Courtyard Toronto) that it is not a norm for a Courtyard hotel to have a club lounge.

The room is decent, however, I smelt not so nice smell in the room.  When I called the Front Office, they came with a air refresher and spray my room.  It seems to me quite common problem.

The bath room is also rather small and no bath tube.

Breakfast at Momo café is also not bad, again not the best breakfast that I ever had in Bangkok, but it is quite ok selection. 

During breakfast, I also found out that the KLM crew stays in this property.

I believe until this moment, this property is still the cheapest Marriott Brand hotel in Bangkok.  Although the location is not very close to BTS, it is still bearable within reasonable walking distance.  

As a Gold member, you will get a lounge access (although the food is not as fantastic as Marriott Sukhumvit, it is ok) and free breakfast. 

So I will definitely keep this property in my list if I come to Bangkok.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit

So after the train ride to Bangkok, I decided to stay at Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit as there was an opening rate special.  The stay was on early April 2013.

The hotel location is just short walking distance from Thonglor Station BTS station.  The location is at the main road of Sukhumvit near Thonglor which is famous with the Japanese expat.  It is 2 station away from Asoke which is more crowded area with shopping malls around.  Across the hotel (soi 38) has a lot of street food at night.

The hotel is actually sharing the same building with Bangkok Marriott Executive Apartments.  If I am not wrong the Apartment is in the lower level and the hotel is on the higher floor.

There are 2 separates lifts that bring you to either apartment or hotels.  The lift is quite high tech and touch screen.

I believe I have been upgraded to Executive room as a Gold member.  The lounge for the hotel is not ready at that time, so they give me access to the apartment lounge which is one of the best lounge that ever been to.
My room is corner room with a L shape I think, so the corridor area is a waste of space in my opinion.  The room is rather "white" and have a big bath room area with nice round bath tube and a big window for you to enjoy the city view.  The working desk is rather small.   As I arrive rather late, so the pictures were taken on the next morning, so pardon the mess on the bed.

At the top floor at the hotel, I believe there will be a bar with a very nice city view.  It has not been completed when I stayed there.  It has a good city view and should be nice at night.

Verdict - nice hotel, location is good (although not so great) with a nice street food.  The lounge at the top should be very nice.  So if the price is matching my budget, I do not mind to stay in this hotel again.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Orient Express - Train ride Singapore to Bangkok

I have an opportunity to ride on Orient Express luxury train from Singapore oh well, should I say Johor, to Bangkok.   The train ride was started from Singapore Woodlands train station, which is at the northern part of Singapore, which is just a stone away from Malaysian's southern state of Johor.

It is a 3 days 2 nights train ride departing Singapore on Wednesday and arrive Bangkok on Friday.

A week before the departure date I went to the Orient Express office to collect the boarding pass.  Here is how the boarding pass looks like.

At the departure date, we proceed to the Singapore iconic Raffles Hotel for check-in procedure.  There is a sign to indicate it.  After check-in, the guest can sit at the "lounge" with some drink.  Of course you can order the signature drink of Raffles Hotel, the Singapore Sling.   Also the train manager, Valentine introduced himself to many of the passenger.

We boarded a coach to Woodland train station at about 3pm.  The normal traveling time to the train station should take about 30 minutes.  However, this is actually a brief Singapore city tour, which we were driven along some interesting place in Singapore.  There was a local guide who give the narration.

At about 4pm, we arrive the Woodland train station and proceed to Singapore immigration.  It then follow by the Malaysian immigration.  Walaaa... you have been officially in Malaysia (as you have Malaysian immigration stamp in your passport), but you are actually still in Singapore soil.

The team of staffs were lining up to welcome us.  They are indeed one of the best team whom perform their duty very well.

The train was waiting in the background.  Here is the choo choo train that will take us to Bangkok and here is my carriage.  The carriage B.  For the first night, we will be the 2nd carriage from the front.

Here is the hallway inside the train and my room for the next 3 days and 2 nights which I will share it with my very good friend.  We are lucky enough to get upgrade to the State Cabin.  The State Cabin has 2 twin beds and make it bigger than the Pullman Cabin, which has a bunk bed.

At night, the small couch and the table near the window will disappear.  A bed will appear from the wall behind the couch.  The long couch will be flipped to turn into bed.  It is really amazing how they store everything in that small room.
Let's take a peek of our bath room.  I am very amazing that they can pack a fully functional bath room with showers inside the train.  If it is not moving, I do not really feel that I am in the train!!!

First, I thought it will be a very boring journey, as there is no wifi and TV on board the train.  However, I was very wrong.  Indeed I enjoy the trip.  The food is delicious.  The staffs are very friendly and most of them have been working on the train for 10+ years!!! and they really enjoy their work.  So you can feel that the service come from the heart.
Here are some pictures when the train make a stop at Butterworth.   Actually we got off at Bukit Mertajam and the train drove itself to Butterworth to pick us up, as it was delay due to the rail upgrade work.  Take a closer look of the engine carriage (the second one after the locomotive).  this is the brain of the train which supply the whole electricity of the carriage.  At Butterworth, they changed the locomotive into the State Thailand Railways from the KTM (Keretaapi Tanah Melayu -- Malay Railway) and move the locomotive to the back.  So on my 2nd night, carriage was the second last and we were closer to the observation cart.


Here are some pictures from Penang excursion

So after we passed the Malaysian border at Padang Besar and into the Thai soil, we were presented with Thai traditional dance.  The track at Southern Thai side was still rather old and made of wodden, so the ride was quite bumpy.

As we were late due to the railway track upgrade in Malaysia side, we have to skip the Kancanaburi excursion so that we arrived on schedule in Bangkok.  A bit disappointed about this.  They gave a free voucher that can be used for Kancaburi tour on the next day and valid up to 1 year.  However, since I will fly back to Singapore on Sunday, so I just give it a skip.
so this is a final look of the train at Hualampong station in Bangkok

To sum it up, it is very interesting experience for me to board a luxury train like this.  I really enjoyed the trip and hope that I can board into it again or another similar train....