Last summer I took my sister to Southeast Asia after she finished graduate school. It was her first trip to the continent and her first time using miles to fly first class, so she was pretty excited. But the blame falls squarely on me for getting distracted by other events since then. I’ve made it my goal to finish this trip report series in the next week, and because I’m picking this up again mid-stream, here are some older installments to get you caught up:
Trip Report Index
- Trip Report Introduction: Taking My Sister to Asia for Two Weeks
- Review: Cathay Pacific First Class SFO-HKG (Last of the 747s)
- Review: Grand Hyatt Hong Kong (after Renovations)
- Revisiting the Old, and Finding New Favorite Activities in Hong Kong
- Review: Dragonair Economy Class to Chiang Mai (HKG-CNX)
- Review: Le Meridien Chiang Mai
- Visiting the Baanchang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai: Like Bangkok without the Crowds
There weren’t a lot of options to get us from Chiang Mai to Siem Reap. I suppose a bus would have been one option, but did you really expect me to sit on a Thai bus for several hours meandering through farmland? No. I am not backpacker trying to escape modern life.
We flew, but we had to settle for a connecting flight in Bangkok. I chose Bangkok Airways because I’d heard some positive things about its quirky low-cost structure, sort of like an Thai version of Southwest Airlines, and because I preferred to connect through Suvarnabhumi Airport instead of Don Mueang. Some parts of our trip were still in the air at the time we booked. I could always change my mind in Bangkok and skip ahead to Shanghai.
We checked in at Chiang Mai in the domestic half of the long terminal. But because our ultimate destination was international, we were directed to a separate gate on the other end. Fortunately we stopped to grab a coffee before passing through security. Bangkok Airways operates free “Boutique Lounges” for all its customers, but the domestic lounge was closed, and the international gates had access only to a very small lounge about the size of a typical snack shop. With big glass windows and a receptionist basically staring at the rest of the room from her corner, it felt uncomfortable.
As I said, this was a domestic flight and we appeared to be the only people directed to the international departures area. Everyone else boarded the plane from the other side of the terminal. I kept looking around for a gate agent as our departure time crept closer. About 25 minutes before departure one finally appeared and confirmed we were in the right place, but he didn’t motion for us to follow him and board until 10 minutes later. Fortunately all gates are connected along a single hallway; only the waiting areas are kept separate.
We would be flying on an Airbus A320 but had to check our bags anyway because the connection would be on a tiny ATR7. It was a pretty standard A320 except for the extremely threadbare carpet.
During our layover in Bangkok, we had a couple hours to explore. Though our flight had a small snack and free beer, it was not very appetizing. Katherine and I headed through the various hallways and queues to find the Boutique Lounge again, which was noticeably better than the one in Chiang Mai. The hard surfaces and a blue-and-white motif reminded me of a fast-food restaurant — a nice fast-food restaurant — but it at least offered some privacy and a larger selection of cold snacks and drinks.
If you have a Priority Pass membership, there are also several Louis’ Tavern CIP First Class lounges available in the airport. They weren’t very impressive. The one I visited was nearly empty, and the lids covering every dish of food were disconcerting. About the only redeeming features were self-serve liquor and Haagen-Dazs.
Eventually I got hungrier than either place could satisfy and wandered off in search of Burger King.
The second half of our journey was far more interesting. We would be departing from a remote stand — my first time doing so in Bangkok — except I don’t think it was really a remote stand at all. More like a remote part of the airport where they kept spare planes. Our buss whizzed by a bunch of A380s all the way out to the edge of the field, and we climbed aboard just as if we were at some small rural airport in the U.S.
Katherine took one look at this ATR7 and immediately became suspicious. But she had nowhere to run. And I had her passport. 😉
It was like any ride on a turbo-prop: noisy and a bit bumpy, but I’ve had worse. I got another suspicious snack box and a refreshing can of Chang.
What was unusual was that as we got closer to Siem Reap it got darker and darker and there weren’t any lights on the ground. We seemed to be heading to the middle of nowhere. I was relieved to see we landed at a very modern-looking airport. But if anything the huge gaps between old and new in Cambodia made it one of the more interesting destinations on this trip.