Taking modern conveniences for granted, today’s internet generation gets from point A to point B using mobile apps, e-tickets and on-line customer service chats. Leaving nostalgic types longing for yesteryear’s experiences like customer service phone numbers, free food and priority service for premium ticket holders, they model many Asian airports more like small cities than transportation hubs. Thankfully, (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), a glimpse of the past awaits thousands of Bangkok bound passengers due to a revival of one of the worlds’ oldest commercial airports. Re-opened after being abandoned and replaced by Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2006, Don Mueang International Airport now provides one of Asia’s worst airport experiences. Remembering why we opted for the overnight train from Penang that’s now been altered due to modernization of Malaysia’s rail system, it’s hard to decide if the arrival or departure was worse. Anxious to share some stories from our eight-day Bangkok trip designed to escape end of Ramadan holiday crowds, I thought I’d get the ever-important semantics out-of-the-way first. Hoping we save our readers some time and frustration, here’s the scoop on flying to Bangkok from almost anywhere in Asia.
Who you expect to see in this 1970’s style airport
Having decided it’s easier to treat short-haul passengers like sardines instead of following through on a planned expansion of Bangkok’s beautiful modern airport, officials now route dozens of flights to an obsolete airport first used by KLM in 1924. In the city’s defense, they’re constructing a new extension to the BTS light rail that will ease much of the post-arrival nightmare but that might be years away. Glancing at the airport’s old drab terminal concrete building, it looks like The Brady Bunch took off from there when they made their Hawaiian vacation episode. Scheduling every arriving flight in a four-hour window each evening means unnecessary delays and adds hours to the landing process. Ensuring long bottlenecks at the immigration counters and a scam that denies most of the city’s thousands of taxis away from entering this airport, you’ll need almost two hours or more for negotiating your way through the mess. Remembering our arrival back in 2009 at Bangkok’s shiny new airport, we cringed when the plane landed, taxied about two miles and then stopped. Somewhere in the middle of a runway, we de-planed on the tarmac and they crammed us into waiting buses that take all passengers to the terminal. Reminiscent of our recent trip to Myanmar’s international airport, we expected better from Thailand.
And so all the preparation work is finally over and the last day in North America arrived. Waking to a blazing heat wave that’s almost unprecedented with temperatures already scorching and expected to hit almost 35 on the coast next week, the Great Western Canadian Road trip comes to an end late tonight when we board a flight for Hong Kong bound for a Kuala Lumpur connection. Unfortunately, Cathay Pacific frustrates me to no end with their crappy internet website that doesn’t work and no available customer service anywhere in North America on Sunday. Having bought our tickets online four weeks ago, it let us pick seats on the transcontinental flight but not the three-hour connection to Malaysia. Attempting to check in online last night, it took about 17 tries until it recognized our booking reference number. Prompted to confirm the seats to Hong Kong, it then brings us to the seat selection for the KL flight where there’s a whopping three seats left to choose from, two of which are premium upgrades. After clicking, we get an error message stating “sorry: something has gone wrong; this is probably temporary: check back later”
Knowing technology is not their strong point we checked back two more times last night and again this morning and still the same issue. With nobody to call, it seems we are stuck until we get to the airline counter where I will complain about their website and the inability to choose a seat on a connecting flight. With no seats available according to the website, I guess they’ll have to upgrade us to first class since there’s one non stop flight per day. Fortunately, Cathay is too expensive for anything except transcontinental flights anyway but I could do without the added stress. On the bright side, our property agent emailed us an itinerary of eight different showings over two days once we arrive in Penang and our friends Eric and Marlina are also leaving for Malaysia in two weeks so we hope to meet up with them by the time we meander back to KL to complete our MM2H Visa. Expecting no issues, we hope to have the approval letter by early August and hopefully we’ll be a bit settled in by then.
Wishing to once again thank our friend Nicole for allowing us to use her beautiful house in South Surrey, British Columbia for a double stay squat, I reacquainted myself with the beauty of the Lower Mainland and hope our investments do well enough to possibly return here permanently after we’ve had enough of Asia (although everything is up in the air). For now it’s goodbye to all the things we’ve both gotten used to for a lifetime and on to interesting but different things, new places and uncharted experiences. Thanks to everyone for all the supporting comments and should anyone wish to meet us in Penang, please use the contact page to email us. Taking bets on who will be first, we’ve had dozens of friends, relatives and even strangers tell us they’ll come visit but realistically I don’t expect too many visits with a 7,000 mile change of address. Hoping the IPad works in Asia, we’ll post again once were comfortably enshrined in our temporary three-day hotel home in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
In 1989, one month after I moved to San Francisco, a 7.1 earthquake shook my apartment. Fortunately, I lived in North Beach, the strongest rock in the city and suffered no physical damage.
In 2005, we visited Aruba, one of our expat destination research vacations. The most famous geographical attraction on the island was a bizarre arched rock that they say has been there 5 million years. It collapsed exactly 30 days before we arrived.
In 2009, two months before our expat exploration trip to Thailand, rebel groups blockaded the airport and almost led to a trip cancellation. Luckily, they left voluntarily before our departure date and all flights resumed uninterrupted. Continue reading →