Monday, June 21, 2010

SFO to Hong Kong to Bangkok

20 hours on a plane. Actually, ever since I can put 16gigs of books, music, podcasts, and videos on my iPhone, it’s far less painful than it used to be. I watched 4 hours of SciFi’s Tin Man which wasn’t bad at all, listened to a few hours of Car Talk, Sex with Emiliy, and the BBC, slept for 10 hours and landed in Hong Kong. Cathy Pacific was nice and on time. One more thing that really helps with sleeping is taking out the noise cancelling in-ear headphones and putting in foam ear plugs. It gets the plane noise down to almost nothing—sitting at the back of the plane far from the engines also helped.The Hong Kong airport was a bit of a letdown, though. From all the hype I’ve heard, I expected some wonder of engineering and convenience, but it’s really a pretty average FRA or ORD-style airport with overpriced and mediocre food and the usual empty luxury stores in a so-so building. At least they had reliable and free WiFi.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on the other hand is a complete knockout—from the tent-like architecture to the food and the stores.
They actually have almost every store twice in the departure hall—Gucci, Prada etc.--one on each end so guests don't have to walk that far. It really recalls a classier time of air travel: spotless, clean, sparkling, and every salesperson dressed to the nines.

Since my 20 year old memory of Bangkok consisted of horrible traffic jams as well as the things I heard about the red shirts and riots, I actually booked an airport transfer for the first time in my life. Big expensive mistake. The trip to the hotel took less than 25 minutes on a mostly Sunday afternoon deserted 8 lane highway. Ironically, just about the first thing I saw on the highway was a 50 foot Kyocera printer ad. Made me really feel at home. Without going to the business center, the only signs were some cops and military camping out on the highway--literally, they brought tents and coolers and gazebos. Given that it was about 42C and 100% humidity probably a smart choice.
Bangkok had changed so much that I had trouble reconciling my memories with the new reality. Instead of a chaotic, exhaust-y mess, the area around the main train station where I stayed for the night was almost indistinguishable from Tokyo or Osaka—clean, no more tuk-tuks, and drivers even sort-of obeyed traffic signs and red lights. Unfortunately, I only had time for a shower and a quick nap before meeting the others.

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