Saturday, December 24, 2016

Our Southeast Asia Adventure Begins

On Wednesday morning, December 21, Nancy and I flew on All Nippon Air from Dulles Airport outside Washington to Bangkok with a change of planes at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.  I had booked the flights through United Airlines the previous spring and had not quite focused on (or recalled) that as a code-share partner United was unable to book seats for us, and it was not until about a week before departure that I noticed that we had no assigned seats for most of our round-trip flights.  Might we not even be sitting together? When I called ANA, I was told the best thing for us to do would be to show up three hours before flight time, when the check-in desk opened, and try to get seats together.  I got some relief when I did online check-in: we did have seats together, but a quick glance at SeatGuru told me that we would be close to the bathrooms.  So when we arrived early I asked if we could sit further from the bathroom.  The airplane employee took one look at me and said, you need extra legroom!  SO she gave us bulkhead seats, which not only gave me extra legroom; it also let Nancy put her feet up on the wall while sleeping and made it easier to get up and down without disturbing other passengers. We were both able to get a fair amount of sleep in this first leg of our flight.   We’ll have to ask for such seating on future long haul flights.

I was also trying out new flight pillow that I head read about online and decided to try instead of the inflatable neck pillows that I have been using in recent years.  The TravelRest pillow worked very well for me!)

We had a three-and-a-half hour layover at Narita; the flight to Bangkok was not nearly so pleasant: we were jammed into ordinary cattle-class seats whose pitch was so small that I could barely fit in.  ANA is certainly a worthy code-share partner for United Airlines, where the cattle-class seats on domestic flights are similarly uncomfortable for me.  We reached Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport late, and by the time we got through immigration and customs at was 1 AM.  I was glad that we had booked an overnight room at the Suvarnabhumi Airport Novotel, which was located inside the airport a couple minutes van ride away.  We tumbled into the largest bed I think I have ever seen and we were fast asleep quickly and slept fairly well for several hours, despite the time change.

On Friday morning, we had an excellent breakfast buffet and enjoyed looking around the lobby of the hotel.  The lobby was adorned with photo tributes to the recently deceased king (note also this photo display at the entrance to the airport);

there was this nice superstructure about the check-in desk. 

We caught the bus back to the airport: this statuary adorned the lobby

and it was on to Siem Reap on Bangkok Airways – seats were not terrific but it was a flight of less than an hour so have no complaint.  You don’t need to get a visa in advance of arrival at Siem Reap, and although the line for “visa-on-arrival” was long, it moved quickly.  The visa itself was lovely.

Our hotel, the Neth Socheata, includes airport pickup in the price so we were at our room before 3 PM.

With not much remaining of the day, we decided to spend the afternoon at the Angkor National Museum: despite the fairly steep price of $12 per person, it was a good introduction to the area:  a large number of artifacts from the Khmer from about the sixth century to the fourteen century, as well as films about the period and the various temples that we will be visiting for the next three days.  Highlights include a detailed model of Angkor Wat itself and a worth-the-price audio tour for $5 additional that provides detailed descriptions of roughly forty of the artworks as well as rich detail about Hindu and Buddhist cosmology.   One thing I would put on the must-miss list: the four minute film on display at the beginning of the tour in the “Briefing Hall,” which is little more than an advertisement for the museum itself. No cameras allowed inside the museum (and no bags!), so I have no photos from inside, but this is what the museum looked like when we left just before its 6:30 closing time.

We got back from the museum tired and hungry, Happily, the Khmer Kitchen was just down Hospital Street a block  from our hotel: a huge restaurant where we decided to eat upstairs for better refuge from the noise of the street.  The menu had a large selection of Khmer dishes, along with a small amount of Thai dishes as well.  We enjoyed an appetizer of Khmer dumplings, mango salad, a Khmer curry (the beef was a tad tough), and fried pumpkin.  Then back to the hotel for a quick shower and into bed.  I was just falling asleep when Sam, Nafisa and Abraham arrived from their evening flight.  It was good to see them, but I was tired and after a brief greeting I was back in bed and pleasantly surprised to be able to sleep almost through the entire night.  I was encouraged to think that I am adjusting easily to the time change.

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