Monday, November 17, 2014

Singapore Airlines Flight Review: Manila to Yangon via Singapore (Round-Trip)

It was the day Typhoon Mario decided to drown Metro Manila up to her neck when I flew out of the city headed to the Golden Land of Myanmar on board Singapore Airlines (SIA).

Photo Copyright: Meldie Diente/PFN
This was the scene outside my hotel window. I booked myself at a hotel near the airport as I did not want to commute in the wee hours of the morning. Thank goodness for that decision! Otherwise, I might have missed my flight with all the flooding.

But before I go on, please accept my apologies for not having much pictures of my flight out of Manila as I was too bleary-eyed. My flight was scheduled at 7:30 a.m. and I was awake as early as 1 a.m. as Typhoon Mario tried to impress me with his howling winds and ultra-flashes of lightning which I could see even with my eyes closed. I didn’t think my flight would push through but it did. We even boarded on time but flying out of Manila was another matter. 

Photo Copyright: Meldie Diente/PFN
We were all “tucked in” comfortably with Singapore Airlines' wide seats when the captain announced that we might have to wait a bit as we were number 19 on the departing queue due to a breakdown in Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s (NAIA) radar. In the meantime, we were offered hot towels, water, orange juice, reading materials, and in-flight entertainment (IFE). I just dozed on and off, waking up each time the captain would update us, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news and bad news. The good news is, we are now number 17 (13, 9, 5). The bad news, it might take us another half an hour to depart.” (By the way, the above photo was the actual plane I was on, taken by my friend from our hotel window.)

Two hours later, we were taxiing off with most passengers asleep. In all this, I was anxious about what would happen to me as I had a connecting flight from Singapore to Yangon via Silk Air, Singapore Airlines' sister carrier, two hours after we were supposed to land. If I missed my connecting flight, the next one was the following day---if it was not already fully booked. That meant, I would have to stay overnight in Singapore. If I booked myself at a Singapore hotel, it would be expensive as it’s last-minute and during Formula One season. I wasn’t sure if Singapore Airlines would foot the bill as the delay wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t mine either, but it was not theirs. Anyway, I thought if worse comes to worst, I’ll just look up some old acquaintances and appeal to their Filipino hospitality to let me stay with them.

With that resolved in my mind, I just enjoyed the almost endangered species that was the in-flight entertainment. The selection was varied but the channels were up to 100 only. Most of the shows I wanted to watch were beyond 100 so I just tried to catch some sleep in case I had to stay at the airport for a morning flight.

Thirty minutes before landing, the captain’s voice filled the air, “Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a long day…” While he went on, I went up to the cabin crew and requested if I could be the first to leave the plane so I can still try to make it to my connecting flight. The steward dashed all my hopes by saying I really wouldn’t make it. Besides, there were no vacant seats next to any exit door for me to transfer. Nevertheless, as soon as the doors were opened, I dashed like a pirate DVD vendor caught in a raid and heard words that were music to my ears, “Passengers to Yangon! Passengers to Yangon!” A Singapore Airlines ground crew member was waiting for me and another passenger with an electric airport cart! “Yangon, here I come!” (Press fast forward and play chase scene music)

Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
When I got on board Silk Air, I even had time to go to the toilet before take-off.

Now, I don’t know what happened as I booked myself a specific seat upon purchase but I was transferred to a front-row seat. I’m not complaining here, as it was more leg room for me! However, we were not allowed to store our stuff underneath our seats so I stored mine in the overhead cabin compartment across my seat. And then I remembered my camera but I was too tired to care to go and get it for the flight review. (Sorry, editor…)

After a smooth take-off, to my surprise, we were given full meals. As this was my first time to fly Silk Air, I thought it was one of those budget airlines that lets you starve to death. I took out its magazine and realized it wasn’t a low-cost carrier at all but rather Singapore Airlines' regional carrier. The plane though was very narrow and when I pleaded I had to go to the toilet during food service, they were kind enough to push back the cart to give me passage. However, I had to wait for them to serve everybody before I could go back to my seat. That was okay as I had to stretch my legs anyway.

Our flight did not have traditional IFE but we could watch programming using our personal tablets. I connected to the plane’s Wi-Fi service to view their web site and browse my options, which were not interesting to me so I logged out. As I write this, I realized I should have taken a screen shot to show you what it looks like. I also realized I could have used my iPad to take pictures. (Again, my apologies, dear reader.) This is what happens when I am sleep-deprived. I forget I am writing for PFN. *Toink!*

To sum up my Singapore Airlines and Silk Air experience, I give both a thumbs-up for great in-flight service. They may be more expensive than our local airlines in the Philippines but you can see and feel the difference. Actually, it’s making me rethink my loyalty to our airlines.

As for Singapore Airlines, I had expected the flight to be extremely turbulent but it wasn’t at all even though the captain warned us of some slight turbulence ahead. I’ve had more rough experiences on a sunny day. I remember my friend feeling assured for my safety upon learning I was flying Singapore Airlines.

In truth, I was completely impressed by Singapore Airlines' customer service. Before boarding Silk Air en route to Myanmar, I was advised to go see its office at Yangon International Airport to report my luggage that will be left behind in Singapore because time did not allow its transfer to my connecting flight. I followed their instructions and my reporting was faster than the other passengers as I only had to show a picture of my luggage on my smart phone. (I practice what I preach. See my travel tips.) And then they handed me US$100 to buy whatever it was I needed until my luggage was delivered to my hotel! All of a sudden, I felt like Samson regaining back his God-given strength and I headed straight to the mall!

See ya, Yangon!

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
But now it was time to return to Manila via Singapore.

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Maybe because I didn’t know much about Myanmar (formerly Burma), I expected an old airport. But Yangon International Airport (YGNIA) was as modern as it can get.

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
It was better than our NAIA 4, I can tell you that. And if NAIA 2 does not get its act together, YGNIA will surpass it soon even though it was just built less than ten years ago. 

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Check-in was a breeze as I was already web-checked-in so the line was shorter. In fact, I was the only one in line as I arrived half an hour before the counters opened.

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
At immigration, the lady officer smiled at me and tried to speak in Filipino with me. She even asked me how to say, “Please look at the camera.” After helping her out, I thought she was really asking me to look at the camera. She waved her hand to say no and laughed.

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
This is the only café at the departure lounge.

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
For duty-free fanatics, the smallness of the duty-free shop here might make you cry but there are a lot of shops lined up to satisfy the shopaholic in you.

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Although most of them are souvenir shops.

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I noticed that some shops were left unmanned. Notice the smartphone also left alone. If it were some place else like you-know-where, it would already have been stolen, together with some items.

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Some services offered to while the time away. 

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The Internet service made me feel at home. Just like NAIA’s, it wasn’t working. 

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I prefer a water dispenser over a drinking fountain as it is more hygienic. I’ve seen people almost French-kissing some fountains….

yangon airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Boarding commenced on time.

singapore airlines flight review
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
singapore airlines flight review
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The flight from Yangon to Singapore wasn’t full so some passengers had the entire row to themselves to lie down. I, too, didn’t have any seatmate. Notice that we had embedded IFE and this time, it had the channels that I was interested in so the three-hour flight felt short.

singapore airlines flight review
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The food was better than I expected. The roll was so fresh and soft that I just had to thank the flight attendant who gave me another roll. The fish was also fresh and flavorful. I was disappointed with the dessert which was a bit sour. I didn’t bother with the salad at all.

singapore airlines flight review
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The rest of the flight was exactly how I want it---uneventful, with a smooth touchdown in Singapore where I had four hours to kill.

Unlike before where I zoomed my way out, I now had more time to enjoy Changi Airport, one of the world’s best airports.

singapore changi airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I was given a SGP$20 gift voucher to spend at Changi as part of SIA’s promo so I bought myself a wireless Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad.

singapore changi airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
singapore changi airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

singapore changi airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
You can just hold your boarding pass for scanning and the machine will tell you where your gate is and how to get there. Their signs also indicate how many minutes it will take you to get to your gate.

singapore changi airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
There were a lot of things to see at Changi that before I knew it, it was time to look for my gate. Changi, you’ve got my vote!

singapore changi airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 
singapore changi airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
While waiting, an airport official approached me asking if I would participate in their traffic survey which I did and got a souvenir key ring in return. 

singapore changi airport
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Boarding commenced on time.

singapore airlines flight review
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
singapore airlines flight review
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
We had embedded IFE again and it had the shows that I wanted to watch!

singapore airlines flight review
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Like my earlier flight, the roll and fish were a delight while the dessert tasted like two different things fighting for your taste buds. Once again, the salad was left to itself. Nothing personal, I’m just not a fan of veggies.

naia terminal 3
Photo copyright: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
It’s only been a few months since Singapore Airlines moved to NAIA 3 and it was my first to try it at its new home in Manila so I wondered how my baggage experience would be. I had not fully descended the stairs when I saw priority baggage being lifted out of the carousel to reunite with its happy owners. My economy baggage appeared some fifteen minutes later which isn’t bad compared to PAL or CEB which always takes longer. Before, I used to think it’s just the system at NAIA that makes baggage retrieval such a dreadful part of traveling. But if Singapore Airlines could do it fast and easy, I think I just have to point the finger at our local airlines as well. This is what happens when there’s competition---you realize the truth. And to this, I say, bring more world-class airlines to NAIA 3!

--The PARANOID TRAVELER

Adventures Abroad: Preoccupied with Occupy Hong Kong

It just so happened that I was flying to Hong Kong at a time when the former British colony was undergoing something nobody had ever expected to see on its streets. Instead of the usual commercial and financial hustle and bustle, its major streets on districts like Causeway Bay, Admiralty, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui were cordoned off and barricaded because the Chinese government had a different understanding of how elections should be. 


occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I had a front-row seat to history unfolding before the world that started two weeks before my arrival. Whatever my agenda for coming to Hong Kong was, the Umbrella Revolution took precedence as it occupied most of my time there. These are what my viewfinder saw...

Signs

Signs are a staple in any rally but some are more creative than others and very reflective of the generation to which it belongs.

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Just to be clear: I did not put that up.

Symbols

The protests were heavy on symbolisms to carry their message across. 

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The tide of public (and perhaps) world opinion turned against the Chinese government when the police used pepper spray and tear gas on the demonstrators. One self-proclaimed neutral local regrets that action saying, “The protesters were just sitting. They were not doing anything violent. So why the need?”

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Security

Did I feel safe when I was there? Yes, because Hong Kong is generally a safe place but of course, I was still careful as one can’t tell when emotions are high. That’s why I only went out during day time between 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. The only time I went out at dark was 7 p.m. One protestor even warned me about cases of groping.

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I did ask the police if there are places where I am not allowed and they basically told me to roam free to do whatever I want and go wherever I want.

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Basic services were either diverted or temporarily suspended for security’s sake. Hong Kong’s famous trams were haphazard in their services. I usually take them when I am in Hong Kong as I enjoy seeing the sights but they were mostly nowhere to be found. On my first day, I felt stupid for waiting at the stop for several minutes all by my lonely self until the realization dawned on me.

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Students et al

If we were to believe the media, we would think that only students were angry at the Chinese government. In fact, the people I met were mostly professionals.  

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

Support services

I think this is what makes the protests human. There were activities that made it possible for people to still go on with their lives although some businesses were very much stifled.

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
There was even a class session. I tried to find out if the one conducting the class was a professional teacher but his listeners just shrugged their shoulders with a sheepish smile. 

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The few students that I was able to talk to said they’re not marked as absent in school as there are classes where attendance is not mandatory. They can still submit their assignment and they do it online.
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
This isn't trash but rather donated materials for anyone in need like umbrellas, tents, food, medicine, etc. with no questions asked. I was offered free breakfast while I was mingling with them. 


occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Don’t feel sorry for these chains as only their view was blocked. It was still business as usual for them.

Sightseers and selfies

When I went there with my camera, at first, I felt unsure. I didn’t want to come off as disrespectful of what they were fighting for. But there were people doing selfies so the concern disappeared as I documented the struggle as well as tried to have some selfies of my own. One refused to take my photo saying he was busy although he was just standing, doing nothing. His video camera attached to a tripod was not even turned on. Hope his battery died before he could turn it on.

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Sightseers and onlookers could also show their support by leaving notes that were provided for everyone to use.

occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
occupy hong kong
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
But this guy didn’t bother to pick up any writing instrument to show his support. He just made a literal shout-out to the cheers of the protesters. 

-THE PARANOID TRAVELER

Are you interested in visiting Hong Kong? Check out these great hotel specials by clicking here!