Songkran/Pi Mai 2012: EWR-ZRH-BKK

April 2013 – Flying to Thailand and Laos for the New’s Years Festivities
(Songkran in Thai and Pi Mai in Lao)
Without question, this is the greatest vacation I have ever taken – 10 days of paradise in the air and on the ground.

My friend BP had casually mentioned to me that, next month, he was going to quit work and travel Southeast Asia for a half-year and that I should come out for a mini-reunion with mutual friends already there in the Peace Corps and Princeton-in-Asia.  I realized that I had a ton of Chase Ultimate Rewards points from credit card signups and general spending and transferred the 140,000 points neccessary to my United MileagePlus account to fly First Class New York to Vientiane (the capital of Laos) via Switzerland and stopping over in Bangkok on United and Star Alliance partner Thai Airways.

My flight left Newark Airport at 6pm, so I left work around 3pm for the 45 minute subway and train ride. I had to walk pretty far to access the Global First check-in area, but I felt like a total boss at the counter. (Quick disclaimer: I had flown a bunch before in my life, most often to see family in California, but never in business class, let alone first.) Hilariously, the attendants wouldn’t let me use the simple touchscreen to print my boarding class for my seat 1A – an extremely nice lady did all of that for me. I guess that’s what a $16,000 flight gets you!
Reality

I managed to find the airside United Club and had a quick drink, mainly to attempt to calm myself down. That failed; I was somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn when I left the Club to go board. Being in first allows you to skip the general boarding line whenever you please, so I did. I was not flying a plane with multiple decks, like a 747, so I entered the plane and immediately saw my seat. Jacked is a fair way to describe my feelings – you can think of some bon mots on your own if you want to be scholarly.

United GlobalFirst – Seat 1A

The flight attendant, whose name escapes me ten months later, came over and offered me some champagne. I was too excited to take pictures of the food or drink menus, but I did manage to get a picture of my feet strrrrrretched out.

For dinner, I had a filet with potatoes and asparagus, along with more champagne, which put me into a 2 hour sleep. The rest of the flight I watched movies on the large-ish TV and thought about how this experience was absurdedly lucky.

Arriving in Zurich early in the morning, I had a 4 hour layover until my flight to Bangkok. I had read online before that I could access the SWISS Senator lounge since I was flying first-class on a partner airline and SWISS, like Thai, is also in the Star Alliance. (SWISS is the airline of Switzerland, formed after SwissAir went bankrupt in 2002.) After a decent hike from the plane, a stop in the Panaroma Lounge for the view and a trip through and back customs to get my passport stamped, I found the Senator lounge and the most important part – the shower. After the lounge attendant verified my ticket and a brief wait of 15 minutes, I took my change of clothes in the shower room and wasted 30 minutes of water. I used all the towels and toiletries, figuring decadence is sometimes extremely neccessary. Feeling refreshed, I went back in the lounge and had a breakfast of bread, yogurt and oatmeal, interspersed with four mimosas.

Shower room
View from Panaroma Lounge
Senator Lounge
Food and drinks in the Senator Lounge

Now exhausted and tipsy, I was ready to board flight TG 971 with direct service Zurich-Bangkok.

My seat was even better than before, and I was offered Dom Perignon immediately upon sitting down. It was decent, so I had another glass. Or three.

The lack of sleep and the 7+ glasses of champagne over the last 12 hours meant that it didnt take me long to fall asleep, especially facile with the ability of my seat to turn into a fold flat bed. I was asleep for 5 hours and missed the caviar. When I awoke, I perused the menu and ordered the Thai options. Everything was tasty and the service was impeccable.

 

For instance, one of the benefits of Thai First-Class, or Royal First in their lingo, is that the ratio of flight attendants to passengers is 2:1, or 4 flight attendants to 8 seats. I’m not sure on the exact number of passengers, but economy on this 777-300 went from rows 26-61 with 9 people across, or over 300 people. You’d need 150 flight attendants to keep the levels of service equivalent – an unprofitable task. First class was only 6/8 full, so my ratio was even better than usual.

When I needed anything – food, water, drinks, newspapers, extra pillows – I only had to ring the call button and an incredibly gracious flight attendant would be at my seat in less than two seconds. After I asked twice for water in the span of 15 minutes, he intelligently brought over 2 bottles, which saved both him and I extra work. He also showed me how to work my seat into the most comfortable bed position and gave me my logo-ed Thai purple pajamas and slippers. Fresh, light PJs are extra dope to slip into and fall asleep in – clothes are heavier than you’d think.

Fresh’n’Clean PJs and Slippers

I fell asleep again for an hour and then stayed awake for the rest of the flight. There was a breakfast option of yogurt, croissants, juices and Thai porridge, so I indulged a bit.

After putting back on my regular clothes about 25 minutes before landing, I then asked my flight attendant if it was possible for me to shower after landing. He briefly spoke with the crew and, in retrospect, must have had someone call ahead, because here’s where the flight experience went from great to fantastic. I was either the first or second person off the plane – I only had my small carryon – and as I walked down the jetway I could see a uniformed woman holding up a sign. About 15 feet away, I realized the sign had my name on it, so I gestured to her and she, in turn, gestured to the golf cart right next to her. I started laughing, got on, and was driven to the Royal First lounge. (Even though I am neither aged or infirm, I always wanted to ride on those airport buggies that are reserved for grandmothers. Just because.) It’s pretty fun to be chauffered around no matter the occasion and this was no different.

Zoom Zoom

Upon entering the lounge, the chauffeur transformed into my personal attendant and showed me to the marbled bathroom, where I was able to relax and waste more water on another long shower. Feeling refreshed, I mosied over to the food area and wasn’t quite sure on the ordering policy. Literally within seconds, a waitress came over and I realized all I had to do was point and the food would come. I ordered some fruit and some congee and sat down in a semi-private lounge space. Soon, my food was brought over, and I watched CNN and had a real breakfast.

Thai Royal First Bathroom / Shower
Maxing in the Royal First Lounge

 

After an hour, I decided to make my way through customs and to my hotel via the brand new rail link from the airport to the BTS – Bangkok’s airtrain. Every attendant/waiter/waitress bowed to me when leaving, which left me feeling embarassed, but grateful for the kindness, so I threw some bows right back. I can’t say enough positive things about the Thai Royal First experience and it was truly a superlative way to enter Southeast Asia for the first time!

Quick note: I am putting up some pictures of Pi Mai. Simply, Lao people are on the Top 5 Most Generous Population list, along with country folks in Provence, the proprietors of this one Chinese restaurant in Granada, and the owners of Jak’n’Jil Hot Dogs. I’m leaving the fifth spot for a country I haven’t visited yet. For the holiday period Laos shuts down and has a countrywide block party. Anyone is invited to any party and since hot weather and water are involved, it’s mucho fun. Grab a friend or two and make this experience a reality at least once in your life – it’s worth it!

Street Party – 2nd of the day
Dynamic Duo Saving the World
BeerLao MusicFest
BeerLao MusicFest at night
3rd Street Party!
Getting wet!
Pi Mai 2012

One thought on “Songkran/Pi Mai 2012: EWR-ZRH-BKK

  1. Pingback: Around The World in 14 Days: Flying Lufthansa First Class from Newark to Frankfurt | WIndow Suite

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