Category Archives: Travel

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Thai Airways Business Class USM-BKK-SIN


So it was when flying back from Ko Samui to Singapore that I started regretting doing the entire journey on Thai Airways – since Ko Samui is located pretty much between Bangkok and Singapore, having to transit at Bangkok effectively quadrupled the travel time required.

Still, an interesting experience, even if one I’m unlikely to repeat in the future, and I’ve captured some highlights below.

Samui Airport

Being rather used to flying through air-conditioned city airports, Samui Airport was a bit of an eye-opener for me. There’s something quaint and charming about an airport that decides to place aquariums in the toilet to entertain you while you… go.

Most of the airport was very much open, with not an air-conditioner in sight. There’s something about walking within the airport towards your departure gate without a roof over your head.

I’d hate to be there when it’s raining, though.

When you finally get to the gate, there are some trams to bring you to the plane. Since we had some time to kill, we decided to check out the lounge first.

Blue Ribbon Club (Bangkok Airways Lounge) USM

The Thai Airways business ticket granted me access to the Blue Ribbon Club, which appeared to be the only lounge(s) in the airport (according to an old FlyerTalk thread, there’re an international and domestic one, and I’d visited the rather lacklustre international lounge).

It’s essentially just a small room with a rather limited range of items you can order off the menu.

There’s also a bunch of snacks – nothing particularly appealing, really.

I did enjoy being able to get a whole coconut while in the lounge.

All in all, a rather skippable experience. Think I’d rather have spent more time walking around the airport!

USM-BKK (Boeing 737)

The flight back to Bangkok was on the same Boeing 737 hardware that I took from BKK.

Again, no in-flight menu was provided for the domestic trip, though the meal looked rather less offensive/bewildering to non-Asians.

Royal Silk Lounge BKK

Unfortunately, due to lack of foresight, the 1h transit time in BKK did not really offer much time in the lounge, other than to snap some quick pictures before running off to the departure gate.

All in all, it seemed like a rather serviceable place. Wish I’d had more time to stay there!



BKK-SIN (Boeing 777)

The flight back was on a Boeing 777. Though not the swanky A350, as an international (albeit short-haul) flight the hardware was pretty decent, with a good amount of legroom.


There were in-flight menus again! After the regional flights I was getting used to life without them. I ordered the green curry with fishballs – it was tasty enough, though nothing fantastic.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, while I enjoyed the A350 experience, the bulk of Thai’s hardware for short-haul flights fails to impress. Unless you’re flying long-haul on newer hardware, I’d suggest saving your miles/money for better usage!

Hotel Review: Conrad Koh Samui (Oceanview Pool Villa)


Our flight was scheduled to land at 8.30am and so we anticipated arriving at the property around 10am. I had indicated this when doing online check-in the night before and requested they email me if able to accommodate an early check-in. Thankfully they were, so we were able to check in about 5h early – definitely a win for us!

After clearing immigration, we picked up our rental car from Hertz and started heading over to the hotel, about an hour’s drive away. There were a number of small roads, especially towards the end, but if you’re an experienced driver I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough – we really appreciated having the freedom to explore the island (and nearby eateries – more on that later).

So, about an hour of driving later, we had arrived at Conrad Koh Samui.

Checking in

The arrivals area is essentially an open air lounge where you’re served some iced drinks while waiting for logistics to be settled. It also features a stunning bird’s-eye view of the grounds. It’s beautiful. I spent minutes just looking at it.

(There’s also not that much else to do while waiting for stuff to be settled, but really, it’s beautiful.)

We were issued some vouchers (I only redeemed the four complimentary drinks; the others required a certain levels of spending that I wasn’t quite prepared for) as well as (for the Diamond member) the chance to win something in a lucky draw.

Prizes apparently range from ice cream to complimentary spa treatments. Being the lucky people we are, we won for ourselves… a complimentary piece of soap. Wonderful.

Another check-in gift (actually delivered later to the room) – an amenities gift set. Given that it’s the exact same stuff they have lying around in the bathroom, I’m not particularly enthused about getting a complete set like this – could make a nice gift for some people, I suppose.

Diamond members usually get upgraded, but unfortunately for us the property was fully booked. Having effectively received an extra 5h on the property though we weren’t too fussed, especially since the villas are essentially identical other than proximity to the beach (for one-level upgrades) or additional electronics in the room (for two-level upgrades).

We stayed in Villa 217, which ended up being a pretty good location due to its (relative) proximity to the breakfast restaurant and unobstructed view from the villa (as listed on FlyerTalk).

The room

It’s a villa. It’s large. It’s roomy. It’s nice.

The fruit bowl is more substantial than most hotels I’ve been in. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of a mango. I suppose that actually makes me rather easy to impress – just throw in a mango and I’m good.

Also, free macarons.

There’s also a rather large walk-in closet space…

A rather large bathroom…

A rather large bowl-shaped bathtub (you feel kinda like a wonton in soup, soaking in this thing)…

A shower, and the commode.

Essentially, everything’s large. There’s a great sense of space, especially for the average Singaporean used to living in apartments.

There’s also your private outdoor area (well, as private as it can be – the row of villas above us probably could see us quite clearly if they’d wanted to) with deck chairs and that awesome private pool.

It’s actually a pretty standard (small) private pool, actually – what really made it awesome was the view. There is an almost indescribable sense of wonder that comes upon you when staring out into the vast, boundless ocean. Very calming; almost therapeutic. The fact that you could do so while dipping in your own private strip of water is pretty amazing.

I also made the mistake of not bringing a float to the property – lounging in the pool would probably have been even more enjoyable with one of these things.

I was somewhat bummed that I wasn’t able to catch an awesome sunset while on the property (it was rather cloudy the evening I attempted to do so), but c’est la vie!

The grounds

So a large roomy villa is all very well and good, but at some point you are likely to want to go out and explore the rest of the property. In case you want to get into a larger pool, the communal one does offer the same breathtaking oceanic view.

There’s also the gym, which we used primarily as a bypass to get to the beach deck level.

You can probably tell that we are sporty types.

At the beach deck you get access to some hammocks. Fun stuff.

There’s also an area with umbrella-like shelters and outdoor seating furniture. Also, hammock-like webbing suspended over rocks. I was too chicken to stay on those for long (visions of falling to my death danced in my head), but if you are confident enough of the structural integrity of those things it is rather comfortable to just lie there.

There’re also the floating platforms and hammocks suspended over the sea, but we didn’t really want to get wet at that point in time, so this is as close as we got to them:

Breakfast

Breakfast is served at Zest, the restaurant pretty much at the centre of the property (marked #4 on this map). Happily enough, it was a short walk away from my villa.

We opted to be seated outside, with front-row seats to the the ocean view. Seriously, I couldn’t get enough of that stuff.

Upon being seated you get to order an egg dish. I have no idea if you’re allowed to get a second – one was sufficient for me. I ordered the Thai Egg Benedict, which was rather unique and pretty enjoyable.

Aside from that, there’s the buffet spread, which though not earth-shaking did offer more than sufficient food to fill you up. Interestingly enough, they had a dedicated section for Korean (breakfast?) foods, suggesting that they form a significant proportion of guests at the property.

Alternative eats

We did eat at the property a few times, and though decent enough and not priced as extortionately as you might expect, failed to impress. This is where having the car came in really handy – being able to easily access cheaper tastier food around the island was a luxury in itself.

Sabienglae

This was probably my favourite of the places we’d tried. The downside was that it was located pretty much across the island, about half an hour away by car.

Still, the combination of tasty food and scenic view can’t be beat. I suppose it could be cheaper, but it was already very affordable by Singaporean standards.

Green Talay

About a 10min drive from the hotel, also recommended on the FlyerTalk thread for the property, this place was pretty good and affordable. No complaints!

Hemingway’s on the Beach

This place was really near the hotel (about 10min by car) and was ranked in the top 10 of Tripadvisor’s listings for Ko Samui, so we decided to give it a go.

My main impression of the place was that it offered a pretty good view of the sunset.

The food was decent enough, if rather home-style (in a good way). However, the dishes really took rather long to prepare (further accentuating the home-style feel, in a bad way). It was also more expensive than the other restaurants we tried.

After settling our bill the owner asked us to rate them on TripAdvisor, which is probably how they ended up there. It’s not bad, but probably not my first recommendation!

Activities

The property offered some complimentary recreation activities – the schedule was accessible via TV menu. We tried out yoga, which was attended by a grand total of 4 hotel guests, that day.

Waking up early to contort my body into various unnatural positions was interesting, but I decided it was not something I was really keen on doing more of in the future.

They also offered ‘luxury boat excursions’ to a nearby island, which we tried out on our last day at the property.

Boat Excursion

The boat excursion is essentially a ride to nearby (smaller) island Koh Mat Sum. There are generally mixed reviews on this – the island is not a particularly exciting place, so I can see why some might not like it. For us, we found it the experience a nice enough change from just relaxing at the property.

For the excursion, a buggy picks you up from your villa and brings you to the arrivals area, where you are loaded onto a minivan and brought to a jetty. Then it’s onto the boat and off you go!

Towels and water are provided, so there’s no real need to bring anything. They also sell picnic sets, but if that’s what you’re looking for it’s probably far cheaper to prepare your own.

At some point along the way, they stopped the boat and announced that we would be stopping for about half an hour for some snorkelling. No one in the boat seemed interested, though, so we proceeded towards Koh Mat Sum.

If I was better prepared for the snorkelling option I probably would have liked to do it, although it could be pretty daunting to indicate an interest in doing it and having the entire boat wait for you to finish having your fun in the water.

I think the snorkelling point was near Tean Island – I took the screenshot only a little later, so the location’s not completely accurate.

After awhile more, we arrived at Koh Mat Sum.

We didn’t really explore the place very much, but what we had access to was a strip of beach and some shops selling exorbitantly-priced food and drinks.

Also, the chance to get up close and personal with some weird-looking chickens.

You’re able to borrow the snorkelling gear and do it off the beach, but there was really nothing much to see near the island, which made us regret not insisting on snorkelling at the earlier stop.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty nice beach to just relax and chill on. Bring a book or some picnic items and it can make an enjoyable short excursion.

The Souvenir

Many Conrad properties throughout the world offer some sort of stuffed animal and I’ve started becoming a bit of a collector. Conrad Koh Samui’s is a turtle, which they present to you when you check out.

All in all, I consider this to have been almost a bucket list experience – so much so that I’ve already made plans to return before my Diamond status expires next March!

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Thai Airways Business Class BKK-USM


Royal Silk Lounge at Concourse A (Domestic)

Since we were flying domestically, there was only one lounge we could enter using our tickets. I thought the experience was a relative non-event – I think the international lounges are way nicer, though I guess this still beats the typical contract lounge.

 

The Hardware

The flight was on a Boeing 737, which is perfectly fine for a short 1h journey. Much like US domestic flights, these are pretty much glorified flying buses. ;)

That said, it’s nice to know that these “bus seats” offer generous legroom, even if furnishings are rather dated.

The Food

I didn’t expect too much from a short domestic flight, but was rather surprised to find out that they were serving porridge for the in-flight meal (no menu was provided), with no alternatives available. There was at least one westerner on board who looked at the food and declined the meal altogether.

Interestingly enough, a plastic container of condensed milk was provided (at the bottom left). I asked a flight attendant if it was condensed milk (I wanted to mix it into my tea) and she looked horrified – apparently, it’s meant to be paired with the youtiao (Pa Thong Ko / Chinese crullers).

I still proceeded to make my Singapore-style cup of teh, of course.

The View

Something I really enjoyed about the flight was the view on the way in. I’m so used to flying into cities that it’s nice seeing something a little less developed and more scenic prior to landing.

The airport was a little more basic (and charming in its own way – more on that in a future post) – no jet bridges were provided, and upon landing we were herded into little mini-buses that brought us into the terminal.

It was time for the highlight of the trip – heading to Conrad Koh Samui!

Hotel mini-review: Conrad Bangkok (Executive Corner)


We stopped over in Bangkok and headed back to Conrad Bangkok, where we’d stayed last December. We didn’t manage to snag a suite mega-upgrade this time round, but were upgraded to an Executive Corner room, which isn’t too bad. If you compare floor plans, you’ll see that the room (at the bottom right of the floorplan below) takes up about the same amount of space as the living room in the Deluxe Suite. This is still extremely roomy – it actually also means you don’t spend quite as much time walking around unnecessarily in an overly large room. Or, at least, this is I told myself after failing to secure a suite upgrade.

Breakfast and lounge offerings are still pretty much the same (in a nutshell – good) so I’ll just focus on the room.

Upon entering the room you are still treated to a seemingly pointless corridor…

…which I assume is there mainly because of the shape of the building. The room itself is pretty spacious – I do think the extra space is well utilised.

Behind the work desk are the mini-bar and a walk-in closet.

The room came with the standard rice crackers, fruit and chocolates. The fruit platter seems somewhat less generous this time (just two bananas) – not sure if the suites come with more fruit or it’s just a seasonal thing.

The bathroom came with a bathtub, a single sink, a shower (and the toilet, of course); it was just (very much) more compact than the one in the deluxe suite, unsurprisingly.

The Executive Corner room is technically a three-step upgrade from the basic room, but it’s essentially the same as a Deluxe Corner room (one step up from basic room), only situated on a higher floor and with executive lounge access. That said, the extra space (570 sq ft vs. 441 sq ft) is certainly noticeable and not a trivial upgrade – Hilton Honors Gold or Diamond guests would do well to try to make sure they get at least a Corner upgrade, if available.

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Thai Airways Business Class SIN-BKK


Since Thai Airways was operating the A350 on some flights between SIN-BKK, I made sure that I was able to get onboard one of them for my outbound flight.

I don’t know about you, but when flying on business class around lunchtime I try to make it a point to get to the airport earlier for some bites at the airline’s lounges, which tend to serve better food than the contract lounges that Priority Pass gets you into.

Changi Airport Terminal 1 Thai Airways Royal Silk Business Class Lounge

So, immediately after checking in, I headed straight for the Thai business lounge in T1.

Since (if I’m not mistaken) Thai Airways is the only Star Alliance airline operating in T1, and there are only a handful of flights to Bangkok daily, the lounge doesn’t seem to get all that crowded – a good thing, in my book.

I was actually pretty impressed by the offerings at the lounge – the drink selection was a bit more limited than I’d have liked, but the food spread worked well as a quick bite before boarding the plane.

   

 

After stuffing my face on snacks in the lounge, I proceeded towards the plane in the hope of continuing to stuff my face on in-flight food. The new(ish) A350 was clearly visible from the boarding area.

The Hardware

You can tell how new the plane is from the state of its interior.

The seat was pretty comfortable, with more than adequate legroom.

Other than the large screen in front of the seat, there was a touchscreen to the side of the seat. The seatbelt resembles the type you find in cars (fastened diagonally) – while I’m sure this is more secure, I did find it more uncomfortable. I usually keep the seatbelt on when flying, but found myself unbuckling whenever possible during this flight.

The dining table is stowed away in plain sight pretty much in front of you, to be unfolded diagonally when food is served. A rather elegant approach, I thought.

The Food

The fare was pretty good, but nothing earth-shattering. I opted for the Squid Ink Spaghetti for myself. It was… okay, but not all that memorable.


Towards the end of the flight they started giving out orchids for the ladies on board. A clearly sexist move, Griffles ended up a happy beneficiary when The Wife opted to pin it on him instead on in her hair.

All in all, a pleasant flight – I left the plane feeling rather pleased that I’d opted to fly Thai business for this trip. That said, for a quick 2h flight it’s not really that big a deal – I didn’t even manage to try switching the seat to flat bed mode!

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Touring the Thai Conrads


When the (short-lived) Visa/Conrad promotion went live last year, I’d obsessed over how I could make the most of the deal. Having never been to Conrad Koh Samui (often mentioned as one of the aspirational properties in the Hilton Portfolio), I decided that March 2017 would be as good a time as any to check it out, swinging by Bangkok on the way while enjoying another 50% discounted Conrad stay there.

 

Thai Airways seemed like the logical option to get from SIN to USM with a BKK stopover; I enjoyed the experience (especially flying on the new A350) but looking back I kinda wish I had saved on the air ticket and got “a la carte” direct flights instead. For such short trips, flying business class is really rather unnecessary – especially if the hardware for regional flights is not particularly great.

Still, an enjoyable experience all in all – certainly worthy of cataloguing. Shall be doing so in the days ahead!

Asia Miles, ex-SIN

What do you do when your national carrier devalues its mileage programme? Consider alternatives.

Hotel Review: Conrad London St. James (King Deluxe Room)

There are many Hilton properties in London, and though I’ve not actually stayed in many of them myself, the consensus (at least, on FlyerTalk) seems to be that Conrad London St. James, Hilton London Bankside, Hilton London Canary Wharf and Hilton London Tower Bridge all seem to be pretty well-regarded. With the fortuitous (and short-lived) Visa/Conrad promotion last year, I managed to net myself two free nights and stayed at the Conrad for a whopping five nights while in London, and found myself enjoying the stay immensely.

Location

The Conrad London St. James is located along Broadway, pretty much opposite the St. James Park underground station. It’s also round the corner from Westminster Abbey, which is very much a central location, as far as London goes.

The building itself looks pretty unassuming, blending in with all the other mid-rises in the area. The fancy dropoff area (and signage) are the only clues for what the building actually is.

Conrad London St James exterior

The hotel lobby has a very modern feel to it. This is perhaps due to the inclusion of modern art that I do not understand. Perhaps this sculpture represents the never-ending climb towards achieving and maintaining elite status?

Conrad London lobby

Slightly away from the main lobby is a sculpture comprising toys and action figures from across the decades, including stuff from various Pixar movies to franchises like Transformers. A geeky tribute, indeed.

Conrad London lobby toy sculpture

(Minutes after writing the above, I found out that the Conrad’s website has an Art Collection page that lists and explains the meaning behind several of its art pieces, including many pieces I hadn’t noticed, clearly proving my inability to appreciate art.)

The Room

I was assigned a King Deluxe room, which is just one step above the basic Superior Room. I got the sense that the property isn’t too generous with suite upgrades, though I didn’t try all that hard to get upgraded this time round.


King Deluxe Rm floorplan
(Image from Conrad London St. James website)

Anyway, I thought the room was more than adequate. It managed to feel sufficiently roomy, and was decked out with rather pleasant modern decor.

King Deluxe Rm

The king bed was sufficiently comfortable, and the desk was functional, I suppose. The inclusion of a media port for connecting devices (e.g. a laptop) to the TV was appreciated.

bed desk

The minibar area was pretty well-stocked, though I can’t say I’m an expert since I don’t usually take anything other than the complimentary items, which included Nespresso coffee capsules and a fair number of tea bags.

minibar-tea minibar

The bathroom was adequately large, with clear sections for the toilet, bathtub, shower (not pictured) and sink area, all nicely laid out in marble.

toilet bathroom

The TV was interestingly embedded into a flat mirror-like surface; when switched off, it’s not immediately obvious that there is a television set. Functionally it doesn’t really make much of a difference, but it’s interesting to note the attempt at integrating/hiding the television set within the room.

TV

The Extras

The room came with the fairly typical complimentary fruit platter; I’m not too sure if this is targeted at elite guests or is standard issue.

Conrad London welcome fruit

Many Conrad properties come with complimentary stuffed toys – we were lucky enough to arrive quite shortly after the launch of their new Mascot, Monty (the bulldog). Monty is a rather large (and higher cost, I imagine) toy and only comes upon request.

A very warm welcome to Monty! This handsome chap is our new mascot #MeetMonty #StayInspired

A post shared by Conrad London St James (@conradlondonsj) on

We requested for one, of course, and got a complimentary plush bulldog delivered to our room.

Monty

The availability of plush toys gave us the chance to create various dioramas within the room.

Monty Griffles fight Monty Griffles ride

Over the Christmas period, the hotel also delivered a special seasonal platter of chocolates to the room. A nice touch, I must say!

Conrad London Xmas chocolates

Breakfast

We had our breakfast at the hotel’s Blue Boar restaurant.

Blue Boar entrance Blue Boar interior

For hot food, they had the standard English breakfast items (eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc.). You could also order cooked eggs – they didn’t have a live station you could order from. Also on offer – fruits, salad, bread, cereals, juices… a pretty wide range of stuff to choose from.

Hot food Fruit and salad

Bread Juice

FlyerTalk makes a big deal of the honey-roasted granola, which I must concede is pretty tasty. I believe it’s the same recipe as the one at the Hilton London Bankside.

Granola

All in all, a great place to stuff yourself with a proper English breakfast, fresh fruit, cereal, or all of the above. I was very much satisfied with the breakfast offerings.

Breakfast on plate

Lounge breakfast

I generally opt for the restaurant breakfast when able to since the lounge usually serves a more limited range of the same food, and it wasn’t any different at this property. Would suggest going for the restaurant breakfast unless you really would prefer the comparative privacy in the lounge, for some reason.

Lounge breakfast 1 Lounge breakfast 2

The Lounge

Lounge hours

Other than breakfast, the lounge offered afternoon treats and evening canapés (with drinks). The space itself was quite well-designed – there aren’t actually that many seats available, but each segment is styled differently and gives each area a distinct feel, making the lounge feel larger than it really is.

Lounge interior

Lounge 1 Lounge 2

Lounge 3 Lounge 4

There’s also a little meeting room that’s available for rental (first hour complimentary). Didn’t see any meetings going on in there during my stay, so I guess it’s not that popular an option. There were also showers available in the lounge, though I’m not too sure why anyone would choose to shower here instead of in their own room (in a really big hurry, I suppose?).

Meeting room Lounge shower toilets

At one end of the lounge is a relatively interesting centrepiece…

Lounge setting

…on the other side of which is where the action lies. The beverage offerings lie directly opposite.

Lounge alcohol

Cheese and cold cut spreads were available every evening.

Cheese platter Cold cuts

The specific hot food and desserts available differed daily, but generally I found them all to be rather enjoyable – it’s possible to substitute dinner with these, if you really want to.

Evening canapés (1)

Evening 1 menu

Evening 1 hot food Evening 1 dessert

Evening canapés (2)

Evening 2 menu Evening 2 hot food

Evening canapés (3)

Evening 3 menu Evening 3 hot food

Afternoon treats

I was exploring the city most afternoons, but got the chance to check out the tea time selections on Christmas day, when most of the city was closed anyway. Wasn’t that impressed with the savoury offerings, but the desserts were pretty good.

Afternoon tea menu

Tea dessert Tea scones

Tea plated

Assuming it’s like this every day, I think it’s a pretty good place to grab a bite, if you happen to be in the hotel in the afternoon.

Conclusion

All in all, I really enjoyed my stay here. You can get rooms here at about £240 per night without discount, although since properties like the Hilton London Bankside are available at 2/3 the price, I find it hard to justify paying the premium for this place. Still, if you’d like to pamper yourself, or are able to make a booking at a discounted rate, it’s definitely a great place to stay!

Virgin Trains East Coast First Class (York – London Kings Cross)

I’d planned to spend about half my trip up in Northern England, but ultimately I did want to swing by London during my trip to the UK, so I’d booked advance tickets from York to London – those are the non-changeable/refundable tickets that usually go on sale about 12-24 weeks before date of travel. I was lucky enough to snag them at £14 each, as opposed to the £80ish or so you might expect to pay if purchased on the spot. Even among advance tickets the pricing is rather variable – I’m guessing that prices are tiered according to how many advance tickets have already been sold on that particular train.

(I find that it’s pretty safe purchasing advance tickets for a mid-trip journey – I’d tried the same thing with my train from Manchester Airport but ended up buying on the spot anyway. Since plane arrival times are less certain, I think it might be better to stick to a flexible ticket for arrival connections.)

Anyhow, as mentioned in previously, a week before the day of travel I received an email offering me the chance to upgrade to first class for the cool price of £15. I’m not entirely sure how I got the offer – it seems that Virgin Trains East Coast has a First Class weekend upgrade offer, but since I was travelling on a weekday I guess it might just have been a routine targeted offer to up-sell unused inventory?

 

upgrade offer

If so, it was pretty effective, since I decided to bite the bullet pretty quickly. £29 for a £140ish value experience? Sign me up! (Side note – I find train tickets hard to valuate precisely due to the many pricing tiers available, depending on how restrictive your fare is.)

The Hardware

Unfortunately, York station does not have a first class lounge, so I missed the chance to check out that perk associated with a first class train ticket. I could technically have gone into the one at London Kings Cross upon arrival, but at that point I was more interested in checking out the hotel. Don’t think I missed all that much, really – it seems similar enough to an airport lounge, but for a 2h journey on a roomy train it doesn’t really seem all that essential.

vt_kingsx_lounge_02
(Image from Virgin Trains East Coast website)

Since there weren’t any special facilities at the station, the approach to the train was pretty standard.

train on platform

The first class carriages were nearer the front of the train, so there was actually more walking required to get there! Train carriages looks pretty much the same from the outside, so everything felt pretty normal up to this point…

first class carriage

…upon boarding the train, the differences became apparent.

Virgin Trains first class

For comparison, here’s a picture of the seats in standard class, below. The first class seats are wider, have more legroom and are upholstered in leather – relatively small differences, but the increase in comfort was noticeable. Similar to regional business class on a plane, I suppose?

virgin-trains-east-coast-hst-interior-refresh_24130920696_o-cropped
(Image from Forbo Flooring Transport)

There wasn’t all that many people in the carriage, so we got a table (which usually seats four) to ourselves.

first class table

So with all that extra space, it was pretty easy getting comfortable for the journey ahead.

gryphontrain

On top of all that, travelling in first class grants access to free onboard WiFi, which was actually pretty useful given that we cut through some less-developed areas with spotty mobile coverage, so WiFi provided a more stable internet connection throughout the entire journey.

The Food

One of the other perks of first class train travel is complimentary food and drinks. Apologies for the substandard pictures of the menu items – it’s probably easier to browse the offerings on the Virgin Trains East Coast website.

first class menu drinks

first class menu food

I had the lamb & vegetable stew which I thought was actually pretty good, but the serving size is pretty small so I consider it something in between a snack and a proper meal. Definitely not the multi-course offering you get on a plane.

lamb stew

Still, pretty tasty, and good enough to get by until (early) dinner.

Conclusion

I enjoyed my first class train experience, and would be willing to pay ~£15 again for another upgrade. However, any higher and I think it probably makes more sense to stick to the standard carriage – the extra money is probably better spent getting a proper meal before boarding the train, if possible.

Via Istanbul: Turkish Airlines Business Class IST-MAN / MAN-IST

Following my extremely pleasant stopover at Istanbul, the moment of truth had finally arrived.

I had booked my air tickets because I’d felt the promotional rates were simply too good to pass – somewhere along the way, though, I was alerted to the fact that the short-haul leg of my journey was likely to be in seats like these:


Image from The MileLion

They look nice enough, but they’re essentially reupholstered economy class seats with the middle seat blocked out as cup holders.

At the same time, I’d heard that the newer A321s (that I was flying) were supposed to look more like this…

Turkish short haul business class
(Image from
Turkish Airlines website)

…so I was immensely relieved to see that this was indeed the case upon boarding the plane. Phew!

The seat was comfortable enough – though nowhere as roomy as my previous long-haul leg of the journey, there was more than enough legroom to play with.

Turkish short haul business class legroom

The new(-ish) safety video that OMAAT had blogged about was playing. I think it’s cute, but since most of the ‘magic’ was done with the use of camera tricks, I didn’t really find it all that impressive (or entertaining).

Turkish airways safety video

I was also relieved to find a personal screen folded away in the seat’s armrest. Though way smaller than its long-haul equivalent, I actually quite liked having the screen within touching reach – the interface is clearly optimised for touch controls, and it was somewhat cumbersome using the remote to control the larger screen (which was also positioned further away from the passenger).

Turkish airlines short haul business class screen

Seat controls were not motorised – it’s the old type of controls where you hold the button and adjust the seat position by leaning/pushing as appropriate.

Turkish airlines business class seat controls

Which isn’t ideal, but I guess it still works.

Breakfast, IST-MAN

There was no option to indicate your orders on this breakfast menu – I suppose on a short-haul flight, they don’t expect you to need to place your orders before going to sleep for hours.

Turkish breakfast menu

The ‘flying chef‘ was (from my perspective) just helping the flight crew deliver food to the passengers – I’m quite curious about what exactly they do onboard other than this… I’m sure they’re supposed to be involved in food preparation, but what exactly can you do when you’re up on an aircraft?

Turkish flying chef

I realise now that this is was my first encounter with “gözleme”, so it was here that my adventurous spirit prompted me to try the Turkish breakfast option that I ended up not liking. Why, then, had I not learnt my lesson on my flight back from IST to KUL? If I remember correctly, they had actually run out of eggs by the time they’d reached me, which was rather disappointing. Not something I’d expect to happen on business class!

Turkish business breakfast appetisers
Various breakfast sides

Turkish business breakfast
My not-quite-favourite Turkish wrap

Dinner, MAN-IST

Again, the flight was pretty much identical on the return leg, though I had dinner on the return journey instead of breakfast.

Turkish dinner menu

I wasn’t a fan of the fish on my previous flight, so I decided to get the beef instead.

Turkish dinner sides
Attempting to keep up with the millennials with a flat lay of the breakfast sides

Turkish business dinner
Sautéed fillet of beef – pretty decent, though not exactly something I’d rave about

Conclusion

I guess my expectations had been set pretty low, but for a short-haul flight I found it more than adequate – rather pleasant, actually! If you’re able to confirm that your aircraft is not in the old configuration, I’d say that the short-haul flights with these newer seats will not negatively impact your business class flying experience.