Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lounging in Style

A few years ago I found myself bleary-eyed in the early morning darkness at the Koh Samui (Thailand) airport. After checking in, I trudged into one of the nicest waiting areas I had ever seen and was astounded to find free pastries and drinks. A few minutes later I was happily emailing my parents about the free blueberry juice using one of the area's computers with complimentary internet.

That was my introduction to the wonders of the Bangkok Airways lounge, a first class waiting area open to the masses.  Having used the airline for a quick hop from Bangkok to Chiang Mai the other day, I'm happy to report that the lounge is still a great reason for showing up early to the airport. (Note: both Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and the Chiang Mai Airport have great lounges. The following describes the Bangkok lounge.)

Friendly workers greeted me at the entrance to the clean and spacious lounge and gave me the password for free wireless (a nice touch, though there were also still computers for use by those not traveling with laptops, etc.)  There were magazines and newspapers, but I was far more interested in the ample spread of food - puff pastries, a mini-sandwich, cakes, a traditional dessert wrapped in banana leaf, and even fresh popcorn - and the (non-alcoholic) drink options, including orange juice and Milo. I settled into a comfortable chair, caught up on email and contentedly grazed until it was time to head to the gate (which still had wireless access, though I don't know if all the gates do - ours was right across from the lounge).

In case the 20 yard walk from the lounge to the gate depleted our reserves, we were served a meal during the flight. Not a snack, but a meal on a flight so short it was mostly ascending and descending. A very hearty chicken sandwich (passengers can select dietary alternatives when purchasing the ticket) was accompanied by yoghurt and fresh fruit. There was also coffee and tea, all provided by pleasant flight attendants spiffily attired in newly designed uniforms.

Bangkok Airways is also notable for its excellent inflight magazine, Fah Thai (which is where I found out the uniforms were new). Naturally there are blurbs about locales the airline services, but there are also interesting general articles with excellent photography. This issue's standouts were articles on an arts organization helping children in Cambodia, some of them through a circus arts program, the tourism boom in Myanmar, and "The Plunder of Asia's Wildlife in Pictures" (a photo essay). It's easy to glean things to do, both mainstream and quirky, from Fah Thai, but clearly it's more than just sugar coated puff pieces on the region.

We had barely finished our coffee when the clouds gave way to the misty mountains of northern Thailand and we landed in Chiang Mai. I made it to the lobby of my hotel before 10am, energized (well, ok, bloated) and ready to spend a full day in a new city.

There are many easy and inexpensive options for traveling long distances in Thailand - trains, busses, ferries, mini-vans, taxis (not inexpensive for a long haul, but it might be fun to one day shock a Bangkok taxi driver with a request to go to Chiang Mai), etc. - but if time and comfort are concerns and maintaing a shoestring budget isn't, Bangkok Airways is a great choice.

Booking Tips: Make sure you check the websites of individual airlines (whether it's Bangkok Airways or Thai Airways or AirAsia, all of which I've used), as they may have much better fares than those shown on aggregator websites. For this flight, I booked a few days in advance at bangkokair.com and got a one way ticket for about $75, which I thought was quite reasonable. It's low season now; for in-country travel during the high season winter months, I'd book in advance as I'm sure flights, especially to tourist destinations like Chiang Mai and Koh Samui, fill up.

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Gotta Gettaway by Josh Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.