In August and September I took a two month trip around the Far East, mainly to try and improve my Chinese that I’m studying at university, but in the end it turned into just a backpacker trip as apposed to a study one. Never mind. The main long haul flights were booked in February using my Lufthansa air miles, and the other ones in China though local travel agents.
It all started getting up at 0350 on the 1st August so I could make the 0430 bus to Heathrow, which I did make, and even more surprisingly, arrived in Heathrow on time at 0535. I made my way across to Terminal 3 and found the SAS check in, which was absolutely swamped with people (the rest of the terminal was empty). There were 4 desks open, 1 for ‘fast bag drop’, 2 for business and Star Gold and just one for economy. Given the size of the economy queue I’m sure they ought to have about 5 counters open as SAS have three flights (Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm) all departing at roughly the same time. Luckily there were just three people in the Business Class queue so I only waited a few minutes. The check in guy was excellent, very polite and even apologised for not knowing the exact location of the business lounge in Oslo. He tagged my two bags ‘priority’ and I was off to the lounge.
As it was still pretty early, there was just one security scanner open, and a very long queue. The fast track was closed, which was very annoying seeing as Business Class passengers pay an extra £20 departure tax to pay for it. Luckily I flew the week before all the security problems, so was able to get on with water and sun cream in my hand luggage.
The SAS lounge in London is shared with Air Canada and a few other Star Alliance airlines and is really nice. Lots of space, tasty Danish pastries and fantastic views of the apron.
|View from SK lounge at LHR|
London to Oslo (LHR-OSL)
SK802 (Scandinavian Airlines)
The 737-700 was sold to the last seat, and wasn’t too comfortable. The first row had barely any leg room, and I only had one (dirty) window. The FA made me put my tiny day bag in the overhead locker rather than leave in on the small middle seat. I don’t see why the 1st row is an ‘emergency’ row’ as there is a bulkhead right in front. Business class was the first 4 rows, and then I think there were 2 rows of premium economy.
After take off, there was a choice of orange juice or water, then they served the most vile omelette thing I’ve ever tasted – absolutely revolting. Cheesy and salty all in one (sorry, no photo). It looked like most people left theirs. There wasn’t much else to eat, and the drinks selection as a bit measly. Lucky I was stuffed on food from the lounge. Thankfully this was the worst flight of my Star Alliance flights so it was over and out of the way. We landed on time at the lovely new Oslo airport, and deplaned via a set of vintage air stairs, then had to walk up the small set of stairs into the airbridge (not sure why they didn’t just link up the airbridge) to get into the terminal. In just 10 minutes I was on a train into the city centre.
After two hours wandering around Oslo I headed back to the airport. The lounge in Oslo wasn’t as good as the one in London, but was nice all the same.
Aug 1 2006
Oslo to Frankfurt (OSL-FRA)
This flight was far emptier than the LHR-OSL flight and I had a row to myself which was nice. After a few drinks (beer and diet coke) they served a fish meal. I’m not sure if it was because I was really hungry having only snacked on rubbish all day, or it was because it was genuinely good food, but I thought that the fish just about the best airline food I’ve ever had (up till that point) so asked for more. The FA promptly brought me another two portions. Yum! We landed on time into Frankfurt and we taxied past my next flight to Hong Kong.
Frankfurt is a huge airport and I wasn’t sure which lounge I was eligible to use, so just headed to the closest one to my arrival gate, which was pretty nice, though still not as good as the London lounge. It also turned out to be one of the furthest from the gate for the Hong Kong flight so was one of the last to board – at least I didn’t have to queue!
Aug 1 2006
Frankfurt-Hong Kong (FRA-AND OLD: Hong Kong - Kai Tak International (HKG / VHHH) (closed), China - Hong Kong">HKG)
I was really excited about this leg of the trip as it would be my first Boeing 747-400 in over three years, AND I had pre-booked the BEST seat (in my opinion) in Business Class, 1A. After years of sitting in 45K, and flying on the likes of easyJet, I was finally flying long haul in a 747, right in the nose. Bloody brilliant! Not bad for a poor student! LH puts First Class on the upper deck, so Business Class takes up the first 3 sections on the main deck. As I was late boarding, three was no one at the door to welcome me, so I just went straight ahead to my seat, flashing my boarding card at a passing FA just to confirm that I was in the right part of the plane (I couldn’t really look much less like a Business Class passenger if I tried), and she pointed my to my seat (as if I didn’t know which one it was!). Wow! Cool! Great! I took the champagne offered and got settled in. I read the guide to the new seats to try and work out how to get the most out of it, though it was a bit confusing. It took me ten minutes to work out how to open the TV screen (doh!).
After an on-time departure, we zoomed off en-route to Hong Kong. Every other month Lufthansa has a different dining theme, and unfortunately July and August was Mexican, which meant chillies, not my favourite. I had some sort of beef for starters, followed by fish, then fruit for dessert. Not wonderful, but I imagine it was better than in economy. By far the best was the drinks selection. I had a Chinese FA serving me who seemed to have no idea about measures and gave me so much vodka. Nice
During the night, water and orange juice was set up on the console in the middle of the front cabin, and FAs came round periodically to check on everyone. The new seats were more comfortable than some reviews had led me to believe – lots said that they were very uncomfortable as you ended up sliding to the bottom of the bed. This was true, but I thought they were still ok – beats economy! I didn’t really manage to sleep despite my very early start which was annoying.
An hour and a half before landing, the lights were turned on, even though most passengers were still sleeping. It was then another fifteen minutes before any crew turned up with hot towel which I thought was a bit stupid – it you are going to wake people up, at least given them a hot towel then, not later. The highlight of breakfast was being given little packets of Nutella!
The approach into Hong Kong was very roundabout – I counted at least two laps of Macau before we finally thumped on the runway. When the front tyres hit the tarmac, my TV got released from the armrest as we hit so hard, which gave me and the woman next to me a bit of a shock. It was quite loud.
Once on stand, it only took a minute or two to get off. Unfortunately we had to get a monorail train thing to the immigration point which took twenty minutes (after queuing), then had to wait quite a while to be seen to – though it beat immigration in Tokyo! (see later)
After 4 days in Hong Kong, during which I didn’t really do anything due to the typhoon except apply for my Chinese visa, it was time to head on to Urumqi (Wulumuqi in Chinese) in Xinjiang, in Chinas far West.
Despite having lived in China for a year or so, I had never been to the far West so I was pretty excited. From my hostel in Sha Tin, I got the KCR to the border in Lo Wu, walked across the border into Shenzhen (Chinese border city), and then with my shaky Chinese bought a ticket on a bus to Guangzhou, two hours away. I was looking at flying from Shenzhen, as China Southern Airlines had a B777 flight, but it was an 0800 flight, which would have meant staying the night somewhere inconvenient, so went with an evening flight from Guangzhou.
Once in Guangzhou, I had to find a bus to the airport, which turned into a nightmare, so got a taxi instead. Once there I had to trail around for ages trying to find the desk to pick up my e-ticket that I had booked a few weeks before. Everyone was really unhelpful so it took a long time, but I managed in the end. I got checked in and went to find something to eat (Chinese food! Yum .
Aug 5 2006
HU7486 (Hainan Airlines)
Chinese domestic flights are pretty good value given both the cost of the ticket and distances involved. They nearly always include a choice of hot meals and some sort of entertainment. This five hour flight was only £120 ($200), and it was fairly comfortable. Whilst economy fares are good value (generally), there are never discounted Business fares so I couldn’t afford to travel in the front (five hours in the back of a 737 isn’t very fun).
They showed Mrs.Doubtfire (in English over the PA system), which was a bit bizarre as I imagine 95% of the passengers had no idea what it was about. Maybe it was for my benefit as I was the only foreigner aboard. I had my portable DVD me so didn’t watch it anyway. I managed to sleep for a bit, and the time seemed to fly by, and in no time we were touching down in Urumqi’s Diwopu airport, capital of Xinjiang. Xinjiang (a Chinese province) runs on Beijing time (all of China is one time zone) even though it is thousands of miles West of Beijing, so 0100 was actually about 11pm local time, so the airport was still quite lively (there are lots of night flights).
As soon as I was out of the baggage claim, I was set upon by the bloodthirsty taxi drivers, but got to my hotel unscathed. Phew!
|Oslo Airport train|
|Landing in Frankfurt|
|Onward flight to Hong Kong|
|LH738 to Hong Kong|
|Leg room in row 1|
|Pre dinner drinks|
|Night time in Zone A|
|Hainan Airlines flight to Urumqi from Guangzhou|