Hello and thanks for checking out my latest trip report! Each of the past two summers I've traveled to Europe
with a group of friends. This year, most of those guys had just started new jobs and as a result, they couldn't really take time off to go on another trip. It looked like there wasn't going to be any traveling for me this year, but then in March, my friend Jake (whom we had visited the previous two years in London and Shenzhen) messaged me about a Bali trip he was planning and extended an invitation to tag along. I had always eyed Bali as a place I wanted to visit in the future, and it's not like I had anything else planned, so I jumped on board. Jake currently works in Manila, so instead of flying all the way down there for just one week in Bali, I decided I'd also check out the Philippines for a couple of days. The flight options were also a lot better returning from Manila as opposed to Denpasar. I booked my ticket through Vayama about a month before leaving and paid $750 (two checked bags included). Its sort of amazing how flying USA-Asia is nearly twice the distance compared to USA-Europe yet the tickets cost almost half the price. I had the option of securing a spot in premium economy for an extra $500, but after mulling it over I decided to pass. (April 25-May 10)
The departure to TPE was quite late in the evening, at 12:30 AM. At that hour there was no traffic on the freeway so it took just over an hour to get from my hometown of Racine down to ORD. When I got to the check-in area at T5 I was sort of surprised that there was still a decent-sized crowd of passengers inside the hall. It was now around 10 PM and I expected that the terminal would be nearly empty aside from those of us that were traveling to TPE, but I guess we weren't the only late-night departure.
For those of you that aren't familiar with EVA, they have a handful of special Hello Kitty-themed jets. Aside from the colorful paint scheme on the exterior of the plane, as you'll soon see the entire flight experience is decked out with the Sanrio characters. EVA posts a timetable & route map
that displays when and where the Hello Kitty jets are scheduled to fly. Therefore, I was surprised when I got up to the check-in counter and saw the Hello Kitty signage because I could've sworn that this was supposed to be a regular, old-fashioned EVA flight.
There were only a few people in line so the check-in process was quick. Even the luggage tags and boarding passes are branded with Hello Kitty. Going through the security checkpoint also didn't take very long, however, I couldn't figure out how to add my KTN to the reservation so I wasn't able to utilize TSA PreCheck. It looks like EVA just started participating in the program in February 2019. Amazingly, there was a slight delay with the person in front of me because the TSA agents had to doublecheck her handwritten ticket. I didn't even know there were such things nowadays. After clearing security the first thing I did was head down to the gate to check out our plane. Sure enough, it was adorned with the bright-colored characters.
T5 got a facelift a few years ago, but it's still not as gleaming as most of the other large, international airports that I've traveled through. I retreated back to the center of the concourse in an attempt to buy a meal before the flight, but as I had feared most of the restaurants were now closed due to the late hour. The only place still open was the sports bar, so I took a seat there and ordered a burger. All of the flights bound for Europe had already departed at that point, so the departure hall was fairly quiet and empty. In addition to my flight, the only other remaining departures included Asiana to ICN (service ended in October) and a handful of flights to Mexico.
Following my meal, I stopped to buy a bottle of water at the convenience store and then went back to the gate to wait for boarding to start. The line for checkout at the Hudson News store was considerable, a byproduct of everything else now being closed.
I was able to preselect my seats for all four flights shortly after booking, but this cost extra. The economy cabin on this particular aircraft was in a 3-3-3 configuration, but EVA also goes 3-4-3 on some of their 777s. We pushed back from the gate on time, at which point the massive GE90 engines fired up (world's largest jet engine). From there it was a short taxi to runway 28R for takeoff. Normally known for its congestion, it was a little remarkable to see ORD so still and the taxiways bare. The food menus were passed out before departure, and at each seat, there was a pillow, blanket, and earbud headphones.
Not long after we took off the flight attendants came through the aisle distributing water and juice. And yes, the cups, safety cards, and even the barf bags had Hello Kitty on them. The meal service followed shortly thereafter. For the main course, you had the choice of a 'Western' or 'Chinese' style dish. I made the conservative choice.
By the time the food trays had gotten cleaned up and the cabin lights were shut off, it was nearing 3 AM back home and I was pretty exhausted. I spent the next 8 hours or so trying to get some sleep and, surprisingly, I actually managed to doze off for a little bit. When I'm on a plane it's usually almost impossible for me to get comfortable enough to the point where I can get any decent shut-eye. About halfway through the flight, we were served a small pretzel bun sandwich. The IFE was quite minimal. There were only 33 movies and 9 shows to choose from which seemed much less compared to my recent flights to Europe and Asia. I watched Vice and Bohemian Rhapsody, the only two things out of the entire collection that caught my eye. The cabin lights came on about two hours before landing at which point we were served breakfast followed by coffee and tea. Once again I went with the 'Western' option. Both meals on this flight were good.
As we descended into TPE, the sky began to colorfully light up ahead of the impending sunrise. We landed on runway 5R to conclude the long flight from ORD and were at the gate shortly afterward. During my previous trip to Asia the year prior I flew ORD-HKG, so this time around I was more accustomed to the 15+ hour flight time.
Following deplaning all connecting passengers were shuttled towards a security checkpoint. That didn't take too long to get through and I was quickly airside once again after a few short minutes. At this point, I had nearly 5 hours to go until my flight to DPS. Obviously, I wasn't thrilled about having that long of a layover and as you'll soon see this was a recurring theme during the trip. After walking around for a little while I sat down in front of 'Shining Star', the 777 that had brought me from ORD. Apparently, the Hello Kitty craze in Taiwan is for real because literally every few seconds someone was coming up to the window to get a picture of themselves with the special plane. Of course, there's also a Sanrio store in the terminal, selling all kinds of Hello Kitty stuff. After a bit of recuperating, I set off to explore the terminal some more and do some spotting. My energy level was still kind of low so I stayed in the southern concourses (B & C). It seemed like there were way more stores than restaurants, and pretty much all of the food options I saw were Asian-style (not something I was in the mood for early in the morning). Furthermore, I'm not sure if it was just me but it did seem a little humid and warm inside the terminal.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that MD-80s are still operating in this part of the world!
I bought a coffee and settled down near what I thought was the gate for my flight, but then there was a gate change and I had to walk back down to the other end of the terminal. Eventually, our plane was towed into position and once again I'd be getting the Hello Kitty experience.
Boarding was slightly delayed because they were late prepping the aircraft. Just like on the last flight everyone received a pillow, blanket, earbud headphones, and a food menu. It was pretty unusual for me to get multiple wide-body flights on one leg of a trip. As best as I could remember, the only other time that's happened was in the late '90s when we took NW to Hawaii (MSP-LAX-HNL was a through flight on a DC-10). This would also be my first-ever flight on an A330.
We took off from runway 5R and then turned towards to south as we started the five-hour journey down to Bali.
Thankfully, there was a different selection of movies on this IFE. I ended up watching A Star Is Born. When I got up to use the bathroom it looked like Crazy Rich Asians was a popular hit on this flight. During the initial in-flight service, I got a beer and a glass coke along with some rice crackers. The meals were distributed shortly thereafter and I went with beef for the main course. Once again it was another fine meal.
The comfort level on this flight was also fine, although at one point the lady who was sitting in front of me reclined her seat all the way back.
The flight attendants came through the aisle and distributed cups of water and juice before landing. We briefly entered a holding pattern and circled around once. The final approach was entirely over the water and it was a bit of a wobbly touchdown on runway 9. From there it was a short taxi to the gate.
The situation down in the immigration area was nightmarish to say the least. Long, slow-moving, disorganized lines, and then it looked like only half of the booths were staffed with officers. Of course, it looked like there were a lot of other flights that had arrived just before ours so maybe that had something to do with it, but a quick internet search revealed that these sorts of problems appear to be common at DPS. All told it took two hours and fifteen minutes to get through! Keep in mind that at this point I was running on very minimal sleep and I was literally almost starting to have some trouble holding myself up.
My bag had already been removed from the carousel and set to the side so after grabbing it and getting some cash out of the ATM I proceeded out into the arrivals hall. Thankfully, our Airbnb host had arranged for a driver to pick each of us up and get us to the villa so that was one less thing I had to worry about. However, as I soon realized the roads in Bali are also slow going so after leaving the airport it still took about another 45 minutes to get to the place. When I finally did arrive it had been nearly 34 hours since I had originally left my house! Needless to say, after a quick shower I headed straight for bed.
We spent eight nights in Bali. Unlike the previous trips to Asia and Europe, where we only spent 2-3 days in one spot before traveling on to the next place, this time around things were less rushed. Our villa was on the northern side of Seminyak. Its location was a bit off the beaten path but it was nice enough and decently priced.
In order to explore more of Bali we were originally going to rent motorbikes, but in the end it was easier to just hire a driver for around 35 USD worth of money for the entire day.
Jake had his heart set on doing Mount Batur sunrise trekking. Getting picked up at 1 AM wasn't ideal but the views at the top when the sun came up made up for it. I think it would have been quite a perilous hike (similar to my experience the year prior in Vietnam) had it not occurred during the middle of the night. As luck would have it we even witnessed a volcano erupt on the opposite side of the valley!
On our penultimate day in Bali, we took a ferry to the island of Nusa Penida. Once there we rented some motorbikes and checked out the famous "T-Rex" beach.
We obviously also had a few wild nights out, though the jet lag was a constant battle.
The flight to the Philippines wasn't until late in the evening, so the time before the flight was spent recuperating and detoxing. Jake and I were actually on the same flight, while his brother Zach was staying behind for two more days before his trip home to the US. I planned to head to Boracay for a few days on my own, followed by a couple of nights back in Manila with Jake. For some reason, AirAsia wouldn't let me book Denpasar-Manila-Boracay/Caticlan so I had book the two flights separately.
Thankfully, this time around there were no problems at DPS. The passport check was quick and painless. As for the flight, the conditions were not conducive for sleeping. Considering this flight took place during the middle of the night I didn't think the cabin lights needed to be left on the majority of the time and then it seemed like the flight attendants felt the need to make an excessive amount of announcements. Unfortunately, it was during this time that Jake began suffering from the "Bali Belly!"
Upon arrival in MNL Jake and I went our separate ways. We had arrived at Terminal 3 and my next flight was departing from the domestic terminal (albeit not for another five hours
). There's no way to walk between the two, so eventually I found out that there's a bus, but since it was so early in the morning it wouldn't be coming for another two hours. I actually ended up waiting longer than that, and when it finally did show up I was surprised to find out that it wasn't a free service. I didn't have the requisite change to pay the guy but thankfully a young Filipino went out of his way to spot me.
As I had expected, the domestic terminal at MNL was small, dingy, and not very spectacular. The bag drop-line moved at a snail's pace and by the time I got airside my flight was already boarding. It was at this point that I overheard an ominous PA announcement requesting that I return to the check-in counter.
Once I got back there one of the security guys led me outside near the area where the bags were being loaded onto the luggage trucks. He confiscated the bottle of sunscreen spray from my bag, informing me that it can't be in my luggage since its flammable. Now, I've obviously had sunscreen in my luggage numerous times in the past without any issue, but at that point I wasn't about to cause a big scene and miss my flight. I told him to keep the sunscreen, and I was able to whizz back through security and make it aboard my flight in time. By the way, I had the newly purchased sunscreen in my bag on my way back to Manila and guess what - no problems!
The flight from MNL to MPH was a quick hop, and from there it was a short boat ride to the island of Boracay. Given the far-flung nature of the trip, it was probably appropriate that my transport from the ferry terminal to the hostel consisted of myself riding on the back of a motorcycle with my luggage sandwiched in-between myself and the driver.
If you're unaware, the President of the Philippines ordered Boracay to be closed to tourists for 6 months in 2018 while they rehabbed the island. The party vibe has died down since then but at least it did seem like they did a good job of cleaning the place up. There was still plenty of unfinished and ongoing construction, however.
The weather there was searing hot but the water was gorgeous. Puka Beach, located on the northern part of the island, is probably the second nicest beach I've ever been to after Whitehaven Beach in Australia.
To get back to Manila I flew Cebu Pacific. When arriving at MPH a few days earlier, we exited the plane via airstairs and walked across the tarmac to a small, simplistic building that served as the arrivals hall. There were no baggage carousels, and within a few short steps you were already outside and ready to catch a "trike" (motorcycle taxi with a carriage attached to the side) to the jetty. Initially, I thought that building was all the airport consisted of, but it turns out there is an actual terminal on the other side of the airport for departing passengers. It was still quite small, however.
Interestingly, upon landing at MNL we parked at Terminal 3 again and not at the domestic terminal. I'm not sure why that was the case because I did remember seeing Cebu Pacific check-in counters at the domestic terminal so they must have flights that go in/out of there.
I stayed at a hostel located in Poblacion which is a lively, hip part of Makati (one of the cities that makes up Metro Manila). Jake was back at work so I was on my own during the day and then we met up during the evenings. I quickly learned that traffic in Manila is no joke. Basically, if you're trying to get a ride somewhere during rush hour then you're SOL. The roads are all gridlocked and traffic is at a complete standstill. Manila obviously isn't the most popular tourist destination out there (highlighted by the fact that a lot of the people at the hostel were simply passing through and catching another flight to somewhere else in the Philippines/Asia), but in some sense that sort of made it an interesting place to visit.
The rooftop bar at my hostel provided some great views of the city.
The main sight in Manila is Intramuros, the historic walled area that was constructed by the Spanish in the late 16th century. I did a guided bike tour.
I went down to the Manila Baywalk but it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and unfortunately I ran out of time and wasn't able to do the slum tour. We had one more night out on the town, and then it was time to head home!
Thankfully, my flight out wasn't until the early afternoon so that afforded me the chance to sleep in a bit. There's always traffic in Manila, but at least during that time of the day it wasn't treacherous. It took about 45 minutes to get to the airport via Grab and by the time I got there it was right about two hours until my flight's departure time. EVA operates out of Terminal 1, the second oldest terminal at MNL after the Domestic Terminal.
Going through check-in, immigration, and security was uneventful and it took about 45 minutes to get through all of that. Shortly after I got airside I saw my aircraft land and arrive at the gate.
Most of the people sitting in the gate area had their eyes glued to the TVs that were showing the NBA playoffs (basketball is the most popular sport in the (Philippines). I grabbed a coffee and then mostly just sat down and waited for boarding to start.
After I had taken my seat, one of the flight attendants doing the pre-departure walkthrough spotted my backpack and told me it needed to be pushed further underneath the seat in front of me. Now, maybe it was protruding slightly (there was an entertainment box or something under the seat that ate into the available space), but it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Less than a minute later a different flight attendant came by and this time she insisted that the backpack go in the overheard bin. It sure irks me when flight attendants overcomplicate their jobs and act bossy. A few weeks after this trip I was flying AA and attempted to snap a quick cockpit shot through the doorway as I was deplaning. However, the flight attendant snapped at me and said its not allowed. Again, its not like I've haven't done that a hundred times before with no problem! But I digress!
The captain informed us that our departure was delayed due to taxiway congestion. When we finally did pushback, the trek out to the runway was slow-going with multiple prolonged stops. During the taxi we passed the wreckage of a 738 that had crash-landed in 2018.
By the time we lifted off we were running nearly an hour and a half late.
Frankly, I wasn't even sure we'd get a regular meal on such a short flight so it was a nice surprise. There were no menus handed out, however, and the flight attendant simply gave me a tray without asking what I wanted so I assume there was only one option. The drink service consisted of only coffee and tea.
The remainder of the flight proceeded without incident and before long we were descending into TPE. This time we landed on runway 5L.
Following a quick security screening upon deplaning I was back in the gates area. I now found myself facing the THIRD five-hour layover of my trip
. Unlike my last time passing through TPE, when I was somewhat of a zombie, I actually had the energy to do more walking around and exploring.
I ventured over to the other side of the airport where China Airlines operates from (A & D gates) and I did manage to stumble upon a food court that had a McDonalds. So despite my earlier observations, there are in fact non-Asian-style restaurants at TPE.
China Airlines 747 taxiing off (perhaps fittingly) during the sunset.
As departure time approached I returned to the gate area. For the third time I managed to score the Hello Kitty service. It was the same aircraft that I had flown on to TPE at the start of the trip.
There was a minimal delay in boarding the aircraft.
We took off from runway 5R and shortly afterward the flight attendants started the in-flight service. First up was the initial drink run along with small packets of rice crackers, and then this was followed by the meal service, tea, and finally small bottles of water were handed out.
Thankfully, there was a different mix of movies on the IFE compared to my first flight from ORD, but there still wasn't a lot to chose from. I watched The Mule, and once that was done I tried to get some shut-eye. Again, it wasn't exactly solid sleep but I did manage to doze off for a bit. When I was done with trying to sleep it was light out and we had just crossed into Southwestern Canada. Up until this point there hadn't been much to see since take-off (darkness outside and the preceding portion of the flight had been completely over the water).
The flight was now in the home stretch and about two hours out from ORD the second meal service commenced.
As we started our the descent into ORD the sun started to set again. We landed on runway 10C and then taxied over to International Terminal 5.
Normally, the arrivals hall at T5 can be somewhat of a madhouse, but this time around it was fairly quiet. All of the flights from Europe had already arrived and a quick check of the arrivals boarded only showed a few Frontier and United flights from the Caribbean/Mexico arriving at the same time as us. I figured I'd be able to zip through real quick, but then my bag was literally one of the last ones to come off the belt. My mom met outside and we headed back to Wisconsin. Another fun, successful trip was in the books!
Thanks for checking out my 39th trip report! As you can see, I've been procrastinating a bit and its taken me a while to get this report up.
I was pleased with my experience aboard EVA. Its clear that Asian airlines are a step above their US counterparts, and I'd probably give them an edge over European carriers now as well. The whole Hello Kitty thing was neat but if I had a young daughter she probably would've been more crazy about it than me. Ideally, I'd like to do one more trip to Asia in the coming years (Beijing, Shanghai, Palawan, Siem Reap, Singapore).
Will you watch the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions on Sunday? Only if coach Eric Mangini resigned after a loss.