I was searching for any decent fares to Manila from Bangkok at the beginning of November – and found out that none were available. Since Lufthansa, Air France and Egyptair dropped the BKK-MNL leg, the fares have skyrocketed, and IMHO none of the available products are worth what is being charged. Kuwait was charging THB 11000 – full on any suitable date. PAL was around 12500 Baht and Thai 2000 more. Booked TG for the lounge access and priority check-in as a LH Senator.
I happened pass my usual travel agency a few days later – it was closed as the day was “substitution” for whatever holiday that had been on a weekend. No problem – found one open just across the street… I should have guessed that no reputable business stays open on such days. Anyway the booking was made, and I could ticket it later. Went back in December – this agency was one of those jokes that do ticketing at a big agency elsewhere, so had to wait for the tickets. Commission on top of the TG net fares was 500 THB/ticket and credit card surcharge 3.5%. My usual agency, TV Airbookings, charges me just 300B and 2.65%... Anyway, I was happy I had the tickets in hand – the flight was showing Y0.
It wasn’t until I got back home when I noticed NOPNR in the airline data box – a quick Google search revealed that these tickets were issued in temporary ticketing mode possibly in another CRS – ticket numbers should in this case be added to the original record. However, not surprising that viewing the booking online told me “no ticketing information available”. Not a happy camper at this point, I rushed to the TG Silom office to add the numbers – it was just 13 days before departure and I definitely didn’t want the reservation to get automatically cancelled. A travel agent that won’t ever get any business from me anymore: East Wing Travel, opposite the Emporium.
14 December 2005
Bangkok Don Muang (BKK/VTBD) – Manila Ninoy Aquino Intl (MNL/RPLL)
Thai Airways International TG 620
1110-1520 – On Time
Economy Class, Seat 35D
Photo © K.L.Yim
Photo © Sam Chui
Pictures here: http://lari.pp.fi/tg620/index.html
I did the iCheckin for this flight – however, it’s completely useless as you still don’t get access to exit rows or bulkheads. We arrived at Don Muang at around 9am – I had the usual roller bag for my stuff, and the other junk was packed in 5 other bags. The Filipinos sure like their luggage… TG Royal Silk Class counters were rather busy, but luckily a porter grabbed our trolley and took us to the Royal First desk to check in. After all the 50 kgs of baggage were priority-tagged to MNL, we headed to the immigration with seats 35DE assigned. TG had rather thoughtfully assigned us to the very back in one of the few two-seaters, but I really didn’t want to do that considering the lines at Manila immigration.
Immigration lines were insane – people were waiting by the airport tax vending machines as the hall was too full. I have found this to be the case with BKK T1 a lot lately and it’s to be avoided like the plague unless you are flying TG F/C and have access to the fast track. T2 is much better, but by the weird logic of the immigration folks, it obviously can’t be used for T1 departures even though it leads to the exact same gate area. Be careful about this – my friend was just booted to T2 on the arrivals side after waiting 30 mins in line in T1. Absolutely ridiculous.
The lines took long enough, so we didn’t have time for the massages that we had planned in the TG lounge. Relaxed with a nice glass of JW Black Label after the passport control episode. The flight had three open seats in Y, so I changed my LH SEN number to UA Mileage Plus. I must say I really prefer the CX way where they predict loads the day before and do upgrading. I’ve been handed an upgraded CX boarding pass the evening before the flight before. I would have obviously booked business if something decent had been available – but 32000 Baht for those 2-4-2 seats is a highway robbery. Even more so for the evening retro express, err A300 I mean.
Boarding started on time, and I was pleasantly surprised by the legroom. TG now has three types of seats on the 777-200, more about that on the return leg. Seat width is a joke, but it wasn’t too bad as I wasn’t traveling alone. We were pushed back roughly on time, and took off from 21R without delay. Being seated in the middle block, I didn’t try to spot the traffic at all.
Service started after the seatbelt sigh went off, and it was of the usual high standard on this flight. Drinks and cashew nuts were served first – opted for a Ballantines coke and some white wine. On the way back to the galley, the f/a noticed my empty cup and said “one more?” Very good for economy class. Being a full flight, the lunch service took a while, and they had run out of choices by our row. I really wanted the fish option, but a tray with chicken was slammed on my table without apologies about running out of choices.
The shrimp starter was excellent, but the chicken with noodles was pretty much tasteless. Wine was refilled constantly, and the usual coffee/cognac service followed. After the trays were cleared, I headed to the back of the 777 and chatted a bit with one of the F/As about the new airport and TG fleet refurbishment, without forgetting to have a few drinks of course. A quick stop at the toilet, and I then returned to my seat about an hour before arrival in Manila. Couldn’t really believe how spartan the TG lavatories are – where SQ has a drawer full of combs, toothbrushes etc, TG has a shiny stainless steel wall. Before landing, TG handed out the orchids – first time I have got them. Nice touch.
Landing was on time, and we left the aircraft as soon possible in order to beat the immigration lines. However, the lines were horrible already thanks to some arrivals, and it took at least 30 minutes. Picked up all the bags from the belt and headed to customs… We had some stuff for Christmas like a 3000-Baht stereo set and 200-baht Xmas tree. The officer had a big problem with that – “you must pay 5000 pesos duty on that, I don’t care how much it cost. And what is this? Christmas tree? You need to pay too!” After a heated exchange between him and my girlfriend, we were free to leave…
There was no way I would haul all the crap to the departures level, so a few minutes later, we were sitting in a completely overpriced “hotel car” to the New World Renaissance.
Renaissance Makati City Hotel (New World Renaissance)
Pictures here: http://lari.pp.fi/mnlnw/index.html
As much as I wowed never to stay here again after they refused to honor the benefits I deserved last year, it was really the only choice for this trip. Double Marriott Rewards points, Platinum status and a bunch of Bonus Bucks coupons pretty much made that decision. Half price and double points, with an upgrade and lounge access thrown in is a pretty good deal in my books.
We were escorted to the Club floor for check-in, and I asked for a suite as usual although suite upgrades are not part of the Marriott Rewards program unfortunately. Apparently they were full, but the agent had no problem assigning us a nice corner room on the Club Floor. It was mostly like any Club rooms here, but had a separate sitting area near the door, and nice views to a few directions thanks to this. The Club rooms have separate shower and bathtub, new Marriott bedding, and are pretty much the best I’ve had in Manila after the new Hyatt Hotel and Casino.
The lounge is well stocked for both breakfast and evening snacks, and they have an extensive drink selection as well. Lots of airline crews stay here, and at least one airline pays for Club access to their pilots.
Stayed here again for Christmas, so I’ll add that part here. Didn’t push for any specific upgrade, so we got just a normal Club room. Very nice French chocolates were delivered to us on Christmas Eve, as a platinum amenity I guess. There was also an invitation from the GM to evening cocktails on the 24th, he didn’t say a word to us, and I felt I wasn’t really welcome as a rather young platinum member. Wrong attitude there.
Other negative points – there was a tacky advertisement for locals right in the middle of the lobby – rooms at 3400 Pesos. I don’t have a problem with local rates, but don’t stick it into everyone’s face right in the middle of the lobby. Both stays posted completely wrong to my account, and with a month’s delay. Thankfully the helpful folks at Marriott Rewards took care of that without problems. Otherwise, both stays were pretty good, for a Manila hotel I’d say excellent.
16 December 2005
Manila Ninoy Aquino Intl (MNL/RPLL) – Cebu Mactan International (CEB/RPMC)
Philippine Airlines PR 853
0930-1045 – On Time
First Class, Seat 3K
Photo © Ben Wang
Photo © K.L.Yim
Pictures here: http://lari.pp.fi/pr853/index.html
I tried to book us on Cebu Pacific originally – even gave them 3 days to reply to the online booking instead of the promised time – they didn’t. The reply came a full 7 days later – basically stating we can sell you full fare, the go-fares are gone. Every fare class showed max availability on ITN, so I don’t know if the go-fares actually exist. I noticed PR flying 744s again to Cebu, so booked a full fare J on PR 853 instead. The cheaper C-class was already full.
PAL has this completely absurd requirement to pick up e-ticket receipts from the office if you are traveling with a companion – I really don’t get it. Should I have booked just myself, the thing would have arrived via e-mail. Anyway, I got these ET receipts after signing about 5 different pieces of paper – the agent also printed a more stuff than I have ever seen for any ticket – and these were simple domestic tickets!
We arrived at NAIA 2 around 8am, and went to the single counter saying “BUSINESS CLASS” in a shabby looking sign. Got checked in there, but the guy advised that we certainly can’t check our bag there – we need to find the queue for PR 853 to Cebu. Don’t know why it was needed since this wing the terminal only has PAL domestic flights… Anyway, I managed to find another equally shabby looking business class sign on the other side – they finally took the bag.
I believe the terminal fee was more than last time, and after that and a security check, we headed to the Mabuhay Lounge. It was completely refurbished since my last visit, and pretty nice. However, it was completely packed this morning. Some Korean investors seemed to make up most of the Mabuhay Class passengers on our flight. It was obvious that they were setting up something major in Cebu.
Boarding was on time, and we were handed 2006 PAL desk calendars in the jetway. Nice touch. N752PR has been refurbished since I later flew on it – it now features the rather sub par premium seats found on the A340 fleet. My girlfriend’s comment “I thought that was business class!” pretty much sums it up. Although I must say she has flown in CX First, and after that it’s pretty hard to imagine these seats would be F. Why put in 18 seats and have all these 2-for-1 promotions while you could put some decent seats and charge a bit more…
Flight time was a quick 55 minutes, and we took off exactly on time. I was expecting the usual nice meal service – but that has joined so many other nice meals in the history books. A small tray was handed out – with two small sandwiches and a few pieces of fruit. Later, two pieces of chicken were offered. Apart from the fruit, it was pretty much inedible junk. I don’t really see how much PAL can save with this move…
I reclined my seat after the meal service – somehow I felt it reclines much less than on the A340. No pillows or blankets are offered anymore. Descent started soon, and we landed at rainy Cebu-Mactan a few minutes early. Snapped a picture of our plane after deplaning, however it’s difficult now with the Smart and Globe ads that have been plastered all over the windows.
Marriott Cebu City
Of course no upgrade again – this property has never upgraded me despite 10 or so stays here. Not much to comment other than the fact that the new Marriott bedding has made it here as well – excellent improvement. Stay didn’t post to my account at all, and they played with the exchange rates so that I ended up paying about 1800 pesos more than what my booked rate was. Will complain to Marriott when I have time.
19 December 2005
Cebu City Pier 4 – Ozamis City
Aboitiz Transport Corporation, Cebu Ferries
M/V Our Lady of Rule
1900-0500+1 – On Time
Tourist Class, Berth 12E
Pictures for both sectors here: http://lari.pp.fi/ferry/index.html
The ferry sectors were booked online at www.superferry.com.ph. The CEB-OZC leg was full in the suite category, and since my girlfriend wanted to sleep, we booked tourist class. I would have probably gone with just “Jetseater” seat myself. The tickets have a crapload of rules and restrictions – basically none are followed. Credit card used for purchase or IDs were never checked. And as far as arriving 5 hours before departure – just arrive 15mins before and you’ll have plenty of time. A few dogs were sleeping right by the gangplank – their task was probably to check that I had no explosives in my bag… Bags were never searched at all.
This particular ferry had seen better days – I could read “Dongyang Express Ferry 1 – Busan” as we got on. Apparently it has sailed on the Busan – Jeju route a long time ago. Also with Gothong Lines in the Philippines as their logos were everywhere. Pretty much everything was rusty and in bad condition. I didn’t see any fire doors on the whole ferry – funny looking plastic doors, wooden walls and furniture instead. So much for fire safety. We left exactly on time at 7pm for the overnight sailing to Iligan via Ozamis. Safety video was playing while I had the worst meal of the trip in the so-called restaurant.
Tourist was a small section on the upper passenger deck – and it was completely full. Nothing too bad, but the bed was too short and too narrow for me. At least it was air conditioned… The toilet smelled horrible and some folks kept singing and playing their guitar until I fell asleep a few hours before arrival.
Soon, they announced our arrival in Ozamis – at around 4.30am. Grabbed our stuff and went outside – we were a good 5 minutes away from the pier with the ramp fully open. Ummm, what did they say after the Heralf of Free Enterprise accident in the English Channel… Never mind. Not that I was really worried or anything.
From Ozamis, we went to a small town in Zamboanga del Sur – a car was rented by my girlfriend’s brother. Apparently it was the only company in town renting anything, the rate was horrible at 3000pesos/day, and the driver was a jerk making up all kinds of restrictions where he would drive, alhought it should have been unlimited 2 days. It was more like unlimited 2 hours/day.
Apart from the car rental fiasco, it was an interesting visit.
Royal Garden Hotel Ozamis City
The small town was apparently not a particularly safe place for foreigners, so after spending two days there, we returned to Ozamis City for the final night in Mindanao. Well that’s what I was told, I could have stayed in the town as well… Booked a suite at 1400 pesos per night – it was a junior suite at most, but very nice. I would say easily 4-star quality. Very nicely appointed room, decent king bed, a separate lounge area and a nice bathroom. A bargain at that rate. Ozamis had a few malls, Jollibee and Mc Donalds. There weren’t any restaurants basically in the town.
22 December 2005
Ozamis City – Cebu City Pier 4
Aboitiz Transport Corporation, Cebu Ferries
M/V Our Lady of Rule
2000-0600+1 – On Time
We got to the pier about an hour before departure. It was raining very heavily, and there was at least 10cm of water everywhere. With three departures to Cebu – ours was of course the furthest. Not a very nice boarding procedure – running in the water with the bags… Of course no ID or baggage checks whatsoever here either. I doubt they even read what the tickets said.
Got a suite booked for this leg – it’s the only way to go if you aren’t traveling alone in my opinion. The fare was 2800 while tourist was around 1000 per person. We got suite 3 in the very front of the ferry – too bad it would be dark throughout the trip, otherwise some nice views could be enjoyed. The room was large, with two single beds, a sitting area with a sofa, a refrigerator, TV and private bathroom.
Knowing how bad the restaurant was – we had grabbed dinner from Jollibee on the way to the pier. The sea got pretty rough during the night – and since our suite was in the front, we really felt it. Anyway, arrived on time in Cebu in the morning.
I was wondering why Superferry has this separate branding for Cebu Ferries – not wondering anymore. The CEB-MNL trip on SF 15 was a class act, these journeys were pretty much the opposite… Although, apparently Cebu ferries is Much better than Trans Asia on this route, and nothing to be worried about.
23 December 2005
Cebu Mactan International (CEB/RPMC) – Manila Ninoy Aquino Intl (MNL/RPLL)
Philippine Airlines PR 854
1145-1300 – On Time
Economy Class, Seat 32A
Photo © Ben Wang
Photo © K.L.Yim
Pictures here: http://lari.pp.fi/pr854/index.html
This leg was booked in X class – couldn’t justify paying over double for Mabuhay Class. And since the nice meal service is gone – glad I didn’t. There was an A330 leaving earlier in the morning – I asked if we could be put on that one as it had seats available. The guy at the Mabuhay Class/Elite desk simply informed no problem, if we pay the change fee and difference to full Y. Considering our fare was not flight specific, the A330 had seats and I have PR Elite status – I wasn’t particularly impressed to say the least. Stuck with PR854.
I got an invite to the “Luxurious surroundings and quietness of the Mabuhay Lounge”, my girlfriend was of course denied access. The lounge had really gone downhill – dirty and broken seats, and smaller snack selection than before. Drank a beer, grabbed a few cans of soft drinks and left the place. I don’t exactly see what PR would have lost if they let my gf in – but rules in Asia are rules and nobody bends them in any way in my experience.
The flight was on time, but unfortunately again N752PR. I had really hoped for the ex-Canadian 747 on at least one flight. We were seated in the second row of Y – the seats were old and tired. I could feel some metal bars in the backrest… Legroom wasn’t too bad though, and I believe there was a footrest as well. It’s also the first time I have seen the table with a text stating that stealing lifejackets is a crime.
I spotted the usual old 727 freighters at CEB as we pushed back, and we took off on time for the short hop to Manila. Service on this flight consisted of the usual PAL snack packs and orange juice. Not bad at all considering what junk they serve in Mabuhay nowadays. We landed on time at Manila after an uneventful flight.
27 December 2005
Manila Ninoy Aquino (MNL/RPLL) – Bangkok Don Muang (BKK/VTBD)
Thai Airways International TG 621
HS-TJB “Uthai Thani”
1420-1635 – On Time
Economy Class, Seat 32C
Photo © JKSC
Photo © K.L.Yim
Pictures here: http://lari.pp.fi/tg621/index.html
We arrived rather early at Ninoy Aquino T1 as I was expecting it to be a chaos just after Christmas. Thai check-in was just opening, and the economy class queue had at least 100 people waiting already. Thankfully the Royal Silk/Star Gold line was empty. Asked for better seats – nothing available. But for 32BC, I would have to leave my LH SEN number in the system, or so the agent said. An upgrade later I thought… She then informed that we need to pay something called Philippine Travel Tax – I pretty much blew it completely at this point. IMHO that’s ridiculous, at least I want to pay by credit card and want a proper receipt. Neither was possible. By the time this money contributes to Philippine tourism, Biman Bangladesh will have 777-300ERs with First sleepers and PTVs in Y.
Anyway, with this tax paid, we finally got our boarding passes and could proceed to pay PHP 550 for the use of this horrible terminal. Couldn’t really move from there, as the immigration lines stretched that far back. After this travel tax stuff and estimated waiting time of 40 minutes at passport control, I wasn’t really in the best mood. Anyway, after clearing immigration, we headed straight to the SQ Raffles Class lounge. Probably the classiest place in this terminal, it was much bigger and better than the F class section in my opinion. Plenty of hot food options and a decent selection of drinks. The security guy checking boarding passes wasn’t particularly happy as the TG gate was in the other concourse, but that’s his problem.
We then went to the TG lounge – if you really want to call it a lounge. About the size of a hotel room, there wasn’t a single seat left, and Baileys and Black Label had been replaced by local Tanduay products. Rather pathetic. Tried to change seats and FF number, the receptionist had a CRS open in front of her but promptly informed that no changes can be made. We headed straight to the gate, which had much more room than this excuse of a lounge. Changed my FF numbers there – but as expected, they screwed up. The miles were posted to my LH account. BKK-MNL miles haven’t been posted anywhere. Well done TG.
HS-TJB had arrived from Kansai already, and looked dirtier than those Phuket Air 747 Classics in its old color scheme. Boarded on time, and took our seats in the second row. This plane features the oldest seats, and they are horrible. There is a metal bar under the seat in front of you, so it’s impossible to stretch your legs under the seat in front of you. To make matters worse, duct tape was used everywhere, and every seat was somehow broken. What a disgrace to find this kind of interior on TG. I must say seeing the SCREEN BRIGHTNESS button really worn out makes me wonder what passengers think it is – after all this aircraft doesn’t have PTVs!
We were pushed back on time, and took off again without delay to Bangkok. Service on this flight was just like the interior – a disgrace. The guy serving the first nut mix just threw them at sleeping passengers; a good number of bags just fell on the floor. I asked for a drink refill and was informed “later”. However, we got our meal choice, and the prawn curry was very good – of the usual TG standard. I later had the usual chat with one of the crew – she said that service isn’t that important on this flight as all the Japanese got off at MNL. Nice attitude there.
Landing at Don Muang was on time, but unfortunately we parked at the cargo ramp near some OX 747s. One of those really ancient TG buses with no working air-conditioning then took us to the terminal. Passport control was bad as usual at T1.
It was a nice trip with the usual hassle when traveling in the Philippines. TG failed completely on the return and in the mileage department, and it’s sad to see PAL cutting the Mabuhay meal service. Sad to say but wrong posting of Marriott points is what I expected – thankfully the Marriott Rewards customer service is excellent. Last but not least, instead of shooting judges ruling on NAIA 3, somebody should finally open that place. T1 is just so bad.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed.