Welcome to the second flight of my 5-leg hop around Thailand’s skies. Today I’d be carrying on my journey from Chiang Mai, where I’d arrived two days previously from Hanoi, to Phuket with Thai Airways via Bangkok.
There’s a plethora of direct options between Thailand’s main tourism hubs, costing as little as $20 with the likes of Air Asia. My decision to instead add a layover came mainly as a ploy to catch Thai’s 747 on its famous domestic hop between BKK and HKT. At the time of booking, TG221 was scheduled as a 747 flight, as was my return TG202 to BKK two days later.
But Thai being Thai, TG221 was soon switched to a 777-300 and my plan was foiled, leaving me anxious for my return flight’s chances of a swap too. Two 747s to none would be the ultimate gut-punch. Anyway, my first flight was scheduled as and remained an A330-300, on which I’d previously flown with Thai HAN-BKK-CMB some months prior and thoroughly enjoyed.
Chiang Mai International Airport
Once again, this journey starts on board a local bus. Chiang Mai had recently introduced a dedicated bus network from the airport, which I’d used upon arrival to get to my accommodation in the northeast corner of the Old City. Confusingly, both routes are named R3, however the yellow and red versions take different routes but are both circular and cost just 20 Baht per ticket. I picked up the red R3 bus at the same stop I’d left it – a barely noticeable sign near the Chang Puak Gate 7-11 – at 12:34 for my 15:10 flight.
The route was a bit of a dogleg, passing through the old town out as far as the river and back around towards the airport. I’d imagine this would be very slow during peak traffic, but at this time of day it got me to CNX by 13:11.
All luggage was screened and sealed with a security tag upon entering the domestic terminal. First impressions weren’t great, with low ceilings and zero natural light not pairing well with an early afternoon onslaught on LCC flights across the country.
Fortunately TG’s check-in counters were located far enough away from this mess and were still empty by the time I reached them. I again checked my 7kg of checked luggage, having it tagged all the way through to HKT. I enquired about upgrade options but was told my ticket’s fare class did not permit any sort of upgrade. It was then time to re-join the bedlam upstairs at security level, where things had gotten so crowded that they’d also opened the crew/staff screening point to passengers.
With plenty of time and an empty stomach, I opted to not join the snaking queues and get some food whilst waiting for things to calm down. Sure enough, in about 20 minutes sanity had resumed and I could use the main security lanes, getting through in under 10 minutes.
The domestic terminal at CNX offers very little airside, without so much a single decent view out over the tarmac. A few coffee shops and fast food joints were scattered around the vast seating area and very little else. I opted to pass the remaining time starting to write this report and tracking my inbound flight.
Today’s ride would be HS-TEQ, a 10-year old A330-300 named Si Ayutthaya. It had taken off 20 minutes late from BKK, and soon a 10-minute delay to departure was announced on this end.
Not that anyone could really tell if it had arrived or not thanks to the complete lack of views outside from the departure lounge. Boarding was called at 15:02, prompting a scramble at the gate and the realisation that this flight would be nothing like my last.
I held back and was amongst the last to board. The load on this flight was impressive, probably pushing 95% in economy class, I'd imagine due to it being the last TG flight of the day that makes onwards connections to the evening and late night departures. I found my seat already occupied by my neighbour whose puppy eyes did not stop me asking him to vacate seat 60A.
Unlike in February, when I'd been lucky enough to catch 4 of Thai's newer, refurbished A330s, this bird still carried the old cabin most likely installed when delivered almost a decade ago. Legroom was still very decent, however this seat (or perhaps all window seats?) had the biggest IFE box installed underneath. This beast took up the entire space under the seat in front and completely restricted how far underneath you could stretch your legs - my toes are touching it in the photo below:
I'm far from the tallest guy but this would drive me insane on the 6-7 hour legs these A330s often run. Coupled with this was the very old-school seatback monitor, which never quite got going throughout the flight and was nearly impossible to see when sunlight hit it. Once again, not something you'd want to see when boarding to PER or NRT.
The view, however, from 60A of the A330's magnificent wing was great. This row has the double-edged sword of two windows, which is usually great but means either leaning forward or turning one's neck a full 90 degrees to get a look outside.
Boarding was completed shortly at 15:18 as I watched some sort of military ceremony being performed on the far side of the apron.
At 15:22 we then pushed back to commence a taxi to runway 18 for a takeoff directly south towards the capital.
I'd chosen the left side of the plane for this flight in the hope of getting eye-level views of Doi Setup and the mountains surrounding it, but this was assuming the typical northerly takeoff and clear weather. Unfortunately, neither of these were going to happen but I remained happy having enjoyed two days of sunshine during Thailand's wet season.
We lined up and performed a lazy takeoff into the low clouds above at 15:31, 21 minutes after scheduled departure time.
Leaving the city behind it was beautiful to see the extremely localised downpours right next to patches of direct sunshine. This month's weather in a nutshell!
Today's cruising altitude was set to 31,000ft and the crew sprung into action long before this. Thai stick to providing a full inflight service even on these domestic routes, and with such a full cabin I did not envy the crew's job. Nevertheless I had my snack and bottle of water in front of me in no time.
The food consisted of a chicken puff pastry, accompanied by a solitary lettuce leaf with a hearty gallon of slaw on top of it. No prizes for presentation but it was perfectly fine to eat.
The crew then started a tea and coffee run. No bar service on this flight - I think that'd be asking too much on such a short route. Thai do serve a good cup of coffee and always have done in my experience. Shame about the creamer and no fresh milk, though.
At 16:00 I felt the nose drop and the captain came on the PA to detail our arrival into BKK. The skies had cleared up the further south we went, meaning some nice views of fields surrounding Bangkok in the late afternoon sun.
We performed a snaking S-shaped approach, lining us up with runway 19L at Suvarnabhumi.
We made a less-than-elegant touchdown at 16:29, bringing to a close the 58-minute flight with a delay of 9 minutes.
Naturally the taxi to the terminal had to pass the parked 747s, resting idly and in no way preparing for a flight to Phuket. As if to rub salt in the wounds…
We were on stand at 16:35 with all passengers set to make their respective connections. HS-TEQ would shortly turn around and perform the evening TG574 rotation to Vientiane, Laos.
I thanked the crew and made my way along the jetbridge into the domestic level of BKK, not in any way bitter about what aircraft I'd be boarding next.
Thanks for reading, check out the full route flown below:
Bonus : Click here display hide
There are already acres of cyberspace dedicated to Chiang Mai, so I won't rehash the usual stuff here. It was definitely worth renting a scooter to see the city and surrounding hills, but be warned that traffic police stops are on almost every main route in/out of the Old Town and will fine anyone without an IDP 500 Baht on the spot. This supposedly permits you to drive for 3 days without getting fined again, but be warned it does not double as a driving permit and you will still not be covered by travel insurance for any accidents.
Anyway, the views from atop Doi Suthep were incredible and had the bonus of overlooking CNX in its entirety, including the departing and arriving flights. I happened to see the very flight I'd be taking arrive the day before.
Chiang Mai - CNX
Bangkok - BKK
It's always a novelty and a pleasure to fly a widebody aircraft on these short, domestic routes. Props to Thai for persisting with the full inflight service in the face of such fierce competition from LCCs, though I suspect most of any profit made on these routes is due to connections at BKK rather than O&D pax choosing to pay more for a pastry and outdated TV screen. Chiang Mai domestic terminal was a mess at rush hour and uninspiring at best once through security.
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