And this is where my typical USA-India-USA jaunt takes a twist. This one-month vacation back home included a 5 day breakaway to a place that’s always been on my radar, but as an aside from what one would look at.
Think of Indochina, if anything. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, places that people keep going to by combining a vacation of a week or 10 days to cover these countries. Back in March 2018, my parents went over to one of the countries because some very close friends moved there, and a phone call with my parents after their trip suggested that they had a rather intriguing time thanks to the history surrounding the country.
INTRODUCTION - CAMBODIA!
And this country would be Cambodia. 3 days in Phnom Penh, 2 days in Siem Reap. We decided to keep aside Vietnam for another time. I would be taking this trip with my elder brother, both of us who have (air) travelled quite frequently, but quite the contrast here: I fly every couple of months, mostly on long hauls, but for my brother it is every couple of days but within Indian skies.
So, given that Cambodia is not very far away it would be squishing together the joys of international travel on routes those are just under 2 hours long, aka a pretty average domestic flight for the elder brother. It was on to me to select the airline of choice for the trip. I knew deep down what I really wanted, but there had to be justification for it.
There are no direct flights from India to Cambodia whatsoever, so it usually is a stopover in Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, on several different airlines. For Kolkata - Phnom Penh, there were 3 (well, technically 4…) airlines.
Started off with AirAsia, which gave a combination via Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok Don-Muang (on Thai AirAsia). Looked good on paper, but then came the extras, pretty much putting in on par with the others, so why struggle it out on an A320 when there are wide bodies on similar routes.
Next up, was Singapore Airlines. A Star Alliance members, consistently ranking up against the best (if not, THE best in skies), it would be silly to not select Singapore Airlines. Right… right? Wrong. I mentioned before I had reason to select the final one. Having already flown SQ, and on their A330s this felt like a bit of a repeat: a 4hr flight down South to Singapore, before a 2hr flight up north to Phnom Penh, and layovers a little on the long side. Besides, none of the Silk Air flights worked out to be a 737MAX on any occasion, so there was that.
And then finally, there was Thai Airways. Another Star Alliance member that really isn’t quite up in the league of Singapore Airlines, running in the latter’s shadows, but are quite strong with their hub in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, connecting several places within Asia, and a solid network to Europe. Not only was this going to be a new airline for me (technically 2 with Thai Smile), there was finally the opportunity to log in that elusive original Boeing 777, the 777-200! I confirmed this by cross-checking the seat maps on TG’s website and manage my booking because the 777-200 have a different seating configuration compared to the 777-200ER, for a few rows here and there.
In addition, the ‘long flights’ to and from Bangkok would be just over 2 hours long (incidentally, this happens to be both Thai and Thai Smile's shortest flight to India), and the one to & from Phnom Penh just under an hour long, with about 1.5hr layovers at BKK - clearly the more efficient option, but it came down to where would I end up following this? Will I head to Kolkata? Or will I head straight to Mumbai and get onboard the 747? The latter was an outside chance, but one could only hope: we settled for a simple CCU-PNH-CCU itinerary on Thai, and this is what it looked like:
Wait, a 7hr layover - what happened to an efficient way of getting there, I hear you ask. A booking blunder. Instead of going for WE586 (a 1hr30min layover), we did select WE582 by mistake. One crucial connection less I guess, but the return was 1hr25min, making it a bit of a tight one. The assumption was there would be security at Suvarnabhumi, but how bad would the lines be was the question. Seeing as several short haul internationals connect to the long haul flights out of BKK around 2200 hours onwards, I knew this would be a bit of a tough one.
THE A330 BECKONS…
And just when it looked like this would be a 777-heavy trip thanks to AA, TK and TG this changed just a week prior to departure: TG313 and TG314 (BKK-CCU-BKK) changed to a combination of 777s and 330s for a few days, with the days of our flights being on the A330-300, unfortunately. Great, so much for logging the 777-200! From 5 of the 19 flights on 777s, it changed to 6 of the 19 flights this trip on the 330… Ah well, I knew that the A330s had updated IFE, so overall it really was a product up gauge. And of course, 2-4-2 where there is no awkward passenger in the middle seat. So certainly much much better on paper.
Fantastic, just my luck :(
At least, it's a front of engine seat on the A320…nice!
Bonus : Click here displayhide
And I certainly did relax at home following what was a pretty busy summer in the Forks. I also managed to meet up with an A320 pilot flying for Vistara, a late night of beer & great food prior to checking in for the Thai flights. Anyway, some pictures:
Always fun making a trip to the fish market - after all, it is exactly what us Bengalis do :)
Weather in Grand Forks….a summer morning (7C is 45F for those on the other side of the Atlantic).
WEB CHECK IN
Web check in confirmed the A330 for us up to BKK, followed by the Thai Smile A320 to PNH. Plan was to get in to some form of a paid lounge at BKK during the layover, and hope everything went smoothly. Reading TRs everywhere I found out that BKK perhaps doesn’’t have the best of spotting opportunities.
DEPARTURE DAY - DID WE GET TG'ed?!
Mum’s birthday being on the 4th of August made for a bit of dilemma for my brother and I: do we get drunk significantly and risk getting booted for the flight? Or go in with a slight buzz and let everything take it’s course. :lol: It ended up being a happy medium, however for a little bit it looked like our first flight on TG would get TG’ed right from the get go: HS-TKQ was slated to operate TG313 and TG314, a B777-300ER! Now it isn’t uncommon for CCU to get the B77W on occasion, but this was a pleasant surprise!
Heading out from home nice and early at 2300 hours for the 0200 hours departure, the 777 excitement was quashed with flight radar 24 confirming HS-TBD had departed Bangkok on time, an A330-300. Hey, this would still go down as one of the shortest widebody flights I have had! HS-TKQ instead headed for Stockholm… where is Kolkata and where is Stockholm :P
CHECK IN, IMMIGRATION, SECURITY
We reached Kolkata’s NSCBI Airport for 2340 hours where it was pretty empty, surprisingly - there wasn’t going to be a flight between our departure to BKK and QR541 back to Doha. All other internationals (mostly South East & East bound) were to depart before 0100.
So then, a quick ID check later it was on to check in where the lines were non-existent, but the process took long - almost felt like because we had web-checked in, something broke. And a request to change our booking and be put on WE586 instead went down to the drain, as it was ignored pretty much. A sub-par start.
Immigration & security were done quite quickly, with check in taking 10 minutes and immigration + security taking just 10 more, 20 minutes to airside international was not too bad. At gate 10, our departure gate, was a rival A330, the Singapore Airlines A330-300 in particular.
This one had doors closed and ready to go, but was waiting on the SpiceJet B737-900ER to Bangkok to depart. I have talked about SG’s B73J rotations in and out of Kolkata in two trip reports, here and here. The elder brother’s comment on the A330 was ‘whoa that’s quite a large airplane!’, as I assured him we’d hopefully see an A380 up close…
Another interesting departure was in the form of China Eastern flight MU556 to Kunming, this 737-700 was in the Yunan Peacock livery. I have considered China Eastern from the USA to Kolkata in the past, it’s just that the inconvenience of transferring over to a domestic flight AND long layovers really do not make for any good. I like their old livery better, but the peacock does help:
Other airplanes in the vicinity were the two AirAsia planes, one A320neo to Kuala Lumpur, and a special livery A320ceo to BKK-Don Muaneg. International flights depart India late at night and early in the morning, meaning this is when things get busy. And while it wasn’t exactly *that* busy for the 5th largest city in India in terms of movements, all these planes went full. Long lines at the departure gates.
AirAsia A320 NEO - to Kuala Lumpur
The 'swing' gate: this gate can be used for both international OR domestic flights, depending on requirements - AI401/21 and A20/701, the B787-8 service to/from New Delhi always parks at this gate.
Thai AirAsia to Bangkok Don Mueang:
It was closer 0050 hours, and I noticed something big flare & land in to Kolkata - this was indeed HS-TBD coming in from Bangkok!
PURPLE PLANE, PURPLE PLANE!
Reciting a slightly modified version of Prince's ultra popular song, especially the chorus, about 10 or 15 minutes late, HS-TBD ‘Phayao’ pulled in to gate 10, as the ground staff scrambled to get the turnaround going.
The CathayDragon A320 from Hong Kong showed up as well, so it was time to head for some quick spotting again, before boarding started.
Ahhh, could've been a 777-200, but that's okay - let's enjoy the Smooth As Silk service!!
As the turnaround happened I noticed that there was no crew-change, and no catering truck either. Makes sense - the short flight meant that food was loaded in Bangkok, and this didn’t affect the crew’s duty day much, albeit very red eye timings. I also noticed that the pilots stayed put and didn’t really inspect the plane as such - this was mostly the ground crew going around with a torch.
Proper stock boarding pass Boarding was called at 0127 hours, 33 minutes prior to departure, but as much as they’d try to enforce row-wise boarding this did not go down well, everyone lined up and the ground staff had to scream at the top of their lungs. Felt like kindergarten. Oops!
While waiting for the line to dissipate a little bit, I researched Thai’s A330 operations a little bit - and so it looked like these wide body planes do not fly for anything more than 3.5 hours out of Bangkok, while the only long flights were to Japan, about 6 hours. Several cycles during the day, many even being domestic flights to Phuket….
I also noticed that there are no less 6 (!!) airlines flying between Kolkata and Bangkok, including Thai, Thai AirAsia IndiGo, SpiceJet, DrukAir and Bhutan Airlines, but just the one wide body flight, this one. Amazing!
Onboard at 0145 hours, 15 minutes to departure time, I appreciated the warm welcomes, the wooden floors, the purple & pink seat colors - aesthetically pleasing, even at 2am in the morning! Unfortunately I couldn’t select a seat towards the front, which meant it was a bit of a walk back, but that’s okay. Good looking & inviting cabin!
Waiting for us at seat 51H/K was the usual blanket & pillow, as one would expect for an international flight, or, alternatively, a surprise for such a short flight! A headset was provided, too. Seat back had a helpfully placed USB port, cup holder, and a foot rest towards the bottom. Pretty amazing given this plane almost always does pretty short flights.
A couple of announcements here and there, pretty much reminding passengers to be on their best behavior, and the other usual announcements, safety video was played right at departure time. This was…enchanting, to see the least. This was in Thai & English. I noticed that the last of the containers were being loaded up too, which indicated a slight delay was on the cards. Further announcements happened at 0206 hours, and I was surprised to find out that this flight was actually a code-share with ANA as well! The ‘Royal Orchid’ service flight would take 2hr15min, at an altitude of 33000 feet. The proactive crew went around and did their safety checks as well, as doors were closed & ready for departure.
Finally pushed back, with a delay of just 10 minutes, so nothing hair raising. Push back also led to a….pull forward, I guess? So pretty much saving that bit of Jet A gas all the way down, I did notice 2 Air India A319s (SCP and SCN) undergoing maintenance, while the broken & damaged ATR was around as well. The 2 x Rolls Royce Trent 700s were fired up without a hitch, and definitely got a smile on my face as they whirred in to life.
VT-SCP & VT-SCN
Taxied to runway 01L, but held on the taxiway for quite sometime, and not sure why. In the meantime the Qatar Airways B787-8 showed up as well, this is a flight that I have taken in the past as well, and I loved it!!
Lined up with the runway, engine spooled up in it’s typical Rolls Royce way and took off smoothly in to the clouds & precipitation northbound, before banking towards the Southeast. We were airborne 27 minutes after scheduled departure time, 0227 hours IST.
Climbing out, I decided to check out the IFE right away, the menu in particular. Unsurprisingly, this was not available for us :( IN general I felt that the IFE was more than sufficient for the duration of this flight, and well suited for the missions TG put their A330s on (as mentioned before, 3hr flights on average, longest ones being to Japan), easy to use and smooth. Not bad, not bad!
Took this shot…
15 seconds later…
SERVICE - THE HINDU MEAL…
Given the duration and timing of this flight the crew wasted no time in getting service started. Now what had happened is due to booking on the OTA, we were default assigned to a Hindu Meal. As I talked about in the previous series (on BA…), different airlines have different interpretations of the Hindu Meal - I have noticed that most Asian (& Middle Eastern) airlines hand out Hindu meals as non-vegetarian meals without beef or pork. Thai, also serves it as non-vegetarian. 0245 hours, 18 minutes in to the flight, we got our special meals.
A pretty standard & basic tray was provided, with a water bottle and hot bun. There was an Indian salad with a very strange vegetarian protein that had an interesting texture, and pickled. In addition, there was some pickle (not prepackaged!) served as well. For dessert, there was kheer (rice pudding) which was lightly sweetened, and I loved it.
For the main course there was a spinach side, which wasn’t anything great, but the chicken (also with a bit of spinach..) was outstanding, and went well with the rice. There was a piece of paratha which was nice & warm. In summary, 4 words: bread, rice, pickle and spinach, is now I’d remember meal…. Mixed emotions about the meal, but honestly just fine for the time of day (night….) and duration of the flight.
Service was conducted pretty quickly and I Set about catching up on some sleep as turbulence played a role in keeping the crew on their feet, ensuring passengers had their seat belts on. This was, unsurprisingly, more difficult than they would’ve liked. I set about watching Bob’s Burgers before finally catching some eye-shut.
Now for whatever reason I couldn’t get comfortable at all during tis flight. Maybe it was just warm? Maybe it was brother taking up a bit of my legroom (6ft2in, I guess…. :( ), but I was glad this was gonna be a quick flight. I woke up about 1hr15min after the falling asleep, 0539 hours ICT, 1hr42min in to the flight. Now things did pick up a lot of after this, it was about half an hour to landing any way.
DESCENT & ARRIVAL - TURBULENCE ALL THE WAY!
Captain made their announcements, the only time we heard from them during the flight: the usual weather stuff where some clouds were reported, and south winds. Cabin was prepared, more videos played of the arrival process at BKK, it was all quite smooth.Slowly but surely came down as the pilots mastered the A330 through quite a bit of wake on final, leading to some passengers being worried, and the big brother being one of them, holding on to the arm rests firmly, while I just enjoyed the ride, haha
When around in the vicinity of the airport on short final I noticed several Thai Airways planes in storage. A 747, some A330s and several Boeing 787s, surprisingly! Guess the RR engines have had several issues leading to a direct impact on TG’s operations. And I guess the A330s are the PW powered planes, which are on their way out now. Touchdown pretty smooth at 0614 hours on Runway 19L after a flying time of 2hr17min. Unfortunately this was the cue for some passengers to get up from their seats as they crew did all they could to get them passengers back on their seats. Sigh, why are people like this.
Window fogged up unfortunately, so there was not much to see. Announcements were quite detailed of how to transfer over to a TG domestic flight which sounded very efficient, I do not get why India haven’t been able to pull this off yet. I could gather that we were heading towards Concourse B - which is the domestic operations for TG. This plane was gonna head for a short flight! Docked at 0619, 9 minutes late, gate B6, the JetBlue gate. My brother and I waited for everyone to disembark, because why not. I had so much time to kill! I appreciated the crew saying ‘Namaskar’ as we all disembarked… it is the thought and the little touches like this that count, not necessarily if it is correct :)
Interestingly, quite like Miami this jet bridge felt like it was sloping down…and it did! We were put on to a coach that would take us towards international arrivals. This gave me more opportunity to take pictures of HS-TBD, one last time as we went towards our annoyingly long layover. Following TG314, HS-TBD would have the following rotation for the day - BKK KBV TG241 0800 0920 (58min in flight) KBV BKK TG242 1010 1130 (1hr04min in flight) BKK HKT TG215 1405 1525 (1hr02min in flight) HKT BKK TG216 1620 1745 (1hr09min in flight) Final flight of the day as TG307 to my former home in Colombo! This departed at 10.10pm for a 3hr flight.
It was purple of all shapes and sizes as Bangkok was in the middle of it’s morning hub operations: B777s, A330s as far as the eye could see, A350s and B787s bringing up the new generation, and of course some lovely B747 Queens were around as well!
Some of the other concourses had non-TG planes as well - was nice to see a Jet Airways B737-900ER heading back home to Mumbai as well :)
Arghhh should've been my plane :( :( :( but that's okay
As we pulled up to the arrivals gate which seemed kinda dark, I decide that this a decent time to stop this part of the Scintillating Summer series of trip reports. I will pick it up from the arrivals at BKK airport as we make the short hop to PNH.
Kolkata - CCU
Bangkok - BKK
And first impressions of Thai: honestly, as expected! Not as polished as SQ or CX in the area, but they’re not very far off in my opinion, but a fantastic product overall. From the flight itself, it was mostly on time, seats were OK at best, IFE was decent, and the food was memorable for strange reasons, but nothing too bad. A shout out to the crew for having to deal with a difficult bunch, too. A short & quick flight, perhaps the length of a Mumbai - Kolkata flight on occasion, but it was quite nice to be on a wide body, as always! I was excited to see what their subsidiary, WE had in offer next…
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