Journey To The End Of The Earth – Part 1

>Introduction

This report comes more than 2 years after I actually took the trip. Annoyingly I’ve forgotten some of the detail, but maybe that’s helped to give a better view of what you really take away from a trip; the lasting memories.

A year after my parents moved to New Zealand, I had a stack of BA miles burning a hole in my pocket begging me to go. At this time I’d never flown long haul in any cabin other than economy, and with my fortune I was able to travel with my wife in Club World and FIRST all the way to Australia.

British Airways fly twice daily to Sydney, with the option of Singapore and Bangkok as stopover cities, and they had 747s on both routes back in 2006. Having never been to Asia before, we decided to spend a few days at each city. I didn’t have enough miles to do all four flights in FIRST, but I did have enough to do half in FIRST and half in Club World. It was because of this that I discovered a little bug in the BA booking system; for some reason the miles required for the whole journey were based on the cabin of the first leg flown… so in booking Club World from London to Bangkok we were then able to fly in FIRST for the remaining 3 legs – Bangkok to Sydney, Sydney to Singapore and Singapore back to London – all for the same miles as a Club-only ticket. Result!

I should point out that this little loophole has now been closed – sorry!

I may be a man of miles, but I’m not a man of money. While the remaining flights between Australia and New Zealand would be spent in economy, this was of little consequence as they were very short hops in comparison. With my parents living in The Bay Of Islands (near Kerikeri airport), a combination of Air New Zealand and Qantas via Auckland completed the journey.

London Heathrow to Bangkok in British Airways Club World

Nine months after booking the trip, the day was finally here. I was like a child on Christmas Day and grinning before we’d even reached the airport.

I’d reached the dizzy heights of BA Gold status by now, so we were able to check in at the FIRST check in desks at the far right of Terminal 4. I was still grinning, and Emma was already praying I wouldn’t embarrass her.

Normally the Concorde Room is only available to passengers travelling in FIRST that day, but by pure coincidence a couple of friends were also flying to Sydney, and as they were in FIRST we were able to join them as guests.

Being an evening flight, the Concorde Room offered a complimentary 3 course meal (with champagne of course) in a private dining room. After dinner and a few more glasses of champagne, it was time to pay a visit to the Molton Brown Spa where I enjoyed a very relaxing back massage. I was determined to try out every perk I could – who knows when I’d get the chance to again?

It wasn’t long before we were boarding our flight to Bangkok. As the Cabin Services Director checked our boarding pass, I was very happy for the first time in my flying experience to hear the words “If you’d like to take the stairs to the upper deck…”


It was the start of what turned out to be a fabulous flight. The crew were very friendly, efficient and chatty, my glass was never empty, the food was tasty, and to round it off I got an excellent night’s sleep.

The 12 hour flight was so relaxed, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how good FIRST was going to be! More on that later…

By the time we touched down in Bangkok, London was but a distant memory. Our bags were soon working their way round the conveyor belt, and our driver met us in the arrivals hall to take us to our hotel.

The InterContinental Hotel, Bangkok

It’d booked a car through the hotel to collect us as I had no idea how far English spoken at increasing volumes and hand gestures would get me with taxi drivers.


We pulled up to the front of the hotel which was one of the tallest in the area with mirrored glass from top to bottom. As we walked into the lobby the hotel manager came over to say hello and escorted us to the Club Lounge on the top floor to be checked in.

In the lounge there were drinks and flowers waiting for us. As the staff checked us in, we sipped our drinks and looked at each other in disbelief. I’d recently reached Royal Ambassador level status with the hotel… and it obviously counted for something. That or they thought I was someone else!

I’d booked a corner suite which was just £55/night – a bargain. It wasn’t until we were taken to our room that I realised quite what a bargain it really was. On account of my status we’d been upgraded to the Ambassador Suite – the sitting room, bar, bedroom and bathrooms formed a huge semicircle which spanned the whole width of the hotel. I was speechless.




Complimentary breakfast was served in the Club lounge – and the spread was very impressive. A vast selection of fruits, cereals and cooked foods were before us, and we left feeling more than satisfied.

Throughout the stay, one memory stays with me more than any other – the staff were the most friendly and efficient we have ever encountered. Anywhere. They simply could not do enough to make our stay as enjoyable as possible.

In comparison to other hotels the furniture felt a little dated, but that was the only criticism I could make. I would gladly stay again.

Out in Bangkok

Pat Pong

When you hear the name Bangkok, some of you probably think of dodgy shows with naked women gyrating around poles and playing ping pong without going near a bat. So did I, so where better to start the trip than Pat Pong.



It was a short journey on the monorail from our hotel, and I was somewhat surprised that it was exactly as I expected it to be! A swarm of people, foreign and local, working their way through the streets, studying the “menu” at each bar.

Within a minute we’d been offered every kind of show imaginable, and being the gentleman that I am travelling with my wife, I declined all of them. As I explained to my wife, I was simply there to take in the atmosphere. To my amazement her response was “Oh come on, you can’t come to Bangkok and not watch a game of ping pong!”, and to be fair this wasn’t a difficult show to come by! We paid a small entrance fee (a few pounds I think), then went up some stairs and into what seemed like a perfectly normal bar, with the slight exception of the stage of gyrating naked ladies of course.

We sat down at one of the tables and a scantily clad lady sat next to us and took our order. Now this is where I tried to be fairly careful and ensure I didn’t inadvertently request her company for the evening – for all I knew this may be assumed unless I requested otherwise! Fortunately my order of 2 bottles of beers was not misunderstood, and I seem to remember the customer service was excellent!

I then turned my attention to the stage, purely for Schofs’ Travels research purposes you understand. I expected to feel a little embarrassed; I was sat with my wife in a Bangkok bar watching naked ladies – who wouldn’t be embarrassed? But I wasn’t embarrassed. I was transfixed. What these girls could do was beyond impressive – it was astounding! It may have looked like I was being a pervert, but I was in awe! My wife, on the other hand, was quite happy to drink her beer with her head buried in the Bangkok city guide book.

For reasons of decency I won’t go into the detail of the various displays, suffice to say the girls enjoyed a good game of table tennis, decorated the stage with ribbons, opened a few bottles of beers, and even smoked the odd cigarette (fortunately for them the UK smoking ban had not made it to Thailand).

But Bangkok isn’t just about ladies being able to showcase their talents, it’s also about cheap knock-off goods being sold on the streets. You can’t move for shops selling imitation Rolexes, Louis Vuiton bags, Mont Blanc pens, and a huge selection of DVDs. You could have bought all of the above for a tenner. We ended up buying a cheap hold-all bag – not for the label, but because we needed one while travelling and couldn’t argue with the price. It’s still going strong 2 years on.

Chinatown


We paid a visit to the local Chinatown, which was quite an experience. The streets were lined with hawker stands offering dinner to the locals served from make shift stalls. If you’re tempted by the look of the food, you only have to watch them do the washing up in the most filthy bucket of water imaginable to realise it’s probably safer to pass.

As you walk through the streets, they get narrower and narrower, with more and more people fighting to get through. Eventually you realise that the most sensible option is to give up and work your way back the way you came to the main streets.

Some of the sights that stick in my mind are purely because I didn’t expect to see them. For example, I had just never expected to see a monk on a mobile. Don’t ask me why, but it did make me smile.

The Riverboat


The best way to get to China Town and the surrounding temples is by riverboat. There are various stops along the banks, and it’s much cheaper and quicker than travelling by taxi.

Temples


Now, I’m not big on temples, but Bangkok has some absolute stunners. Not only are the buildings themselves incredibly ornate, but the painted walls and opulence of the golden Buddhas is staggering.

Bangkok really is temple-tastic – there are many to see, and you’ll be amazed by everyone you see. Even if it’s not your thing… just visit one and see if you’re not impressed.

Jim Thompson’s House


Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur who founded the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company. His house has been beautifully preserved, and consists of 6 different buildings that he purchased from around Thailand and had moved them here to form his grounds.

Part 2 takes me to Australia – click here :)