I just flat out love to fly and go places. Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination. (Occasionally it is exclusively about the journey.) For my birthday this year, I flew to San Francisco for the weekend. While I enjoyed seeing old friends and going to Yank Sing for dim sum, the real purpose of the trip was to fly on the upper deck of a 747 in a rear-facing seat.
United was flying the ‘Queen of the Skies’ between Chicago and San Francisco and snagging those seats was the best birthday present ever.
Eleven Trips in 2016
I ended up taking ten other trips in 2016 — four domestic and six international.
A few things went wrong along the way…
- My flight home from San Pedro Sula, Honduras was canceled due to a blizzard on the east coast and I ended up traveling through Panama and Canada to get back to DC. Loved the extra miles!
- A medical emergency caused a domestic flight to make two unscheduled landings (Hello, Lubbock and El Paso!)–one to offload a sick passenger (and enough fuel to allow us to take off on Lubbock’s short runway), and a second to refuel so we could make it to San Diego. No extra miles or segments for that one.
Oh, the places I went!
Besides the San Pedro Sula adventure, my international travels included three
mileage runs brief trips to Athens, Rio de Janeiro, and Zurich.
The remainder was in Asia: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and South Korea.
I had obsessed about booking that flight using miles and points after reading an article by Derek Low, who called it “the most luxurious class of flying that is commercially available.” It was the first award flight I ever booked and it didn’t disappoint. I don’t regret one penny of the $286.26 it cost me.
After a few amazing days in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, I headed north to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
My stay in Thailand was far too short but I saw enough to know I wanted more. The people were kind and friendly, the food was crazy good, the pace was calm and relaxing, and the dollar went a loooong way. I enjoyed exotic adventures like visiting an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Rai and shopping in my Singapore Airlines PJs at Chiang Mai’s night market. The climate reminded me of Florida–I was right at home.
Leaving Chiang Mai, I had headed south to Bangkok for a self-indulgent layover (Pad Thai and a massage) at the Royal Orchid Spa before continuing on to Hong Kong for a stopover at the InterContinental. After some hurried purse shopping, I headed to the airport for the three-and-a-half hour flight to Seoul on an unexpectedly elegant Asiana flight.
Seoul was just awesome! I was there for nearly a week, staying at the beautifully-situated Plaza. I loved the sightseeing and shopping and enjoyed a few half-day tours and a dinner cruise on the Han River where I discovered the joy of Korean sea snails and grits.
The temples were still decorated with Lotus lanterns following Buddha’s birthday.
And then it was time for the pièce de résistance–my Emirates flight home. Twenty hours of heaven on a luxurious A380 in a private, blinged-out suite with push-button everything and a seat that reclined to form a bed. The amenities included a “shower spa” with a heated floor and a lounge with a bar. I slept most of the way to Dubai and had a shower just before we landed.
“When I think of the greatest days in my entire life,” indeed, Casey Neistat! I feel you.
This portion of the trip (as well as CNX-BKK-HKG-ICN) was booked by Meistro Matthew Klint using my credit card points and frequent flyer miles. The Emirates flights were booked with Alaska Airlines miles (before the devaluation). My cost, incredibly, was $54.30.
The first class lounge in Dubai was enormous and the last word in luxury. After a manicure and a nap in the quiet room, I enjoyed a three-course meal and some discreet people-watching.
The New York flight boarded directly from the lounge and was just the best flight. Ever. I slept, dined, watched movies, read, walked around, visited the bar, and finally, after breakfast, took another shower and washed my hair.
Second Trip to Thailand
Unlike many of my other trips, the final trip in 2016 was about the destination, not the journey. I couldn’t wait to see more of tropical Thailand. I still can’t. As soon as I could make arrangements, I went back.
I began in Phuket, followed by a stopover in Bangkok (to experience the St. Regis) on the way to Krabi. I knew I had found something really, really special when I finally made it to Krabi.
From my seaside room at the Holiday Inn Resort on Ao Nang Beach, I got my first glimpse of the iconic limestone cliffs rising dramatically from the Andaman Sea, holed with caves and fringed with beaches and jungle.
I savored the warmth of the sun on the bow of the ferry from Krabi to Ko Phi Phi Don, snapping photos with my iPhone. The long-tail boat (water Uber) ride from the pier to Lam Tong Beach knocked me out. The sky looked as if it were painted with the super brush nib of a Copic sketch marker, time slowed down, and the air was fragrant with the fresh, salty smell of the sea.
A smiling porter from the Phi Phi Island Holiday Inn Resort waved hello as he wheeled a wooden ramp right into to water. I kicked off my shoes, handed over my slightly-damp luggage, and stepped onto the powdery soft white sand.
After a light dinner of durian and purple mangosteen–the king and queen of fruits–on the deck of my beachfront bungalow, I fell asleep listening to the soft sounds of music and laughter from the resort, and the distinctive phutt phutt sound of long-tail boats puttering around the island.
I didn’t want the trip to end, I didn’t want to leave, and I did not want to go home.
Well, a lot has changed in the few months since my return. My last day as as a working American is just days away and I’m moving to Chiang Mai on a retirement visa in March, arriving on my birthday. I’ll get to return to those beautiful islands whenever I want.
And I used to think a sweet ride on a 747 was the best birthday present ever.
I look forward to reading the many blogs that inspire and inform me, to earning and burning more miles and points, to seeing friends at the Chicago Seminars in October, and to hearing about your travels.
Thanks for reading, happy new year, and happy trails to you.
The Obligatory Year-end Statistics
I flew 97,434 miles (58 segments on 14 airlines), passing through 35 airports in 16 countries:
Airlines: Air Asia, Air Canada, Air China, American Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Bangkok Airways, Copa Airlines, Emirates, SilkAir, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Swissair, Thai, United Airlines.