Author Archives: Edward

Flight Review: Tigerair SIN to BKK

To get to Bangkok from Singapore, I decided to try a low-cost carrier I hadn’t tried before. Tigerair is a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines and headquartered in Singapore.

Tigerair plane to BKK

For many destinations, you can check in online, but for Bangkok, I couldn’t. So I arrived at the airport 2 hours prior to departure to find a very long check-in line. After about 25 minutes in line, I had my boarding pass and checked my bag, and it was a quick trip through immigration to the lounges.

The flight didn’t start boarding until 20 minutes prior to scheduled departure, but everything ended up being on time. Somehow, I was assigned an exit row seat, even though I hadn’t paid for it or requested one. Perhaps the check-in agent was just feeling generous? The pitch in the exit row was great for a quick flight, although the typical seat pitch is 30″.

Cabin

Cabin

Good pitch in the exit row

The cabin was relatively plain. There weren’t tons of ads everywhere like on AirAsia, and it wasn’t particularly colorful. There was an in-flight announcement that only food and drink purchased on board can be consumed during the flight, but I’m not sure how they enforce that rule.

That being said, there was an extensive buy on board menu. In the future, I might be tempted order a meal just to try it. You can pre-order meals for a discount, and there were lots of different meal and drink options (including vegetarian meals!).

Extensive buy on board menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

Menu

In general, I’m perfectly content flying low-cost carriers in Asia. The flights are usually pretty short, and the prices are often significantly cheaper than legacy carriers (although not always! especially when you add in bag and ticket fees).

Lounge Review: Ambassador Transit Lounge Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2 (SIN)

There are two interesting features of the Ambassador Transit lounge in Terminal 2 of Singapore’s Changi airport: 1) it has a gym; and 2) there’s an outdoor seating area near the (accessible to the public) sunflower garden.

Entrance to the Ambassador Transit Lounge

When I visited the lounge, I was one of the only passengers there. But the lounge is actually a pretty large space with lots of seating, although the furniture was a bit old.

Seating

Lounge seating

Seating

Unfortunately, if you want to use the gym, you have to pay extra. I accessed this lounge using Priority Pass, but Priority Pass does not give you free access to the gym.

Gym

Gym

I’m not sure why someone would want to sit outside given how hot and humid it is in Singapore, but if you like, this is a lounge with an outdoor seating area. It seemed to be mostly used by people who wanted to smoke.

Outdoor terrace

Sunflower garden

I guess one final notable thing about this lounge is the number of showers it has. I think there are something like 15 shower stalls in the unisex bathroom.

Showers

Showers

In terms of food, the options were pretty limited. There were hashbrowns, mixed vegetables, chicken, rice, french onion soup, salad, and cake. For drinks, there was juice, coffee, tea, and soda, but you had to pay for alcoholic drinks. The alcoholic drinks were also not cheap, but that is common in Singapore.

Food

Soup

Food

Food

Swiss rolls

Drinks

Drinks

Drink menu

While the SATS Premier Lounge in Terminal 2 was a pleasant surprise, the Ambassador Transit Lounge at Changi was a big disappointment. I wouldn’t come here unless I really wanted to work out during a layover.

Lounge Review: SATS Premier Lounge Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2 (SIN)

The SATS Premier Lounge at Singapore Changi airport Terminal 2 is located near the Singapore Airlines lounge and the DBS Asia Treasures lounge (and apparently a defunct Malaysia Airlines lounge). This lounge is accessible via Priority Pass, which is how I got in.

Entrance to the lounge

The lounge has lots of seating with lots of outlets, which is always appreciated. There are some skinny cubbies to work in, there are some sections for groups, there are two massage chairs, there is a dining area with tables and long communal tables, and there’s even a first-class section that was roped off when I visited.

Lounge seating

Seating

Massage chair

Roped off section

More seating

Cubbies for working

There are showers in the bathroom, as well.

Shower

The food options are pretty good for a Priority Pass lounge. There was dim sum and congee, a variety of hot foods like stir-friend noodles, curries, and self-serve laksa. I tried some of the fried noodles, tofu stir fry, vegetable curry, and rice, which were all edible (albeit salty). There were also sandwiches, salads, yogurt, cereal, fruit, and breads for breakfast. For drinks ,there was the typical selection of soda, beer, wine, liquor, coffee, and tea.

Hot food options

More hot food

Self service laksa

Self service laksa continued

Drinks

Drinks

Sandwiches

Salad

Dim sum and congee

Seating in eating area

Dessert and fruit

Coffee

Cake

This lounge isn’t fancy, but it’s very functional and a good Priority Pass lounge. Lots of seating and electrical outlets, decent food options, and they even have massage chairs. The one critique is that I found the wifi to be slow, but everything else was pretty solid.

Hotel Review: Conrad Centennial Singapore

An UberX from Singapore Changi airport to the Conrad Singapore was less than 16 SGD. The airport pickup was easy, given that you can specify which terminal and door you’re at in the app.

I had checked in online and chose a corner room on the 22nd floor. This was a deluxe business room, but there was no upgrade to Executive Lounge access for a Hilton Gold. At the time, I was told I could have breakfast at Oscar’s on the first floor since the fourth floor salon by the pool was undergoing renovation.

Hotel lobby

Hotel lobby

The corner room was nice and had decent views of the Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay, and the Merlion statue. The furniture and room looked a bit tired and dated, and there weren’t enough outlets in the room, but the bed was comfortable.

Business deluxe room

Business deluxe room

Views from hotel

On the fourth floor of the hotel, there’s a pool and fitness center. It’s a good place to get some sun, and the fitness center was pretty well-equiped for a hotel gym. The gym could have been cooler and better ventilated, though.

Pool

Bar by pool

Gym

Gym

Gym

Gym

Breakfast at Oscar’s was a little hectic. The buffet selection is quite large (as is common in many Asian hotels), but there was also lots of turnover. This meant that the service was a little lacking, but they generally kept tables turning over.

Breakfast

There were tons of options. There was typical western food like eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, potatoes, waffles, and pancakes; there was Asian breakfast food like congee, dim sum, fried rice, and noodles; there was Indian food like daal, aloo, and roti; there was a decent salad bar, lots of fruit, and individual servings of Nutella, kaya jam, and peanut butter; and there was even a dessert and gelato bar with self-serve froyo. The quality of food was good for a hotel buffet, meaning that it wasn’t stellar, but you can probably find something to eat.

Breakfast

Ice cream and cake for breakfast, anyone?

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Overall, I had a good stay at the Conrad Singapore. At the time, the room I stayed in was a bit tired-looking, but it was perfectly comfortable, and the hotel is not too far from a subway station, so it’s easy to get around. Breakfast is typical luxury Asian hotel buffet. I think I paid 60,000 Hilton points per night for the hotel.

Lounge Review: Plaza Premium Lounge Langkawi Airport (LGK)

To depart Langkawi, I had booked the 8:55am Air Asia flight to Singapore, which was the first flight of the day to depart out of LGK. Given that I had a rental car to return, I got to the airport a  little early and ended up in the terminal at 7:15am, but nothing was really open. You couldn’t get past bag check to check bags until around 7:25am, and the immigration checkpoint didn’t open until around 7:40am.

According to the Priority Pass website, there’s a Plaza Premium lounge and cafe prior to immigration, although really it’s just a cafe, so I’m not sure what the lounge aspect is. But past immigration and prior to security is an actual Plaza Premium lounge. I got access via Priority pass.

Entrance to the lounge

The lounge is just a small room with plenty of seats. There were lots of outlets near the seats, and there were a couple of computers to use as well.

Seating

More seating and food area

Computers

Security line in front of the lounge

There’s also a shower in the bathroom. I don’t know when the last time someone used it is, but it could be useful?

Shower

The food options were a little sad. In the fridge, there was yogurt, disgusting-looking salad, soft drinks, soy milk, and water. There was no alcohol in sight, which I guess makes sense for Langkawi.

Drinks

For food, there was congee, some fried noodles, baked beans, bread, and fruit.

Hot food

Food

Congee

This lounge is not at all worth spending extra time to visit, but hey, it still beats sitting at the gate.

Hotel Review: The Danna Langkawi, Malaysia

The Danna Langkawi is the top-rated hotel in Langkawi according to TripAdvisor. It doesn’t get that much attention in the points and miles world because it’s not bookable with points, but it has been reviewed by a number of non-points and miles travel bloggers.

When I was choosing where to stay in Langkawi, I thought I might as well try the Danna, but I was slightly skeptical in that all of the travel blogger reviews seemed to be comped stays (i.e. the hotel paid for everything, so the travel blogger review was essentially a paid advertisement). But in general, I think I set my expectations too high, as so many of the online reviews said that this was the best hotel that they had stayed at and that this hotel had the best service.

To book the hotel, I paid with my Citi Prestige card to get the fourth night free. The cash rate at the time was around $250 per night (which is way more than I would normally pay for a hotel and is quite expensive for this area). To get to the hotel, I booked a rental car from the airport. In general, this is a less touristy area of Langkawi, so having your own car to get around might be a good idea.

Entrance

Typical of hotel’s decor

I had emailed the hotel prior to my stay inquiring about the possibility of upgrading my room. I was able to arrange for an upgrade for part of my stay to a Viceroy room, which had an amazing view of the pool and the sea. In general, all of the rooms at the hotel are sizable and nicely appointed. The variation in pricing comes from views and amenities like private balconies.

Viceroy Room

Room

Shower

Toiletries

Bathroom

View from a Viceroy room

Hotel courtyard

The main attraction for the hotel is probably the pool. It’s a huge infinity pool, and there are lots of loungers and seating options. There’s towel and beverage service by the pool, and people will periodically come by offering free snacks like fruit and sunglass cleaning. The pool was quite warm and lovely to wade around in, but probably too warm to do any actual swimming (but it’s definitely large enough!).

View of hotel from pool

Pool

Pool-side seating

There’s also a small private beach. Most people spent their time at the pool, as the beach was nothing special.

You can pay to have a meal on the beach

Beach

The gym was decently well equipped for a hotel gym. They had a bench press, which I liked (even though I had to move it away from the column in order to actually use it).

Gym

Gym

Breakfast at the hotel is copious. The buffet is quite large, but I think it suffers from the issue of trying to do too many things and not enough things well. There’s also the issue that the hotel doesn’t have enough guests to have enough turnover in the buffet, so some of the items may have been sitting there for a long time depending on when you eat breakfast. But there’s a made-to-order menu as well as the buffet, so I’m sure you can find something to satisfy you.

Breakfast menu

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast

Given the lack of food options nearby, I also ate at the main hotel restaurant for dinner a couple of times. The food isn’t cheap for Malaysia, but the vegetarian entrees are pretty affordable for a fancy hotel (35-40 MYR for a vegetarian entree; a bottle of sparkling water was 24 MYR by comparison). In general, I found the service to be very eager and earnest, particularly at dinner. And the food was tastier at dinner when it was made to order compared to breakfast. That being said, I did have a couple of issues with food not being cooked correctly, but once I brought up the issue to the waiter/manager, things were taken care of.

Restaurant menu

In terms of non-hotel things to do in Langkawi, many people go on a mangrove tour, so I went on one booked through the hotel that was operated by Dev’s Adventure Tours. It was okay. I loved the guide, but the tour itself wasn’t that impressive, especially compared to something like a Halong Bay cruise. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the cable car and skybridge, so I would recommend those.

Overall, the hotel is pretty nice, although at the time there was major (loud) construction going on (which I did not know of at the time of booking). But this hotel has nothing on a hotel like the Conrad Koh Samui in terms of privacy/rooms/views/facilities (granted, the cash rate for the Conrad Koh Samui is considerably higher, but it’s also bookable with points or free night certificates). And while there was good service recovery (attempts to compensate for service issues),  the service itself generally was not at that high of a standard compared to other high-end hotels (e.g., the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome). I would not go out of my way to recommend this hotel, but if you want to head to Langkawi for another reason, it’s a decent option, but I would not set my expectations that high.

Lounge Review: Plaza Premium Lounge Penang Airport (PEN) Domestic Terminal

The Plaza Premium lounge in the domestic terminal of Penang airport is accessible via Priority Pass, and it’s located just past where you clear security.

Entrance to the lounge

It’s a relatively small lounge, but there’s a fair amount of seating, and it wasn’t crowded at all when I was there.

Seating

Work stations

Tables

For a domestic lounge, I thought there was a surprisingly decent food selection. There was fish ball noodle soup, curry, mixed vegetables, pasta with Alfredo sauce, barley soup, and congee. Definitely enough to have a filling snack before a flight.

Fish ball noodle soup

Hot food

Cold foods

Desserts and drinks

Soup and porridge/congee

The wifi worked okay, and the lamps scattered throughout the lounge had USB chargers, but I couldn’t seem to find any normal outlets, which I found confusing. But overall, I found this to be a very pleasant domestic lounge with pretty good food options and comfortable seating.

Staying at Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Penang, Malaysia

So I’m not going to lie, the main purpose of this trip was to stay on a durian farm and gorge myself on durian. The durian farm that I chose was Bao Sheng durian farm in Penang, which has been blogged about pretty extensively by Lindsay at Year of the Durian (which is I think the best English-language resource about durian out there).

In order to book this part of the trip, I contacted the durian farm a couple of months before the trip. It’s slightly hard to time in that the durian farmers only know when the durian is going to drop a couple of months before once the durian trees start to flower, but many of us need to plan trips much further in advance than that, so essentially I based on my trip on a time frame that worked with award availability and that I thought would overlap with the main durian season. Last year’s (2016) durian season wasn’t great in Penang, but I still had an amazing time.

To reserve my room, I had to transfer money to the durian farm’s bank account. For this, I used TransferWise (affiliate link). TransferWise seemed like the best way to transfer money to a foreign bank account with minimal fees, and I’m not aware of a better method today.

To get to the durian farm, I took an UberX from Georgetown. Even with the driver keeping the meter on until he got to Batu Feringghi (i.e. he wanted to keep the meter on after he dropped me off, which I was fine with), it ended up being around $10 USD instead of the much, much higher rates I was being quoted by taxis and the hotel.

Sign on the way to the durian farm

At the top of the hill

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this place, but I had a great time. Essentially, you can eat durian whenever you want (i.e. there are bins of durians where you can just pick one up and crack it open if you desire), and the durian seng (the “master”/father who owns the place) will periodically host tastings where he or his son chooses durians for you to sample and puts them in a specified order. It’s similar to a wine tasting, as there are tasting notes (e.g. this durian should taste like X, this durian should taste like Y), and there are different ways to eat durian. There are also tours of the farm, there’s a waterfall not too far away, and there’s a plunge pool. But I mostly chilled in my air conditioned room and emerged to eat durian, which was great.

Most of the people who visit this farm are Chinese tourists (not necessarily from China, as there are lots of Malaysian Chinese people). But the durian seng and his family also speak Mandarin, so some of the tastings were conducted mostly in Mandarin. Many of the people volunteering on the farm, though, are Australians or Westerners who love durian.

Eating area

There are also plentiful coconuts. For people staying at the farm, you can get coconuts for free whenever you’d like. They also make fruit smoothies and juices, and sometimes even durian candies/pastes.

Counter to get fresh coconuts

Below is a picture of the durian seng getting ready to serve us durian. He chose a variety of durian from different trees of different ages. I think this was the amount of durian he chose for 6 of us.

Durian tasting #1

I stayed in one of the standard villas. There are a couple of different sleeping options, and the standard villa is the middle option. But you can expect basic accommodations with air conditioning. It’s not fancy, but it’s worth it for the durian.

View of a villa and plunge pool

Plunge pool and villa

Standard villa

Bathroom

Durian!

Views of Penang from the eating area

Durian dogs

If you get tired of durian (which I’m not sure is possible), there are other things to eat on the farm. As stated before, there are coconuts everywhere, but other fruit pops up like cempedak (which I had actually never eaten before). For dinner, you don’t have to eat durian (although you can!). They generally get someone to bring in food cooked from elsewhere and serve it as a family-style buffet (and a durian tasting often follows). As someone who generally doesn’t eat meat, the options for dinner were slightly fewer, except that I could always just eat more durian.

Cempedak (not durian)

Nightly dinner buffet

Durian tasting #Ilostcount

It was cool going on a short tour of the farm and hunting for durian that have dropped. One thing that I didn’t quite understand is how high up durian grows on the trees. Like these massive, spiky fruits grow on these seemingly tiny branches very high up in the air. Nature is amazing.

Durian trees

Anyway, if you love durian, I highly recommend staying on a durian farm as an experience. The Bao Sheng durian farm offers basic but comfortable accommodations and lots of delicious durian. The family all speaks English, so it’s easy to book via email, and Penang is a cool place to visit generally if you like food.

Flight Review: Cathay Dragon Business Class HKG to PEN

My final destination for this trip was Penang, Malaysia, so I connected to Dragonair (now called Cathay Dragon) in Hong Kong.

Plane to Penang

The business class cabin was completely full for this flight, and I think the economy class cabin was almost completely full as well. This was a flight with a regional business class configuration, so nothing fancy, but the seat is pretty comfortable with good legroom. This isn’t a good seat for sleeping, though, since it doesn’t recline that much.

Business class cabin

Business class seat

Seat back entertainment and leg room

Business class cabin

They were serving pre-departure beverages of water, fresh orange juice, or a cocktail of passionfruit and gin. There were already headphones at every seat. Instead of a wet towel, they provided antiseptic packaged towels.

Now, it had been a couple of years since I had last flown Dragonair before this flight, and one of the things that I remembered loving about Dragonair was the canned Hong Kong style milk tea that they had. Unfortunately, they no longer carried the drink.

Menu

Menu

Menu

I had pre-ordered a special VJML (Jain vegetarian meal) for this flight. The starter consisted of cold chickpeas, peas, and kidney beans. They were served plain, which was fine, since I was happy that there was at least some protein in the vegetarian meal.

VJML starter

My seat mate had the typical starter of smoked duck breast, and graciously allowed me to photograph his meal.

Smoked duck breast starter

For the VJML entree, it was a pretty tasty combo of lentil curry, rice, and peas and cauliflower.

VJML entree

My seat mate had the angel hair pasta with mixed seafood in a cream sauce and vegetables, and he seemed to enjoy it.

Mixed seafood and pasta

Overall, I think I’ve had better special meal catering on Dragonair than Cathay Pacific, but the regional business class product is largely identical. I think there are small differences like the fact that Cathay Pacific uses hot towels while Cathay Dragon uses the packaged towel wipes, and you unfortunately can’t add Cathay Dragon on an Alaska award, but otherwise, they’re pretty darn similar products.

Lounge Review: Plaza Premium Lounge Hong Kong Airport (HKG) East Hall

My flight from Boston landed just before 5am, so the first lounge I checked out was the Plaza Premium lounge in the East Hall, which is open 24 hours and was one of the few lounges in the Hong Kong airport that I hadn’t been to before.

Entrance to the lounge

Now, I’m not sure if it’s normally this dark or if it was just this dark because it was just past 5am, but this was the darkest lit lounge I’ve ever been to. Also, because I was there at just past 5am, there were very few people there, but it also meant that there was very little food out. So even though the lounge is technically open 24 hours, there might not be much stuff going on.

Seating

Center bar/food area

More seating

Seating

That being said, there was a ton of seating. The lounge is quite large, although there aren’t really any places for someone to take a nap. You could move two chairs together, but there’s no designated relaxation area like there are in other Plaza Premium lounges (including those in HKG).

Instant noodles and snacks

Snack mixes

Drink fridges

Hot food area (but none at this time of day)

Again, at the time of my visit, there wasn’t really any food out, but they did have malted soy milk to drink, which I enjoyed.

Eating area

Closed seating area

In general, I think I enjoy the Plaza Premium lounge in the West Hall more than this one, although that could just be because I visited this lounge when nothing was going on. But this lounge is also pretty dark and closed to the outside (i.e. no windows), while the other Plaza Premium lounge is not a cave. But both are accessible via Priority Pass, so you could go to whichever you like if that’s how you get lounge access.