Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Trip Home and Some Experiences with Airport Hotels

My carbon footprint is shamefully large. With all the travel I do, it’s unavoidable—unless I stop traveling, which doesn’t appear to be in the cards for me. But the trip that I’m currently on, and for which I’m using 40,000 United Air Miles to travel for free (taxes and handling fees cost about $80) between HCMC and Honolulu, increases my footprint substantially. The itinerary for my flight home is taking me from Hanoi to HCMC, HCMC to Bangkok, Bangkok to Narita, and Narita to Honolulu. Total travel time including layovers: 35 hours. Countries passed through: 4, counting Vietnam. This is better than my return trip, which will take me more than 50 hours, through 5 countries, to go from Honolulu back to Hanoi. All to save about $1400. Is it worth it? I’m not really sure…

I did get bumped up from economy to business class on my flight to Bangkok, but it was only a 90-minute flight, so the upgrade was over almost as soon as it had begun. It was my first flight with Lufthansa, and I must say I enjoyed it. Especially the massage function in my chair, which felt good on the 2 square inches of my lower back that it worked on. But it was fun pressing the buttons on my console to make my seat wiggle slightly. The hulking German flight attendant was a bit scary and overly serious—I thought flight attendants are supposed to smile—but nonetheless the service was good.

When I got to Bangkok, I was faced with an 8 1/2-hour layover. Thinking that I’d do well to get some sleep—I can never sleep on planes—I decided to look for an airport hotel. That was, if I could get to the transit area through the mass of passengers bottlenecked in front of the only escalator going to the second floor, which was controlled by an airport employee who only allowed maybe 20 passengers to ascend every minute. It took 10 minutes just to get to the second floor, at which point I tried to locate an information booth to inquire where I could find and book a room. I was waved in a vague direction by a group of check-in agents chatting amongst themselves, and after five minutes of looking, I found two women at a tiny information kiosk, but they didn’t really seem to want to be bothered either. I interrupted them after waiting a couple minutes for them to end their conversation, and they, too, waved me lazily down some long corridor, saying the hotel was “at the end.” I walked and I walked, about 4 or 5 minutes total, but found nothing besides what appeared to be two private lounges. The corridor ended at a glass wall. So I turned back, found the information booth empty now, but tracked down the woman who’d misguided me and asked again where to find the hotel. This time she said it was halfway down the same corridor I’d traveled, across from departure gate A3. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?” I asked, but she just waved me off again.

(I seem to never have good luck in Thailand. So far: 2 hospital visits, a taxi “kidnapping,” hotels that falsely advertised, a sewage pipe that broke at the very moment I passed under it, an airline that dropped and broke my computer but refused to compensate me for it, riots, etc. So why do I keep going back?)

I found the hotel, but the prices made me think I was the victim of a bad joke. $89 for 4 hours? $130 for six hours? Highway robbery! I’ve stayed at airport hotels in Singapore and Seoul before, and the prices weren’t nearly so exorbitant. I asked if they had any photos of the rooms, but they only shook their heads. Well, what are the rooms like? I was told offhandedly that they were like rooms in any hotel. (Wow, such a helpful description.) Already exhausted from a poor night’s sleep, I decided to splurge for the 6-hour stay. Damnit, I wanted some shut-eye, especially since the next day would amount to 21 hours of sleepless travel. “Can I have a 4:30 wake-up call?” I asked. “Of course,” I was told. When I got to my room, it occurred to me that I didn’t actually see them program the call, so I rang them up to make sure they’d done it. “4:30,” I reminded them. They sighed. “Yes, sir, I’ve already set it up.”

The room was fine. I fell asleep after about half an hour. I was awakened by a call from the front desk staff, which had me leaping out of bed to answer it. When I turned on the light and checked the time, I couldn’t believe it was only 3:30! For $130, I certainly expected better. Especially since I double-checked with them about my wake-up time. When I checked out, I told the woman at the front desk—the same woman who’d checked me in—that she’d woken me up at the wrong time. I got no reply. Wanting a reply, I told her again. “So sorry, sir,” she mumbled, counting through a wad of money to return my $20 cash deposit on the room. The thrill she felt working there was palpable, and I felt it like a kick to my backside. I took my “free light refreshment” card to the second floor to see what I’d get, was asked to choose from among 5 items—juice, mixed fruit, water, tea or coffee, or toast/croissant—and opted for toast/croissant. Five minutes later I found myself being served juice, mixed fruit, water, coffee, and 2 pieces of toast and 2 mini-croissants. I guess it goes to show that not all miscommunications are bad…

By the time I got to Narita, I was already on hour 20-something, and I had another 5 hours to kill before my next flight. I found a day room with shower that was much, much cheaper than what I paid for in Bangkok. I ended up, rather self-indulgently again, paying $39 for three hours in a room with a bed and shower. Unfortunately, shortly after I lay down to sleep, I discovered that the hotel walls were very thin, and multiple guests, apparently, were using it in the fashion of a love hotel.

At least I could take a hot shower ($15 if you only use their shower facilities). They also gave me a bottle of water with the room, which would have otherwise cost me $2. So, I got a $2 water bottle, a $15 shower, and basically a $22 bed for 3 hours. But not really—the fact is it cost me $39.

For more about day rooms and shower facilities at Narita airport, check this URL:

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  1. Their hotel is simple but elegant looking...the foods are delicious!

  2. Oh God, this entry was such good advice to refer if have to take airport hotel. Thanks God you got home. Don't think about another longer trip back, just enjoy your home visit first.

  3. I have never been on such an epic itinerary before - you've got stamina and patience to spare! And tons of optimism, too - perhaps you keep going back to Thailand despite those experiences in the hopes that things will be better this time? ;-) I've wanted to go to Thailand but would first like to explore Singapore and Malaysia a bit more, followed by Vietnam. Perhaps Thailand will get on the list some time after that... 8-)

  4. Deutschland: Yes, the hotels weren't bad in themselves. And the food at the airport in Thailand was definitely tasty! Thanks for your comment!

    Mei: Thanks so much for your concern. I think I've recovered from my trip home to the U.S., but soon I'll be coming back to Vietnam and adding another 14 hours to my trip! Chao em nhe!

    Tangled Noodle: It was all about the money. For a $1400 savings, I'll do nearly anything. Though I may not do it twice! :) And yes, everyone I know has these amazing experiences in Thailand. It must just be me, right? Have a great time in Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam! Let me know if you come to Hanoi before the end of June, when I'm likely off to Akita! I'll show you around and we can stuff our faces!

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