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Re: CS91's Bucket List Trip to MLE Sunday

We got a bit of an early start on Sunday because I had a 10am reservation for scuba diving (first time!). After our fruit breakfast, I went over to the dive center to get started. Because I had never gone scuba diving before and I didnít want to do a whole PADI course during my stay, my only option was to do the ďDiscover Scuba DivingĒ experience. It was $200 and was part video lecture, part in-pool training, and the rest in the ocean off the jetty. When I signed up, the person at the dive center told me that usually you only end up getting about 30 minutes in the ocean (lame), but when I showed up on Sunday morning, I found out that I was the only guest that had reserved that time slot so I made sure to get through all the training stuff quickly in order to maximize my time in the ocean. The video was 25ish minutes long and I knocked out the pool training part in about another 15 minutes so I ended up getting a bit over an hour in the ocean. It was great to just be one-on-one with the instructor so that I didnít have to wait for anyone else to get the hang of things.

At first, when they told me that we wouldnít be going out on a boat and would just be going off the jetty, I thought that it wouldnít be such a cool experience, but I was 100% wrong. The ocean floor near the jetty kind of looks like a cliff and while the water is only 10 feet deep right at the edge of the jetty, thereís literally a cliff that goes down on a slant with coral all the way down. The instructor knew the area pretty well so our depth fluctuated throughout the dive based on where she thought the nicest fish would be, but the deepest we went was about 30 feet. Once again, thereís no point in trying to describe the views that I saw when I can just attach pictures. My GoPro was actually on video mode for the entire dive so I quickly went through the video and took screenshots of different parts that I thought were really good. If/when I get around to editing the video, maybe Iíll post it on YouTube and paste the link here. Overall, scuba diving was an awesome experience and for those of you who have never gone, I highly recommend it. Itís pretty easy to get a hang of and after your first few breaths under water, youíre not even paying attention to the fact that youíre breathing in air from a tank and youíre just focusing on the beautiful scenery thatís in front of you. The only bad part was that I got swimmerís ear from scuba diving but more on that later. Either way, it was worth it and I already told DW that Iíll be ditching her for half a day to go diving when weíre in USM later this year. Without further delay though, here are a bunch of screenshots from the GoPro footage that I have from scuba diving.

































































While I was scuba diving, DW sat on the jetty and read her book (side point Ė if/when you go to MLE, bring a book or two to read!). After my dive was over, we went back our villa to eat a quick lunch and then went to the beach to relax for the rest of the afternoon. Thereís really nothing like lying back and hearing nothing but the waves crashing into the shore while taking in this view:



Because the beach is right next to the Dusk Jetty, when we started overheating (which happens pretty often in the MLE heat), instead of just dunking in the pool, we just walked out on to the jetty and went snorkeling for a bit to cool off. Why not kill two birds with one stone, right?

We eventually headed back to our villa, washed up and went to The Bar for happy hour drinks. Ameez stopped by to ask us how our day was and we started talking about his background etc. and got into an hour long conversation about what it was like to grow up in MLE and his experience working for Hyatt. It was cool to hear about someoneís experience growing up in a totally different culture and how different our perspectives are. He said that he was already working on the island when it was another hotel and when he heard that Hyatt was taking it over, he had no idea who that was. He happened to Google "Hyatt" and was blown away by how this massive, luxury hotel chain existed and that he had never heard of it. This was just one of the many examples that he gave of how remote and far removed MLE is from the rest of the world. At one point he also mentioned that he once went to Dubai on vacation and after a few days, he needed to get back to his island in MLE because it was too busy for him. Imagine if he visited NYCÖ

Anyways, eventually Ameez told us that our dinner was hot and ready and asked us if we wanted to eat at the Island Grill for a change of scenery. We of course said yes, so he walked us over and seated us at a table. We got a table in front of a small gap in the trees so we were able to see a bit of the sunset over the beach while we ate our POM meals. On the menu was Boneless Spare Ribs with sides of Garlic String Beans and Onion Mashed Potatoes and Pesto Grilled Baby Chicken with sides of Grilled Portobello Mushrooms and Roasted Sweet Potato. The Spare Ribs were amazing and the Pesto Grilled Baby Chicken was okay but the flavor was a bit weak. We also found it weird that the serving only came with one cutlet. It was a nice size cutlet, but it was still weird and a bit stingy. As for the sides, the mashed potatoes were good but were very watery because of being mixed with all the sauce from the ribs, the string beans were once again amazing, the roasted sweet potatoes were solid, but what really stood out were the Portobello mushrooms Ė just incredible.

POM Meals:


The Island Grill Seating Area:


Path to the beach from The Island Grill:


After a nice dinner with our feet in the sand, we stopped by The Dhoni to play some Jenga (they had some other games to choose from as well) and then eventually made our way back to our villa, exhausted, to get a good nightís rest after a full day in the sun.

The Dhoni:


Inside The Dhoni:


To be continued...

March 22, 2016, 06:51:59 PM
1
Re: CS91's Bucket List Trip to MLE Boat ride, GKK-MLE-DOH-PHL and Final Thoughts!

This time, the boat ride was much more enjoyable because it was light outside so we were able to look out at the water and see some islands that we passed. We were sitting across from another couple so we started talking to them about how they enjoyed their stay and turns out they were staying at the hotel on points too (and he also status matched to Diamond)! He wasnít as big of a points person as me (didnít really sound like he MSs or signs up for as many cards as a lot of us do), but he said he was slowly starting to learn some tricks. They were actually continuing on to Thailand so they werenít as sad to be leaving MLE as we were.

After about a half an hour ride, we pulled up to Kooddoo Airport Island and were greeted by other Hyatt representatives who took our bags and checked us in for our flight. After about a 20 minute wait at the gate (the whole airport is like one check-in counter and one gate), we boarded the flight.



The Hyatt representative that checked us in saw us talking to the other couple that we met on the boat so he sat us next to each other on the plane, which was nice. We continued talking for most of the flight while looking at some of the beautiful views that were outside. I wasnít able to get such good pictures because our window was VERY dirty (Maldivian Air planes seem to all be pretty old), but here are a few of the better ones.



Male:


We saw our next plane waiting for us as soon as we landed in MLE:


Upon landing in MLE, we were greeted by one last Hyatt rep who once again took our bags for us and help us check-in. The other couple had about 5 hours until their flight and they werenít flying J/F so the hotel arranged for them to have lounge access at the lounge that all the guests get access to when originally landing in MLE and waiting for their domestic flight. Because we were flying J, the Hyatt rep told us that heíd be taking us directly to international check in (the airport has two buildings Ė one for domestic and one for international) so we said goodbye to the couple that we met on the boat, I exchanged emails with the guy (nothing wrong with doing a little networking while on vacation ;) ), and we headed over to the international part of the airport. MLE has double security, so everything is screened as soon as you walk into the airport, and then after check-in, you go through regular security that weíre all accustomed to. (I actually turned to DW as we were going through the first round of security and mentioned how I thought every airport should have security right when you walk into the airport. Then after seeing what happened in BRU, itís really beyond me how other airports arenít making immediate plans to have security like we saw in MLE.) Once we were all checked in, the Hyatt rep said goodbye to us and we headed over to security, customs and then went straight to the lounge. Leeli Lounge is for any F/J passengers. The wifi was solid, the lounge had a decent sitting area, and the food (though we obviously couldnít eat it) actually looked really good. By the time we were all checked in and settled in the lounge, we only had about an hour to kill before it was time to board so the timing actually worked out pretty well.

Check-in:


Duty Free:


Before we knew it, it was time to board our flight to DOH. MLE is a tiny airport so the walk from the lounge to the gate was about 30 seconds and within minutes, we were settled in seats 2A and 2B and being offered drinks and hot/cold towels. The only alcohol that they serve before takeoff is champagne so I settled for some Pellegrino while watching Messi and Neymar give the safety demonstration.



Safety video featuring Lionel Messi:


And Neymar too:


They told us that dinner would be served right after takeoff so I decided to start a movie. After going through what must have been 150 choices, I decided on The Big Short. Great movie and I highly recommend seeing it. Dinner was chicken and olives, which I thought was pretty good (DW didnít like it because she doesnít like olives and the chicken had an olivy taste). There were also a couple of small jars of salmon spread that were pretty good. The service on the flight was great; I basically had Glenfiddich 15 on tap until I finished the movie, at which point I was in a pretty good zone and fell right to sleep for about 2 hours until several minutes before landing.

Dinner:


One of the many drinks:


All comfy, watching The Big Short:


After landing in DOH, we took a bus to the terminal, walked around the airport for a bit to see some of the shops and then went to Al Mourjan. Unfortunately all the quiet rooms were taken and the lounge attendant told me that nobody that had a room had a flight out of DOH before 1am (our flight was at 1:40am) so they probably wouldnít open up at all. Though it would have been nice to get a quiet room to hang out, the lounge has a lot of nice areas to sit so we just relaxed in the main sitting area, I had a couple of beers, caught up on some DDF ;) and went to take a shower about 35 minutes before it was time to board our last (longest) flight. Even though it would be a 14 hour flight, we were both looking forward to getting back on an A350 and getting a good nightís sleep.

Another part of Al Mourjan that we didn't see last time:


When our flight took off at 1:40am it was really 4:40am PH MLE time so we were pretty exhausted because we each only slept for two hours on the first flight (purposely so that weíd be able to sleep on the longer flight). After take off, I went to change into my pajamas and we both went straight to sleep for about four and a half hours. We both decided to have a meal when we woke up which was salmon and once again pretty solid. This time I watched J. Edgar while eating dinner. I thought it was pretty good but Iím also biased because Iím a big Leo fan.

After the movie was over (and my body had its refill of scotch), I went back to sleep for about another four and a half hours. DW and I still canít get over how much easier it is to sleep on a flight when flying J, and it makes the time pass so much faster. Though it is harder to sleep, I was never one who minded flying in Y but DW usually hates flying and is never able to sleep on a plane and she loved every minute of our flights on this trip. After waking up and asking the flight attendant what the available meal was, she told us that she had another salmon meal for us. It was a little odd because our body was expecting breakfast, but honestly, the salmon was pretty good and definitely better than the rubbery omelets that airlines serve for breakfast. As the flight attendant was setting my table, I went back to the movie list to choose one last movie that would take me to the end of the flight. This time I chose Black Mass, which was also a pretty good movie. The movie ended with about 20 minutes left in the flight so after changing back into my regular clothes, I turned on the A350 tailwing camera to watch our descent into PHL. I was able to spot the runway from about a mile out so it was cool to watch us approach the airport head on and eventually land in PHL.

Approach into PHL:


After pulling up to the gate, we got off the plane, were through customs within 10 minutes (Global Entry FTW!) and after collecting our bags, we went outside to meet our friend who generously offered to pick us up and give us a ride home.

Overall Thoughts
I tried being as detailed as possible throughout the TR in the hopes that it would be helpful to any of you planning a trip to PH MLE (or MLE in general). I know Iíve gained a lot (and enjoyed too, of course) from reading other TRs so I just wanted to return the favor. To end off my TR, here are some overall thoughts on both PH MLE and our QR J experience.

QR J
Just a disclaimer Ė this was my first *real* premium cabin experience, so keep that in mind as you read this. Once September comes around, the plan is to have experienced UA J, KE F, KE J and CX J (or F if it opens) so by then, my opinion will carry some more weight :). Anyways, our experience with QR J was great from start to finish. The service was amazing, having on demand meals was much better than either missing a meal or being woken up to eat it (as is standard in Y), and the planes were all very nice. We both thought the beds were pretty comfortable (like I said before, DW usually has a very hard time sleeping on planes) and the pajamas and amenity kits were great (pajamas were very comfortable and as for the amenity kits, nothing wrong with some free Armani cologne/perfume and cream). We of course hope to one day be fortunate enough to fly on an A380, but weíd both definitely love to fly on an A350 again Ė by far the quietest plane Iíve ever been on. Actually doesnít sound or feel like youíre on a plane at all.

As for connecting in DOH, as others have said here before, nothing to worry about. I obviously didnít walk around wearing a kippa but my middle name on my passport is clearly Jewish and anyone that looked at it didnít even flinch or react. The same goes for being served Kosher meals on the flights Ė nobody paid attention at all. I could have honestly put on Tefillin on the plane too. DW, who I had to convince to fly on QR and connect in DOH turned to me when we landed back in PHL and said that sheíd fly with QR again in a heartbeat, so for all of you who are trying to convince your wives to fly EY/EK/QR, PM me and Iíll get my wife to give yours a call ;). Just all in all a great experience and it made travelling for basically 24 hours in each direction a breeze.

PH MLE
Oh, PH MLE, you set such a high standard for every other hotel that Iíll ever stay at. From the minute we landed in MLE until the minute we left, PH MLE provided 5-star, A+, first class service. You would think that as good as the service was that Iíd be able to at least find something that could be improved. But nope Ė nothing. Zilch. The villas were beautiful and spacious, the main hotel areas (pools, beach, restaurants etc.) were all really nice and clean, and the staff was welcoming, courteous, thoughtful and overall just incredible. They had the right balance of being helpful but not too overbearing. The hotel as a whole was very accommodating and understanding about us bringing our own food and kept asking if there was anything that they could do for us to further improve our experience. Iíve been to 5-star hotels where the service was great but you could tell that the staff was being nice because it was their job to do so. Not at PH MLE; everyone was just genuinely nice and helpful (either that or Hyatt staffs a hell of a group of actors :P). From the moment we arrived, many of the staff members knew us by name (no idea how). I know Iím being repetitive but PH MLE is just an incredible place to stay and I highly, highly recommend it for any of you planning a trip to MLE.

Anyways, I hope you guys enjoyed reading about my trip, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask away! Iíll do my best to answer all of them.

THE END

Next up: Hawaii (OGG) in 35 days!

March 30, 2016, 05:58:12 PM
1
CS91's Bar trip to Asia (ICN, CNX, USM & HKG) Here goes part 1! Gonna do my best to actually finish this one but it may be a bit slow because haven't written up anything yet and I'll be quite busy over the next month between moving and starting work but I'll try my best!

Background

A few months after I was done booking my MLE trip, I started thinking about what to book for my Bar trip in August. For those of you who donít know what that is, most law students, after graduating and taking the Bar, book a big trip as a way of celebrating and getting away and enjoying life one last time before starting work. I knew that I wanted to go somewhere far because once I start working, even when I do take vacation, I wouldnít really have enough days to blow two days travelling.

We were aiming for about a 12-15 day trip, and originally we were thinking about going to Hawaii and splitting our time there between two different islands. But then I realized that Iíd have about a week and a half off between my last exam and my graduation in May, so we decided to go to Hawaii then for 6 days (Hawaii TR, yes, I know, I never finished it) and choose a different destination for my Bar trip.

So it was back to the planning board. I read through some TRs and asked on the Next Vacation Ė Ideas thread, and MarcoPolo suggested Thailand as a great place to take a kid who will be one at the time of travel, and to add a country or two on the way there and back. I went to Thailand (Phuket and Phi Phi Island) and Hong Kong as a kid with my parents and remember it being beautiful, and thought it would be cool to take my wife and kid, and see other parts of Thailand.

We originally thought of doing Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore, but after seeing SQís unfavorable lap infant policies (10% of revenue fair) and realizing that I didnít have enough points for 3 seats on SQ F/R, we decided on South Korea instead (KE charges 10% of award fair for a lap infant). Now that we decided on the cities that weíd be visiting, it was time to book. Iíve read about people encountering headaches and issues when booking award travel, but I was not prepared for the curveballs that I was about to be thrownÖ If you're not interested, feel free to skip the flight portion as it's pretty lengthy.

Booking

Flights: Before looking for flight availability, I did a quick search for the hotels that I wanted to stay at to see if there was availability for the dates that I was targeting. Thankfully, availability seemed wide open so I started working on the flights.

The plan was to fly on KE for the JFK-ICN-CNX flights, PG for the CNX-USM-HKG flights, and CX for the HKG-JFK flight. I started with CX because I know that was the hardest to find availability on. I was lucky enough to find 3 J seats available (as expected, there was no F availability) for the dates that I needed, so I called AA to put the flights on hold. The plan was to book my seat under my account (I had enough points for the one seat), and my wife and daughterís seats under DWís account (she was about 20k points short, but had just hit the bonus on her Citi AA Plat. card and the statement was closing two days later so I thought I was good). More on this later. Once the CX flight was on hold, I looked at KE availability, and found two F seats (Kosmo Suites 2.0) available for the dates that I needed, and called them up to put that reservation on hold. Side note Ė every airline should strive to provide customer service like KE. Their reps are extremely pleasant to deal with. After just a couple of minutes on the phone, the reservation was on hold so I got to work on the PG flights. Thatís where I encountered my first curveball.

I looked on EF and found availability that would be bookable through FB for the two PG flights. After being reminded by D93 (this is going to be the first of many times that he gets thanked in this TR; to say that he came in the clutch for me while booking this trip is an understatement) that MR to FB transfers are instant, I decided to wait until FB confirmed that they could book the flights before transferring. I picked up the phone, called FB, and was told that two days ago FB got a notice from PG that they were terminating their relationship and therefore they couldnít book the flights. Bummer. But I decided to so some of my own research. I googled and googled and found nothing about this apparent termination. I then looked on FBís website and it said that they are affiliated with PG. Time to HUCA! So I called back, landed on a representative who saw the availability and put the reservation on hold for me and told me to go ahead with the transfer. Score, right? I saw the reservation on my end under my login, and the rep told me that he had to put me on hold for a minute but that I should go ahead and transfer in 40k points to my FB account. I logged on to Amex, input 40k, was about to click transfer, and for some reason, and I have no idea why, I didnít click. I decided to wait for the rep to come back on the line so that I can confirm that everything is set one more time. After a few minutes, the rep came back and the first thing that he said was ďplease tell me you havenít transferred the points yet!!!Ē I told him that I hadnít, and he said that while I was on hold, the system didnít allow him to go to the next step of booking it and when he inquired why, he was told that the relationship had been terminated and the flights werenít bookable. I dodged a bullet, but now I had to figure out how else to get this booked.

So I did some research, bothered D93 a bit more :), and learned that AB, CX, EY and JAL were my other options of booking PG flights. I had a lot of MR points and not that many extra SPG points, so I started with the first three choices. AB couldnít find availability (canít search for the type of fair that these airlines need to be able to book on EF), CX was impossible to get a hold of and partner award bookings need to be done by submitting a form and waiting 7-10 days for an answer Ė no thanks. Before trying EY, I decided to give JAL a call and see how many points it would be and if they could find availability. I landed on an extremely nice rep named Erica who was able to find availability on the flights that I needed. She told me that because of the current promotion, both flights combined would be 10k JAL miles per person (they use a distance based award chart), but that unfortunately she wouldnít be able to hold the flights for me. So I decided to transfer 20k SPG points to JAL and keep my fingers crossed that there would still be availability once the points showed up in my JAL account.

While waiting for the JAL transfer to go through, I went back to ticketing my CX flight. Problem was, the 5 day hold was expiring on Shabbos afternoon (the day after New Years), and while DWís Citi AA statement had closed and it showed that she earned the points, the points had not posted to her AA account within the standard 24-48 hours. I called Citi on Thursday night (New Years Eve) and they said it could take up to two weeks, so I called AA and they said that they were experiencing delays because of the Holidays. So I thought about what to do and then I remembered that somewhere deep in the Citi AA thread, someone had reported that AA allowed them to book a flight and have a negative point balance because they conferenced in Citi who confirmed that the points were en route. So I called back AA, landed on a rep who knew about that process but informed me that in order to do that, they needed the help of AA Customer Service who was closed until Monday morning because of the Holidays. I tried getting them to extend the hold, HUCAíd countless times, but kept getting the same answer Ė they can only do such things on AA flights, not partner airlines. So I had two options: A) release the hold before Shabbos and hope that it goes right back into inventory, or B) let the hold expire on Shabbos afternoon and then log on right after Shabbos and hopefully the seats went back into inventory and havenít been scooped up yet. I didnít like my chances with either, so I went back to my savior, D93, and Whatsappíd him on Friday morning (15 minutes before Shabbos for him) and asked him if heíd be so kind to log on to my wifeís AA account after Shabbos was over for him, and if the points posted to have it ticketed (I gave him my cc number), and if the points didnít show up, to release them and see if it went back into revenue. He said that heíd be happy to help me out and that heíd let me know what happened after Shabbos. Needless to say, I was sitting on pins and needles all Shabbos, and right after Maariv, ran to my phone, opened Whatsapp and saw a text from D93 saying that the points hadnít showed up, butÖhe released the hold and the tickets went back into revenue!!! New 5 day hold to work with. Phew! So I waited until Monday when customer service would be open and called and asked to have me account in the negative once Citi confirmed the points were on the way. I HUCAíd and HUCAíd (at least 15 times) but nobody knew what I was talking about and I was ready to throw in the towel. I decided as a last attempt, Iíd call Citi to see if there was anything that could be done. I called Citi, told them the situation, and they looped in AA CS. AA CS told me that they didnít see the points anywhere but that theyíd make a ďspecialĒ exception and let me ticket the reservation anyways and go into the negative because Citi confirmed that the points were earned. Finally!!!! In order to do that, they looped in Advantage reservations, who looped in a supervisor (at this point there were 5 of us on the call) and after about an hour and a half, the tickets were on request! I honestly thought about making a Kiddush ;D.

The next morning, I woke up, checked my JAL account and the points had shown up! I picked up the phone, called JAL, landed on Erica again (!), and booked the PG flights. All that was left was to contact PG directly to add the lap infant to the reservation. PG isnít reachable by phone unless you speak Thai so I sent them an email and took care of it all that way. (About a month later, once I had recuperated from the AA fiasco, I finished the KE booking that I had on hold.) Finally, thanks to a little luck, a lot of persistence, and D93 being my savior, the flights were taken care of!

Hotels: Once the flights were taken care of, I took care of the hotels. I called SPG and booked the LM Chaing Mai for 6 nights (base room), and then called the Sheraton Samui and booked a base room there for 5 nights.

Then I called Hyatt to book the Hyatt TST in HKG, and of course, the hotel was booked and there was no more award availability. I flaunted my Diamond Status, told them that because there were base rooms available for revenue bookings that they had to let me reserve it on points according to the T&Cs, and after pushing them a little, I got a supervisor to book me into the room and confirm my reservation.

For our hotel in ICN, it took me a couple of weeks to decide whether we should stay at the new Hyatt in Incheon which is supposed to be beautiful, or at the Grand Hyatt in Seoul. Pro of staying in Incheon would be being able to take advantage of the free tours that KE offers, and pro of staying in Seoul would be the better location. After talking it over with a friend whoís been to Seoul many times, we decided on the Grand Hyatt Seoul for a few reasons. 1) better location if we just wanted to walk around at night, 2) if we stayed in Incheon and wanted to actually see a decent amount of Seoul, we wouldíve had to do two of KEís Seoul tours which would have been a lot of bus rides back and forth between Seoul and Incheon, 3) doing two of KEís Seoul tours wouldnít have left enough time to see the DMZ, and 4) most DMZ tours provide pick up from your hotel in Seoul which is convenient.

A couple of days after I finished booking the Thailand hotels, the bonuses for our Citi Hilton Signature cards (75k each) posted, and I decided to look and see if the Conrad Koh Samui was available for the dates that Iíd be there. It was, so I quickly applied for the Citi Hilton Reserve card (we were booked to be in USM for Shabbos) and kept my fingers crossed that it would still be available when the certificates posted to my account. Why not go for gold, right? Fast-forward a month and a half. Free night certificates from Hilton Reserve card posted to my account so I called up and booked us at the Conrad Koh Samui for 5 nights and cancelled the Sheraton Samui. Once I got the points back for the Sheraton Samui, I called back SPG and upgraded to the Executive Suite at LM Chiang Mai. NOW we were set!!

Total Cost
JFK-ICN on KE F (2 Adults + 1 Lap Infant): 199,500 KE Miles + $501.59 YQ
Grand Hyatt Seoul (1 Night): 1 Anniversary Night
ICN-CNX on KE J (2 Adults + 1 Lap Infant): Included in above mileage and YQ
Le Meridian Chiang Mai (6 NightsĖExecutive Suite): 44,000 SPG Points
CNX-USM on PG Y (2 Adults + 1 Lap Infant): 20,000 JAL Miles + $247.50 YQ
Conrad Koh Samui (5 Nights): 2 Free Weekend Nights Certificates + 228,000 Hilton Points
USM-HKG on PG Y (2 Adults + 1 Lap Infant): Included in above mileage and YQ
Hyatt Regency TST (2 Nights): 1 Anniversary Night + 15,000 Hyatt Points
HKG-JFK on CX J (3 seats): 165,000 AA Miles + $167.28 YQ

Total Dollar Value of Flights and Hotels: $50,783.93

August 31, 2016, 10:20:23 AM
8
Re: CS91's Bar trip to Asia (ICN, CNX, USM & HKG)
Have seen some of your pics on Facebook.. Great write up so far.
Do we know each other or are you a stalker?  ;D :o

August 31, 2016, 12:14:53 PM
1
Re: Where Are You Posting From Now?
TROIDH
http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=65726.0

August 31, 2016, 02:01:46 PM
2
Re: CS91's Bar trip to Asia (ICN, CNX, USM & HKG) Day 1: Flight to ICN and Tuesday Night in Seoul

As I mentioned in the planning section, I was booked to fly KE F from JFK to ICN in KEís KosmoSuites 2.0.



Because our flight was a few hours after Tisha BíAv, we drove from PHL to Long Island on Tisha BíAv afternoon and the plan was to break our fast at DWís cousinís house and then go to the airport (we left our car at their house). About 5 minutes before we were going to leave to the airport, news broke that there was a shooting at JFK Terminal 8. Fantastic. I went to JFKís website and it seemed like only the flights out of terminal 8 were being cancelled, and since we were flying out of terminal 1, our flight seemed to still be on. I called KE to make sure, and they told me that the flight was on schedule, and that I should go to the airport because if I missed the flight, it would be my fault and they would charge me to get on to another flight. So we packed into the car and headed to JFK and figured weíd see what the situation was. At first everything seemed clear, but then as we veered off towards the exit for terminal 1, we saw that it was bumper to bumper and traffic was at a complete standstill. We waited a bit, but everyone was just confused as to whether or not the airport was in a total lockdown or not. No cops to direct traffic or anything. After about 35 minutes (there wasnít even anywhere to turn around), cops finally came and diverted everyone out of the airport because they said that the whole airport was being shutdown. I called KE as we were driving back to DWís cousins house, and they started telling me that itís my fault if I miss the flight because the flight was still 100% scheduled to take off at the normal time.

When we eventually got back to DWís cousinís house, I called back KE and told them that I wanted to be placed on the 2pm flight the next afternoon. The supervisor told me that until I officially miss my flight or itís cancelled, she couldnít do anything. At that point, I was honestly so pissed off (especially because by then it was announced that there wasnít actually a shooting), I told the supervisor that I wanted her to hold 2 seats for me on the next 5 flights out of JFK to ICN, or else Iíd lose it on her like sheís never seen. (I know, a little harsh, but I was starting to get really depressed. I planned this trip 9 months out, and itís one of the things that helped me to keep pushing while studying for the Bar. So the idea of the trip being ruined was devastating to me.) She responded by saying, ďyes sir, Iíll do whatever you want,Ē and proceeded to place 2 seats on hold in F for the next 5 flights out (I wanted all the holds because I didnít know when JFK would resume normal operations so I wanted the first flight out). So I basically had about $100k worth of flights being held for me ;D. Turns out in the end my original flight was cancelled and JFK just did an incredibly poor job communicating with the airlines. After getting confirmation of the holds, I went to sleep for a few hours and when I woke up in the morning, I saw that JFK was back to normal so I called back KE to have the seats for the 2pm flight confirmed. The 2pm flight is on an A380 so that meant KosmoSuites 1.0. Because of the flight change, we were now scheduled to land in ICN at 5pm on Tuesday instead of 4am, which meant that I had to cancel the DMZ Tour that I had booked for Tuesday morning. Oh well.

Anyways, we eventually made our way to the airport, and when we checked in, the agent at the counter right away realized that because we had changed our reservation, we werenít guaranteed kosher meals but immediately made some calls and told me she was doing everything she could to get us our meals. (We brought along sandwiches just in case.) I also had them check two of our bags all the way to CNX and one of them just to ICN so that we didnít need to shlep all 3 of our suitcases into Seoul when we didnít need them. After check-in, it was off to the lounge. The KE lounge at JFK is nothing special. There are separate sections for F and J so I only saw the F part. Had a bit of food and some drinks (alcohol and non), but although underwhelming, definitely a better place to sit and wait than the gate.

Model of KE's A380 at the entrance of the lounge:


What else do you do while you wait for boarding  ;D


It was eventually time to board, so we headed to the gate. When we arrived at the gate, our daughter was sleeping in her stroller so the gate agent offered that we could take the stroller on board so that we could quickly transfer her from her stroller to DWís lap so she hopefully stays asleep which I thought was really thoughtful and nice. They also held up everyone else from boarding while we got settled in so that we didnít feel rushed (the stroller was blocking the aisle). This was our first F experience, and wow, the seats are HUGE compared to J.







Amenity Kit and Bose Headphones


Gianfranco Ferre PJs Ė VERY comfortable


The seat configuration in F on KEís A380 is 1-2-1 so we had the two middle seats, and the gate agent told us that she was giving us seats in the third row because the two single seats on either side were empty so we could use those for our daughter (another nice thoughtful touch; most airlines would probably say that I canít use an empty seat in F because I didnít pay for it).

Our daughter ended up waking up during takeoff so we chilled a bit, gave her some lunch/dinner, and then put her to bed in the empty seat. Although I was really looking forward to trying Kosmo 2.0, the configuration on the A380 was a lot better for flying with a kid because I was able to keep an eye on her while I was watching a movie etc. instead of having her in a closed suite.

Once our daughter was sleeping, I went upstairs to check out the onboard bar. I didnít take a picture of it (left my phone at my seat) but here is a picture that I found online.

Stairs to upstairs




There is also a small bar for F passengers




The flight was overall really enjoyable. DW and I each slept about 6 hours, and I think our daughter slept for about 10-11 hours (sheís incredible on flights). The FAs were amazing. They offered to watch our kid if we both wanted to sleep (though we didnít take them up on it) and were constantly coming over to talk and play with her (not in an overbearing way). The one time our daughter cried, two of them came over and gave her ice cream and a teddy bear (which she happens to love) and made her laugh. Overall, the service was amazing and I would love to fly KE again. Even if I wanted to critique something I donít think I can.

After landing in ICN we got our bags and went to the KE Limousine (bus) stand to buy tickets for a bus ride into Seoul. They have different bus lines which stop at different hotels, so I told them we were staying at the Grand Hyatt and we bought two tickets for a total of ~$32 USD. The bus came a couple of minutes later and from when we left ICN until we pulled into the Grand Hyatt was about 1:10. We thought about taking the train into Seoul but I donít think it would have saved us any time because the train takes you to Seoul Station and then you still need to take a taxi/subway from there (and itís more expensive).

Drive into Seoul


We got to the hotel and checked in at about 7pm and dropped our bags in our room and had a quick bite to eat. The hotel room was small, but decent looking, clean and definitely did the trick for just one night.



Hotel's pack and play with a miniature blanket and pillow :)


View


We then decided to go to the North Seoul Tower, which is basically a lookout point over the whole city. Itís only a 5-minute drive from the Grand Hyatt so we took a cab from the hotel to the cable car and purchased tickets to take a cable car ride up to the tower (you can either take the cable car or a bus to the tower; no taxis are allowed up there). I donít remember the exact price of the cable car, but I want to say that it was somewhere around $15 USD for two people (return). The line was a bit long, but when we finally got to the top where the tower was, there were some really nice views from the lookout points.

North Seoul Tower


View from outdoor lookout point


Thereís also an option to take the elevator to the top of the tower, so we decided to do that. I think this was another $20 USD for two people. The top has an indoor lookout, kind of like what you have in the Freedom Tower in NYC Ė a big circular room with windows all around. You have incredible views of all of Seoul. Itís really a massive city and beautiful to look at. The windows were pretty dirty and it was hard to get a good picture because of the glare but here is what the observation deck looks like.



When we were done taking in the nice views, we went back down to take the cable car down to catch a cab to the hotel, but the lines were incredibly long and our daughter was getting a bit cranky so we decided to take the bus. Problem was, I needed cash for that. Lesson learned Ė NEVER leave a foreign airport without taking out cash. I knew this, but for some reason got lazy in the airport and thought to myself that the hotel definitely had an ATM machine (which it didnít, because the lobby was under construction). There was no ATM around the lookout, and the convenience store by the lookout didnít have one either. I tried asking the clerk to charge my cc for the amount of cash that I needed, but he barely understood what I was saying. He ended up telling me it was okay if I bought something for the amount that I needed in cash, which I didnít understand because he ended up basically giving me free cash (or free bottles of water depending on how you look at it), but whatever. The bus finally came, but I didnít know which stop to get off so I asked the bus driver which stop to get off so that I can hail a cab. I donít think he understood what I was saying because he motioned for me to get off at the first stop, which after getting off and finally finding something who speaks English, was told that itís a hard area to catch a cab from. Luckily, a cab drove by a few minutes later so I flagged it down and had him drive us to the hotel. A bit of a struggle, but we made it. All part of the fun, right?

By the time we got back to our room, it was a bit past midnight and we were exhausted. We slept until 3am when our daughter woke us up (jetlag) but finally got her to go back to sleep after watching some Daniel Tiger.

September 02, 2016, 01:15:48 PM
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Re: CS91's Bar trip to Asia (ICN, CNX, USM & HKG) Day 2: Touring Seoul, Flight to CNX, and Check In at Le Meridian Chiang Mai

We woke up pretty early on Wednesday morning. Iím a Diamond member so for breakfast we just had some fruit from the hotel. After breakfast, I went down to the concierge to get directions on how to take the subway and then we headed out. Our flight to CNX was at 7:10pm so the plan was to take the 3:45pm bus back to the airport.

Daytime view from our room:


We walked from the hotel to the subway station, which was about a 20-minute walk through a mostly residential area. I found an ATM machine on the way, so I took out some cash for the day so that I didnít run into any more problems like the night before. (Side point Ė I opened a Charles Schwab checking account before the trip and it worked out great. And getting a free $100 was a nice plus.)

The subway station that is closest to the hotel is Itaewon Station, which is on Itaewon road. Itaewon has a lot of stores, restaurants, and shops and is apparently a nice place to walk around (we didnít really spend any time there). We took the subway straight to Gyeongbokgung Palace. It should have been a 20-30 minute subway ride, but it took us about 45 minutes because we got a bit confused when we had to transfer (the signs aren't that great IMO) and nobody spoke English. The subways in Seoul are the total opposite of subways in NYC; theyíre clean, donít smell and the platforms are air-conditioned.

Itaewon Street


Subway Platform


Train


You would think that a massive palace complex would be located outside the city, but nope, itís literally down the block from huge office buildings. We got there towards the end of the changing of the guards (I think this happens at 10am and 1pm IIRC) so we watched the end of the ceremony and then bought tickets to enter the palace (I donít remember exact price but it was really cheap). We walked around looking at the different buildings for about an hour. They were really cool and some of the detailing was really nice, but Iíll let the pictures do the talking.

Entrance


One of the guards:








Throne Room


Detailing on the roof of the buildings:


The palace is literally in the middle of the city


After we were done there, we walked to Incadong Street (about a 10-minute walk from Gyeongbokgung Palace), which is a touristy street with a lot of souvenir type shops. After finding a place to sit and eat lunch, we walked down Incadong Street for about another hour to hour and a half going into some of the stores and buying some souvenirs.

Incadong Street


We eventually made our way back to the subway station and took the subway back to Itaewon Station (this time without getting confused). We didnít have our daughterís car seat with us and didnít want to walk back to the hotel from there (it was downhill to the subway so it wouldíve been an uphill walk) so we decided to wait for the Hyatt shuttle which comes every hour. We spent our time waiting inside a Baskin Robbins because we were a bit too tired to walk around and it was really hot outside so it was nice to sit in an air conditioned store for a bit (and from the time that we got to Itaewon until the bus was scheduled to come was only about half an hour anyways).

We got back to the hotel, quickly packed up, showered and checked out. I bought tickets for the bus from the hotel and after another 1:10 ride we were back at ICN. Side point Ė our daughter fell asleep at about 2pm while we were on the Hyatt shuttle and slept straight through packing out of the hotel, the bus ride to the airport, security, the lounge, boarding, and the first 3 hours of the flight. Pretty sure she was jet lag ;D.

Once again, the KE lounge was nothing special. Nicer than the one in JFK, but still underwhelming. We hung out there for a bit until it was time to board, and then made our way to the gate. The flight to CNX was on an A330 (picture taken from online).



The flight was about 5 hours and uneventful for the most part. We all slept a bit, ate dinner and then entertained our daughter for the last two hours of the flight that she was up for. Once again, KEís FAs were really nice and the service was amazing.

Upon landing in CNX and making our way to customs, they luckily let us skip the line because it was pretty long and the customs agents work sooooo slowww there. It literally took the guy 10 minutes to scan and stamp our 3 passports. We then collected our bags, bought a SIM card (I paid 399 Baht, which is about $12 USD for a 6GB, 10 day plan Ė if only Verizon was so cheap) and got a cab to the hotel for about 250 baht (we needed a bigger car because we had a lot of luggage).

When we got to the hotel, I asked about being upgraded to the Diplomatic Suite (I had emailed them a few days before and from their broken English, my understanding was that they would upgrade me if the room was available). They woman at the counter said no even after I showed her the email so I just dropped it. The Executive Suite is still really nice and spacious so it wasnít worth arguing (it seems like every other TR that includes CNX involves a stay in the Executive Suite at LM so Iíll skip out on the pictures). At that point we were so tired, we just wanted to get to the room and go to sleep. Luckily, our daughter somehow slept through the night even after sleeping for about 7 hours during the day so that was the end of her jet lag.

September 02, 2016, 03:29:41 PM
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Re: CS91's Bar trip to Asia (ICN, CNX, USM & HKG) Day 3: Animal Shows in Chiang Mai

After waking up and packing up for the day, we walked over to the Chabad for breakfast.



It was nice to have a hot fresh meal for the first time in over a day. The food at the Chabad in Chiang Mai is overall really good and the prices are really low. I opted for the Shakshuka and DW and my daughter had omelets.



After breakfast, we walked next door to Yisroel to start our day of activities. I had texted Yisroel the week before telling him that I wanted to do the animal shows on our first day, so he got us a driver. I believe that I paid 800 baht for the driver (she was really nice and the car was clean and spacious), and we were out for a total of about 5-6 hours.

Our first stop was the famous Tiger Kingdom. I went for the ďmediumĒ tiger, and DW and my daughter went in with the newborn tigers.





Even though the photographers offer to take in your camera for you to take pictures, I also just paid their photographer to take pictures. I think it was 290 baht and you get all the pictures that they take on a CD. I thought it was definitely worth it.



Though the tigers are probably (definitely) drugged up, it was still pretty cool to do. To get the tigers to wake up and look at the camera, they wave this like bush in front of their face. At one point, I think the trainer smacked the tiger in the face a little too hard and the tiger started getting up and gave a little roar so I immediately jumped back, only to get a response of ďitís okay; good picture good picture.Ē Iím sure it wouldíve been great footage if I got mauled because they pissed the tiger off. :D

For the newborn tiger, Iím not sure if they made a mistake or not but they gave us one free picture printed out in a tiger frame. I also gave the photographer our camera so he took some pictures on it too.



We then walked around Tiger Kingdom for a bit and saw the white tiger and the lion.



After Tiger Kingdom, we drove over to the monkey show. Before the show started, they had Sam (one of the monkeys) go around and take pictures with people and shake our hands. The actual show consisted of the monkeys doing different tricks such as riding a bike, lifting weights, playing basketball, and untying coconuts from the trees. The show was definitely enjoyable, but at the same time it was sad to see the way that the monkeys are chained up and always on a leash. It definitely put a little bit of a damper on the show.







After the monkey show it was off to the snake show. We personally didnít really enjoy it and thought it was pretty stupid. Itís basically 30 minutes of watching people do ridiculously stupid things with snakes and risk their life. It wasnít that entertaining so if any of you reading this are planning a trip to Chiang Mai and are a bit short on time and need to cut out an activity, I think this is the one to cut.









The last stop of the day was Maesa Elephant Camp. The main attraction of the camp is the elephant show, but before the show started, we walked around and looked at some of the elephants and saw them getting bathed.





We then went to watch the elephant show. We saw the elephants play soccer, paint, throw darts at balloons, and do some other tricks as well. We definitely enjoyed it, as did our daughter.







We had originally planned to go to the crocodile show too but by the time the elephant show ended, it was about 2:45pm and our daughter really needed a nap. I had also made a reservation at Green Bamboo for my wife at 4pm (thatís all they had available) so we decided to head back. We got back to Yisroel at about 3:25pm and we spoke to him about activities for the next day (Friday). He called Eagle Track ziplining for us and asked them if we would be able to switch off going ziplining while one of us watches our kid and they said that it would be fine, so we reserved that for the next morning. We booked the bronze package, which is 15 platforms and takes about 1 hour to complete, but more on that in the next installment.

Once that was settled, one of Yisroelís drivers drove DW to Green Bamboo and my daughter and me back to our hotel to hang out and wait for DWs massage to be over. Once she got back to the hotel, we went to the Chabad for dinner. During dinner, we happened to meet another couple there who also wanted to go ziplining the next day but their babysitter cancelled on them and they didnít have anything to do with their kid. So we decided that weíd watch each others kids so that we can each zipline together.

After dinner, we walked back to LM stopping at some of the street vendor booths on the way. After dropping DW and our daughter off at the hotel, I went back out to New Moda Tailors to get my measurements taken for a suit and then it was my turn to get a massage. After my massage, we called it a day after a fun-filled first day in Chiang Mai.

September 07, 2016, 01:50:29 PM
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Re: CS91's Bar trip to Asia (ICN, CNX, USM & HKG) Day 4: Zip Lining

We woke up early on Friday morning because Eagle Track was picking us up from our hotel at 7:30am. We ate some food that we had in the room for breakfast. The ride to Eagle Track was about an hour.

When we got there, our daughter was in a pretty good mood so we decided to go zip lining first while the other couple watched our daughter. Like I mentioned in the last installment, we bought the bronze package, which was 15 platforms, and it took about an hour. We thought that was about the perfect amount and didnít really feel like we shouldíve done a longer package.

We really enjoyed the zip lining. The staff members that were with us were hilarious and made my wife think she was falling on numerous occasions (I know, mean, but it was hilarious for me to watch ;D). They also always offered to take our phones ahead to the next platform with them so that they can take pictures/videos of us on the zip line.







After we went zip lining, we watched the other coupleís kid and eventually got back to our hotel at about 1pm. We hung out at the hotel for a couple of hours until my appointment at Green Bamboo. I highly recommend a visit to Green Bamboo while in CNX. Iíve gotten numerous massages at 5-star hotels where Iíve paid $150+ and this massage beat it by a landslide. I donít think Iíve ever felt so relaxed in my life. It was definitely a great way to head into Shabbos.

After my massage, I went back to New Moda because they had told me that theyíd be ready for my first fitting before Shabbos. When I got there, they told me that they werenít ready because they realized after I left the night before that they were out of the material that I chose so they were getting it shipped in from Bangkok, and that I should come back for my first fitting on Saturday night. It was definitely annoying and I didnít understand why they couldnít call or email me, but what can you do. So I went back to the hotel and got ready for Shabbos.

Friday night at the Chabad was really nice. The room was completely full for dinner and the food was good too. Rabbi Pickel is very nice and welcoming (and of course at some point during our stay in CNX asked me if I was a DD guy and if I flew there in F :D). There were two dinner shifts, so dinner was over pretty quickly because they had to get the second shift in, but it didnít feel rushed at all. After dinner, Rabbi Pickel got one of the workers to push our daughter back to the hotel in the stroller.

September 07, 2016, 08:33:32 PM
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Re: CS91's Bar trip to Asia (ICN, CNX, USM & HKG) Day 5: Shabbos

Going to Chabad for Shachris on Shabbos morning meant that I got to sleep in! Iíll take 10am minyan any day of the week haha. On Friday, I spoke to the concierge and arranged for them to get me from my room at 10am and then to go pick up DW and DD from the room closer to noon and have someone push the stroller for us to the Chabad. They were extremely accommodating and were more than happy to help (they were also super knowledgeable as to what we could and couldnít do because it was Shabbos).

At 9:55am sharp there was a knock on my door to take me downstairs. Davening at Chabad was very nice. We finished closer to noon at which point DW showed up to the Chabad with DD. Lunch again was really nice, and after lunch we went back to the hotel and hung out in the lobby for a few hours before going back to the room to hang out for the rest of Shabbos.

Right after Shabbos I went to New Moda to have a fitting, and then we decided to go to the Saturday night market. We honestly werenít impressed with it and thought that the booths near LM were a lot nicer and had more stuff that we would actually buy. We did buy a couple of souvenirs but it was really crowded and I definitely donít think itís a must. It could be that itís popular for tourists who donít keep Kosher because there are a lot of food stands with local ethnic food, but for us who couldnít eat it (though some of it did smell really good), we didnít really see what the draw of the Saturday night market was. After walking around the market for about an hour, we went back to the Chabad to have a late dinner with EJB and then called it a night.

Sorry for the lack of pictures in this installment, but Iíll get back to posting pictures with the next dayís installment which will include BaanChang Paradise!

September 09, 2016, 11:31:35 AM
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