Back to Terminal One at Don Mueang

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Festive decorations celebrate the reopening of Terminal 1

We traveled to Chiang Mai by air, flying Nok Air from Don Mueang Airport.  Until September 2005, Don Mueang was Bangkok’s sole airport.  After the opening of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, operations at Don Mueang are now limited to three domestic carriers and certain military, diplomatic, private, and charter flights.  Everything else operates from Suvarnabhumi.

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Just outside the security area there is a great deal of empty space.

Three days before our departure, Airports of Thailand, the publicly-traded company that operates Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi, and four other Thai airports, switched operations at Don Mueang from the domestic terminal to international terminal #1.  The reasoning for this seems a bit unclear, as AOT’s own announcement projected traffic at Don Mueang to reach just under 4 million passengers this year, well below the old domestic terminal’s capacity of 11 million.  Terminal 1 has a stated capacity of 16 million.

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Scattered passengers inside the secured area with a sign for the sole restaurant: Burger King.

The physical space has increased from just under 42,000 square meters to almost 60,000.  While AOT claims to have spent a significant sum preparing for the reopening of Terminal 1, the interior remains very shabby and quite forlorn.  Instead of operating from one pier, there are now two piers in operation, resulting in a very long walk between gate areas.  Thankfully, most passengers at this airport are not connecting but are instead ending their flights here in Bangkok.

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The two major airlines at Don Mueang – Orient Thai and Nok Air – are visible in the background.

The budget for decorations must have been extraordinarily low as AOT staff have hung balloons and made this “getaway island” display that looks borrowed from a secondary school prom.  The one thing that seems to be working well, perhaps even too well, is the air conditioning.  The gate areas were chilly.  Shopping facilities inside the secured area are limited with only one restaurant and, in the former THAI Airways Royal Orchid Lounge, a massage parlor.

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Orient Thai Boeing 737 waiting to enter service.

Orient Thai, formerly known as “One Two Go”, seems to have acquired a Boeing 737-400 for its fleet.  Sure enough, three days later I read in the paper that they are phasing out their MD-80s in favor of the 737s, which despite having fuel-saving winglets installed are twenty-year-old technology.  Besides Orient Thai and Nok Air, the other airline operating from Don Mueang is Solar Air, a small prop-jet operation.

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Nok Air Boeing 737 pulls into gate 35 at Don Mueang.

Our jet, a Nok Air Boeing 737-400, pulls into the gate.  The airline recently announced plans to introduce an updated version of these jets, the -800 model, this year.  “Nok” means “bird” in Thai, so each of the planes is painted to look like a bird with a playful beak painted on the nose.  THAI Airways International owns 39% of Nok Air and, ostensibly, Nok Air is the lower cost feeder carrier for THAI, taking over most of the larger carrier’s domestic routes.  There has been, however, considerable friction between the two airlines and THAI has indicated plans to create its own low-cost operation separate from Nok.

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When’s the last time you received a free snack on a domestic US airline flight?

Nok Air is actually a decent enough airline.  It features assigned seats, free checked baggage, and snacks on the flights, things the largest domestic airline, Thai Air Asia, does not offer.  On our flight up to Chiang Mai, we received this Nok Bag with an Auntie Anne’s chocolate pretzel stick and a container of water.  On the way back to Bangkok, the Nok Bag contained some coconut cake.  Not bad for an hour-long flight!

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon in an overcast and slightly drizzly Chiang Mai for four days of relaxation.  More about that soon.

 

Heading Home: Honolulu to Guam to Hong Kong

After six days in Hawai’i, I had attended my cousin’s beautiful beach wedding, I had tasted the holy grail of desserts – macadamia nut cream pie, I had eaten poke and ordered loco moco, and I had bumped along an unpaved road to reach the place where Hawaiians believe the spirits of their dead depart for the next world.  After accomplishing all that, it was time to begin the journey back home.

While the trip was quite similar to the one into Hawai’i, I though I would share some more pictures of the trip for those of you who enjoy them.  Check out the video of our takeoff from Honolulu – the reef just off the runway is gorgeous.

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The check-in area of Honolulu International Airport reminds me a bit of LAX.  In fact, it looks more “LA” than LA does.

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The interior, though, is still in that 1970s time warp that seems to be pervasive in Honolulu.  It seems that an expansion and remodel is planned so we’ll see if that brings the airport into the 21st century.

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Oddly, this video monitor shows the date as November 30.  Only off by a few months.

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Another beautiful outdoor garden you can access from the gate area.  While the airport is in need of a remodel, I give it high marks for having lots of open air spaces and also for offering a lot of visibility of the airplanes.  A lot of airports make it hard for you to appreciate the view of the planes, which I think is a part of the romance of air travel.  Here is a selection of the planes I saw while waiting for our flight:

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A Delta Boeing 767-300 heading to Los Angeles.

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Two Continental jets.  The nearer one is a Boeing 737-700 headed to John Wayne International in Santa Ana, CA.  The further one is a Boeing 737-800 in the new United livery, headed to Los Angeles.

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This Boeing 757-200ER belongs to Omni Air International, a charter operation based in Tulsa, OK.

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An American Airlines Boeing 757-200 with winglets, bound to Los Angeles.  (Lots of flights to LAX, no?)

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Alaska Airlines also flies to Honolulu.  This flight is going to Portland, OR.  This Boeing 737-800 is part of their Hawaiian subfleet – notice the lei of flowers around the Eskimo’s neck.

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Hawaiian B767-300 without winglets

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Hawaiian Boeing 767-300 with winglets.  These winglets help reduce drag, resulting in an improved fuel economy of about 3-4%.  One of Hawaiian’s new Airbus A330s is in the background.

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Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300 in “Oneworld” alliance colors.  This plane is bound for Osaka.

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Another Japan Airlines plane, this one a Boeing 777-200, destined for Tokyo.

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The other major Japanese carrier, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Boeing 767-300.  This is operated by ANA subsidiary Air Japan, which operates charter flights to popular vacation destinations.

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A United Airlines B777-200 scheduled for Chicago O’Hare.  A Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717 departs for another island in the background.

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Our ride to Guam: A Continental (but in the new United livery) Boeing 767-400.

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The gate area was particularly crowded.  In fact, the flight was oversold and they were asking for volunteers but $300 in travel vouchers was incentive enough, since I’d have to use the vouchers on another Continental flight!

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The interior of our plane during the boarding process.

A video of our takeoff from the Reef Runway in Honolulu and landing in Guam.

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The lunch service was a choice between cheese tortellini and some chicken dish.  I overheard the flight attendant tell another passenger that the pasta was the better of the two options, so that’s what I went with.  It was actually pretty tasty, better than the food we had been served on the inbound flight.

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Mid-flight the flight attendants served ice cream – cups instead of sandwiches – and then about an hour before landing in Guam, they served these turkey ham sandwiches.  All in all, I think the flight from Honolulu to Guam and onto Hawaii was better than when we had traveled to Hawaii, probably because it was a daytime flight and we weren’t utterly exhausted.

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We didn’t have that much connection time in Guam.  Here’s a picture of a Chinese tour group taking a picture moments before boarding.  While they were seated further back in the plane and thus were to board earlier, we sneaked ahead and the gate agent, seeing the unruly crowd coming towards the boarding gate, let us board ahead of them.

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Our flight to Hong Kong, a Boeing 737-800.

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Once again, we had the option of buying extra leg room by sitting in the exit row.  It was worth it and just like on the flight from Hong Kong to Guam, we had an empty middle seat between us.  Interestingly, this flight was operated exactly a week after we had left Hong Kong and one of the flight attendants from the flight out of Hong Kong was working our flight back to Hong Kong.  I don’t think he recognized us.

Some thirteen hours after leaving Honolulu we arrived in Hong Kong, at about 8:00 pm.  We headed into Ho Man Tin, a portion of Kowloon where friends of ours live.  More about our two days in Hong Kong – and two Xangans we ran into – tomorrow.

Honolulu to Lihue

Route Map
Link to Part 1: Bangkok to Hong Kong
Link to Part 2: A Half Day in Hong Kong
Link to Part 3: Hong Kong to Guam to Honolulu

After some 29 hours traveling, we had safely made it to Honolulu and had just one more short hop to our destination: Lihue, Kauai.  To get there, we had to take a 20-minute flight about Hawaiian Airlines, which has a codeshare agreement with Continental. 

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We exited our plane from Guan (pictured) above and walked downstairs where we had to claim our luggage and go through customs.  As you can imagine, since Hawaii is a bunch of islands they are particularly concerned about fruits, vegetables, uncooked meat, plants, and anything else entering the state that might harm local agriculture.  About forty minutes after landing we found ourselves outside in the fresh (and very pleasant) air, and made our way to the inter-island terminal.

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The inter-island terminal is a ten-minute walk from the main terminal and is also connected by these buses called Wiki-wiki busses.  In Hawaiian, “wiki” means quick, so “wiki wiki” implies very quick.  In place since 1970, the buses really are anything but that.  Ostensibly a new moving sidewalk system has been opened but I didn’t see it.

Since our bags were checked through (we placed them on a belt outside customs so they could be connected for us), the walk was leisurely and we proceeded through security.  We realized, though, that we still had better than an hour before boarding time, so I walked around the inter-island terminal to get some pictures.

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For the longest time, the state of Hawaii had two dominant airlines: Hawaiian and Aloha.  In March 2008, Aloha went out of business, at least in part because of predatory practices by Mesa Air Group (who operate many regional affiliates for major US airlines) who decided to open their own island carrier called “go!”  Hawaiian continues strong, though, and consistently ranks with the best on-time percentage and fewest mishandled bags of any US carrier.  Here is their fleet of Boeing 717s (a modernized version of the 1960s era Douglas DC-9) at Honolulu.

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The airport has lots of open air areas, although since I was last there in 1994, they have enclosed and air conditioned the gates.  The walkway in the picture above is open air.  The garden below in the picture below is viewed from the left edge of this walkway.

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One of several beautiful gardens in the airport which passengers can spend time in.  What a peaceful place to wait for a flight!

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As the sun set, I caught this nice picture with the Hawaiian Airlines maintenance hangar in the background.

Throughout the terminal are wall-sized enlarged photos taken from different eras of Hawaiian Airlines’ history.  Talk about a walk through the past!

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1960s – Hawaiian received their first Douglas DC-9 aircraft in 1966 and along with them, these funky flight attendant uniforms and hot boots!  Go, Nancy Sinatra, go!

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In the 1970s, the carrier updated their look both in terms of livery and flight attendant uniforms.  I’m curious where they got the California surfer boy?  Must have flown in from the OC and been accosted on the ramp by the flight attendants!

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This picture, probably from the 1980s, is very pretty, showing off both the beauty of the islands as well as of the airplane.

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One reminder of Aloha Airlines is this mural from a route map they had published in the early 1960s, based on the aircraft shown, a Fairchild F-27.  Beautiful illustration, isn’t it?

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Speaking of nice illustration, the toilet signs are appropriately decorated with aloha shirts for the men and muu-muus for the women.

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As night fell and departure time neared, the gate area started to fill up.  Among our fellow passengers, a group of elementary school students and their parents, flying to Kauai for a weekend outing.  The flight attendants gave them a special shout-out when we landed.

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Our aircraft, almost ready to board.  Watching their ground crew move, you can understand why they have such a good on-time record.  Despite the islands’ laid-back culture, they certainly hustle when there is work to be done.

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The interiors are a bit old and dark, but for such a short flight it was fine.  Service was friendly, along the lines of Southwest Airlines.  For our 20-minute flight, the only “inflight service” was the handing out of containers of POG – passionfruit, orange, guava juice – and then quickly collecting them.  Seriously, we took off, leveled at about 5000 feet (versus 35,000 for a normal flight), and then were descending almost as soon as we had leveled off.

Finally, about 32 hours after leaving Bangkok, we landed smoothly on Kauai, retrieved our bags in the open-air bag claim, and waited for my parents to arrive and pick us up.  At last, we were there!

 

Bangkok to Hong Kong

Well, I’m back and reasonably well recovered.  Recovered enough, at least, to start sharing the story of our trip to Kaua’i.  First part of the story, our flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong.  This may be a bit more detailed than you are interested in, but I’m going to cross-post it as a trip report on Airliners.net.  I hope you enjoy.

Route Map

The alarm rang too early, but since the first leg of our four-flight trip from Bangkok to Lihue, Hawai’i departed at 6:30 am, perhaps that was inevitable.  A quick shower, a double check of critical documents and must-bring items, and a few minutes to whip up some sandwiches to eat onboard later, and Tawn and I were headed downstairs for the waiting taxi.

As we walked across the condominium driveway, a small toad hopped into the bushes, startled by our approach.  On the 25-minute ride to the airport, the taxi driver pandered to us, selecting English songs from his MP3 player.  “YMCA” by the Village People, “Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer, and “Ice, Ice, Baby” by Vanilla Ice were among the selections.  “Do you really like these songs?” I asked the driver in Thai.  “Of course,” he responded with all seriousness.  “Don’t you?”

Air Asia’s ticket counter was its usual early morning chaos, although once we pushed through the masses of infrequent travelers, we found the online check-in queues had only a few people waiting in them.  After our bags were tagged and our travel documents checked, we headed for immigration. 

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As of late, lots of letters to the editor of the English-language Bangkok Post newspaper have been inspired by complaints of the long queues at Suvarnabhumi Airport’s immigration counters.  However, at 4:50 this morning, lines were about ten people deep and it only took a few minutes to clear immigration.

Just beyond immigration is this epic sculpture taken from Hindu mythology of “The churning of the Ocean of Milk.”  More about that story here

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After a latte and some duty free browsing, we headed to our gate.  The airport is laid out in the shape of a massive letter “H” and our gate was at the far end of the upper right leg.  We had checked in close to the near end of the main terminal in the center of the “H”, so it was a bit of a walk.

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A lonely, dimly-lit pier stretched out ahead of us as we traversed one moving sidewalk after another.  The airport authority has made some attempts to warm the interior and make it more welcoming, especially in a well-publicized desire to rank as one of the top five airports in the world.  This jealousy of peer airports such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Seoul should be a good motivator, but unfortunately the airport authority is run by people who either know little about airports or else pay little attention when visiting the competition.  Compare the above photo with one later on from Hong Kong to see a night and day difference.

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Boarding began about 6:00, an orderly affair.  We had purchased “hot seats” – designated as the first five rows and the two emergency exit rows – for an extra 250 baht (about US$ 8.50) per segment, per person.  This gets you priority boarding and, in the exit rows, a smidgen more leg room and a fixed (not reclinable) seat in front of you.

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A look at the leg room in the exit row.  About 36 inches, which is 3-5 more inches than you get in most American economy class seats.  In a three-seat row, we reserved the window and aisle seats, betting correctly that few people would choose to upgrade to a middle “hot seat”, thus effectively getting us three seats for the price of two.  If someone did come along with that seat, we could always offer them the window or the aisle instead so we can still sit together.

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This flight was operated by Thai Air Asia, one of four subsidiary companies that together make up “Air Asia”.  The fleet is completely made up of new Airbus A320 aircraft.  The interior was clean and the black leather seats look sharp.  Flight attendants are friendly and attentive and seem very capable.

As the sun rose over Suvarnabhumi, a final passenger count was done and the main cabin door was closed for an on-time departure.

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After a quick safety demo in Thai and English, we taxied to runway 1-Left and since there was no other traffic at this early hour, we started our takeoff roll just ten minutes after scheduled departure time, climbing through the hazy skies of Central Thailand en route to Hong Kong.

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Housing developments on the eastern edge of Bangkok, as seen on departure from the airport.  The main part of the city is in the haze on the horizon.

Above, a two-minute video of the takeoff from Bangkok and landing in Hong Kong, if you are interested.

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The captain greeted us aboard the flight, informing us we were cruising at flight level 350 – 35,000 feet above sea level – at a speed of 815 km/h (506 mph).  The flight was smooth, crossing Laos, Vietnam, and the South China Sea on our way to Hong Kong.

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Air Asia is a no-frills airline.  Other than buying a seat on the plane, everything else from baggage to seat assignments to food has a price tag.  While I get bummed when I see formerly full-service US airlines doing this, I have no qualms about Air Asia doing it because that has been the arrangement from the first day.  Plus, they provide genuinely friendly and caring service, something most US carriers seem to be missing.

One arrangement they offer is the ability to pre-book your meals from a selection of more than 20 dishes such as pad thai, nasi lemak, chicken rice, and basil fried rice with chicken.  Out of Bangkok the catering is done by local restaurant chain Seefah (“blue sky”).  Dishes are around 100 baht, about US$3.30, and are reasonably tasty for the price.

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While they announce a “no outside food” policy, I’ve found if you keep your dining on the down-low, it seems to be no problem.  Before leaving home, I had used the last carefully-selected food items from the refrigerator to make two turkey and provolone cheese sandwiches, complete with homemade pesto-mayonnaise sauce.  All in all, I have to admit they were a little dry, but still a tasty way to start the day.

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Needing some more caffeine, I ordered two “Old Town White Coffees”, which are the three-in-one coffee, creamer, sugar mixes from the Malaysian chain Old Town Coffee.  Maybe it is just all the sugar, but these are a surprisingly tasty treat.

Food and beverage service concluded, the flight attendants plied the aisle with duty free and souvenirs.  I can’t imagine why people flying would want to buy some of these things, but it appears they do. 

As much as I have had my qualms about Air Asia in the past, more recently I’ve come to respect them.  Their once abysmal on-time performance has significantly improved.  Their website, which would crash under the pressure of too much traffic, performs more reliably.  And they keep their fares low and frequencies high.  Kudos for that.

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Interestingly, Air Asia is the official airline of the Oakland Raiders, despite Air Asia flying nowhere in North America.  The Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes has explained it as something of a preemptive move, building the brand in anticipation of an eventual service to the Bay Area.  Air Asia already flies to Paris and London through their Air Asia X long-haul subsidiary, so it would not be a surprise to see them begin flights to Oakland eventually.

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Descent into Hong Kong seemed to begin quite quickly, less than two hours after takeoff.  I’m reminded that there was a time in my life when a 2-3 hour flight seemed long.  Now that I cross the Pacific several times a year, two hours passes in the blink of an eye.  We touched down on runway 7-Left about twenty minutes ahead of schedule under skies as hazy as they were in Bangkok.

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The north satellite concourse (with gates numbered as 501-510!), which seems to serve carriers heading to and from Mainland China.  I like the design of the roof, which reminds me of a bird in flight. 

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We parked at gate N28, just a short walk from the main terminal.  Next to us was this Qantas Boeing 747-400, which has a color scheme similar to Air Asia’s, I think.

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Here is the transit check-in and duty free area just before immigration.  Earlier, I wrote about how Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok fails to reach the same level as other regional airports such as Hong Kong.  Compare the above picture with the fourth one from the top of this entry.  While the chairs in Bangkok might be more comfortable, the whole setting here in Hong Kong looks more attractive and warmer.  Maybe it is the use of – gasp! – carpeting.  In either case, Hong Kong remains one of my favorite airports and sets the bar which Bangkok will have to reach.

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We exited customs and immigration with minimal delay and entered the spacious and well-organized arrivals area, another distinction between Bangkok and Hong Kong.

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Since we had exactly twelve hours between our arrival and the departure of our next flight, we decided to check our bags into the lockers and head into the city for lunch.  An attractive atrium leads from Terminal 1 underneath the Airport Express train station and to Terminal 2, where the lockers are located.  We were able to store our two large check-in bags plus a trolley bag for 80 HKD (about US$ 11) for up to 12 hours, quite a reasonable price. 

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Within an hour of touching down on the runway, we were boarding the Airport Express train for the 24-minute ride into the city.  I’ll write about our day in Hong Kong in the next entry.  Stay tuned!