A final entry about our trip to Oahu, then we’ll be done!
Saturday morning after breakfast, we set out for a drive around the island. We headed southeast from the hotel, past Diamond Head and onto Highway 72. It is a beautiful drive with lots of points where you can pull off the road and take in the magnificent views.
Despite the barriers and warning signs, nearly everybody (including Tawn) decided they needed to climb down the rocks and get closer to the waves that were crashing ashore. I stayed back and caught some pictures of Tawn trying to protect himself from the spray.
After you drive around the easternmost point of the island, the spectacular views continue. We ended up driving all the way around the north shore to Waialua, then drove straight down the middle of the island back to Honolulu. Honestly, I think we would have been fine to have turned back at Kailua, seeing only the southeastern quadrant of the island. The views north of that point were nice, but most of the time you couldn’t see much from the main road.
There’s lots of free culture available in Honolulu. Every Friday night at 6:00 you can enjoy classical Hawaiian music performed at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in the heart of Waikiki. There’s also a free torch lighting ceremony and hula shows four nights a week at nearby Kuhio Beach Park.
On Monday and Friday evenings, browse the farmer’s market at King’s Village shopping center, also in Waikiki. While the selection of produce is limited, there is still a lot to see.
Among the attractions are fresh baked goods including (left hand side) malasadas filled with a variety of flavors. Feeling peckish before dinner? A stop here will tide you over!
Sunday morning we headed to the outdoor restaurant at the New Otani hotel, where we stayed. With a view of the beach just beyond, it is a enjoyable place to start your day.
Special item from the menu: macadamia nut French toast. Seemed like the right way to end our trip.
One last picture of the two of us at the tail end of our ten days in Hawai’i. I hope you’ve enjoyed the many entries about our time on the islands. Now we’ll get back to the mainland and, eventually, back to Bangkok (where I’ve actually been for more than two weeks now!)
One corner of Honolulu that we found ourselves returning to throughout our two-day visit was Kapahulu Avenue. This neighborhood runs from the north side of the Honolulu Zoo (which is at the south end of Waikiki) to the H1 freeway near Chaminade University of Honolulu. The approximately two-kilometer distance is gentrifying nicely, with lots of long-time shops rubbing shoulders with a new Safeway supermarket. On our visits there, we ate a breakfast and a dinner.
Breakfast: Sweet E’s Cafe
Located in a small shopping complex kind of hidden off Kapahulu Avenue near the H1 freeway, Sweet E’s Cafe is one of the higher-rated breakfast places on Yelp.com. To be certain, I take Yelp reviews with a few large grains of salt. That said, it looked like a good bet for a decent Saturday breakfast before we started driving around the island.
Arriving early, we found the dining room less than half full. From the reviews, I get the impression that the restaurant is very crowded later in the morning. The interior is pleasant and the servers were helpful, if not exactly warm.
Poached eggs with Kalua pork. My big beef with lots of places is that their poached eggs are overcooked. This time, the problem was that the eggs were undercooked. In my mind, the perfect poached egg has solid but not rubbery whites, with runny yolks. When I cut into the first egg, the whites were still watery inside. It was right on the line between “worth sending them back” and “not worth sending them back,” so I didn’t. As the watery whites soaked my English muffins, though, I regretted my decision. The pork and the sauce were tasty, so points there, but the potatoes were bland and would have benefitted from some herbs or spices.
Tawn ordered a basic waffle with maple syrup. It was pleasantly crisp, cooked to just the right point.
We also ordered French toast stuffed with cream cheese and blueberries. The toast itself was nicely done but the blueberries inside the toast were tough, leading me to conclude that they use frozen blueberries for the stuffing and only place fresh berries as garnish for the plate.
Overall conclusion: Sweet E’s didn’t show such a sweet face for us, at least as far as quality. It has the potential to be very good and if we lived there, we would give it another chance to redeem itself. But if you are just visiting, I would suggest you search out Boot’s & Kimo’s in Kailua.
Dinner: Sam’s Kitchen
On Friday evening, we found ourselves looking for a tasty dinner that didn’t involve a lot of expense or effort on our part. Turning to Yelp.com, I searched for “cheap seafood dinner” in Honolulu. Sure, that’s probably the last place you want to eat – somewhere serving cheap seafood – but we got a result whose high ratings were accompanied by thoughtful reviews: Sam’s Kitchen.
Located on Kapahulu Avenue right across from a new Safeway shopping center, Sam’s has a slightly retro dive bar appearance. When we arrived about 8:00, we were charmed by its exterior but baffled (and slightly worried) by its almost vacant state.
We entered and found only a half-dozen customers (if that) listening to live Hawaiian music. I felt a little conspicuous walking in during their performance – after all, it wasn’t like we could sneak in unnoticed. The lady behind the counter was welcoming, though, so we figured out the menu and placed our order.
Sam’s is about as “Hawaiian” as you can get, a fusion of flavors that represent the different cultures that make up the local population. There is a heavy Japanese bent (and it seems that their original Waikiki location is wildly popular with Japanese guide books), but other cultures are represented, too. Dishes are mostly either rice bowls or bento boxes and their garlic sauce is apparently “famous.”
Tawn tried the spicy garlic shrimp rice plate, which came with a salad and a half-ear of corn. This was good food – the shrimp is tender and sweet and the garlic packed a punch – and stayed with us for the next day.
I had the fried mahi mahi with macadamia nuts. The fish was very fresh, lightly breaded, and the sauce was tasty. Both dishes were simple, inexpensive, huge, and excellent. So much so that on Saturday night, our second and final night on Oahu, we decided to visit Sam’s again.
This time we stopped at the original location on Royal Hawaiian Avenue in Waikiki. This location is take-out only, although it does offer some self-service tables if you can’t wait to get back home to eat. The menu is the same and the customers were mostly Japanese.
Tawn ordered a combo plate (left) with the same two items we had the night before, but half a portion each. On the right, I ordered a garlic steak plate. The steak was tasty, although pretty tough.
With two small bottles of wine from the convenience store downstairs, we celebrated our last night on Oahu with a sunset dinner on our balcony.
While in Honolulu, we stayed at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. Located close to Diamond Head on the south end of Waikiki, the New Otani is situated across from Kapiolani Park. It is a good value for many reasons. Its biggest selling point for me, was the view.
Sunrise from our balcony.
This position is ideal because the hotel is quiet, set apart from the touristy, shopping mall busyness of Waikiki. Plus, you look back at the entire beach and skyline and take it all in. If you were staying in Waikiki proper, you wouldn’t have so broad a perspective. Here are some of the pictures I shot during our two nights at the hotel.
Kapiolani Park with Diamond Head in the background.
Graceful palm trees backlit by the setting sun.
Other visitors stop to capture a picture of the sunset.
A trio of pictures from our balcony at different times of the day:
Just after sunset, I spotted the moon above the palm trees.
Near the end of our Hawaii trip, Tawn and I flew to Honolulu for two days. Our original plan was to visit Michael, a (nowadays inactive) Xangan whom we first met during our Kauai trip last year. Unfortunately, Michael had some health issues and ended up hospitalized. (He is out of the woods now, thankfully.) That meant two days in Honolulu under our own steam. For guidance, we turned to the New York Times’ travel section and their article, 36 Hours in Honolulu.
Arriving in the late morning and unable to check into our hotel until mid-afternoon, we started our visit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. A visit to the Academy is worthwhile even if you have no interest in art, as it is located in a beautiful complex of buildings that is a pleasure to stroll around.
In front of the Academy is an engaging installation by Patrick Dougherty that evokes a wooded glen. The sculpture, composed of twisted sticks and vines, invites passersby to interact with it, coming inside and peering through the various openings.
Our first stop was the Academy’s open-air restaurant. Located in a shaded patio with beautiful sculptures and a waterfall nearby, the Pavilion Cafe offers a restful setting in which to recharge your energy. The food, mostly Mediterranean and Asian influenced, is surprisingly good for the setting.
Grilled chicken sandwich with a mango-pineapple salsa
Mixed greens with lamb
Ice cream sundae
Tawn plays with his phone while waiting for our meal. Modern art?
Afterwards, we spent an hour and a half perusing the collections, which are very diverse. The emphasis is on Hawaiian and Asian art, but there is a respectable showing from other genres. There is also a partnership with the Shangri La, the Doris Duke estate’s Islamic arts museum. Located off-site, we didn’t get a chance to see that collection but watched a short video that shared some of the highlights. We will have to catch it next time we are in Honolulu.
Much of the art is incorporated into the Academy’s buildings, such as this whimsical steel screen that depicts all manner of animal life.
We worried less about trying to see all the collections and instead enjoyed the cool, serene courtyards of the Academy. Instead of rushing to see the madness of Waikiki or driving about with our suitcases in the trunk of the car, our first few hours in Honolulu were relaxing and refined.
Eventually, though, we had our fill of serenity and drove to the hotel to check in!
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.
The check-in area of Honolulu International Airport reminds me a bit of LAX. In fact, it looks more “LA” than LA does.
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.
Oddly, this video monitor shows the date as November 30. Only off by a few months.
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:
A Delta Boeing 767-300 heading to Los Angeles.
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.
This Boeing 757-200ER belongs to Omni Air International, a charter operation based in Tulsa, OK.
An American Airlines Boeing 757-200 with winglets, bound to Los Angeles. (Lots of flights to LAX, no?)
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.
Hawaiian B767-300 without winglets
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.
Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300 in “Oneworld” alliance colors. This plane is bound for Osaka.
Another Japan Airlines plane, this one a Boeing 777-200, destined for Tokyo.
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.
A United Airlines B777-200 scheduled for Chicago O’Hare. A Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717 departs for another island in the background.
Our ride to Guam: A Continental (but in the new United livery) Boeing 767-400.
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!
The interior of our plane during the boarding process.
A video of our takeoff from the Reef Runway in Honolulu and landing in Guam.
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.
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.
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.
Our flight to Hong Kong, a Boeing 737-800.
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.
Since we missed our flight out of Lihue, we also missed the opportunity to have dinner with Michael. But he sent a few suggestions of places we could catch a decent bite later in the evening. The suggestion we took was Mac 24/7, a restaurant featuring modern American cooking, located in the Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel, a few short blocks away from our less ritzy hotel.
After five days of eating mostly local fare, it was nice to order a cosmo and tuck into somewhat more conventional American food.
The interior was pretty much a modern take on the classic American diner, ESPN playing on the flat screen TVs and just a few customers scattered throughout the place. Service was friendly and the kitchen had our food to us in about fifteen minutes.
Well, despite the more conventional menu, Tawn didn’t order too far off what we had enjoyed the past few days. More seared ahi tuna served with kim chi fried rice.
I decided to go traditional and get a pork chop and mashed potatoes, which were very tasty.
We returned to the Aqua Waikiki Wave, which describes itself as a boutique hotel but which is nothing more than a standard tourist grade hotel. In fact, Waikiki seems to be positively bursting with these three-star (or less) hotels. The place was clean and looked like it had seen a remodel within the past few years, but it was still a pretty standard accommodation.
One thing I’ll give them credit for, though: the hotel is located right on the main boulevard where there is a lot of action well into the night, including a nightclub just outside the hotel’s entrance. In the room was a pack of foam earplugs with a tactfully phrased note explaining that the hotel is located in “an energetic and vibrant neighborhood” and suggesting that “if you are a light sleeper, you may wish to make use of these complimentary earplugs” and helpfully explaining that more are available by calling room service. These were the best earplugs I’ve ever used and they really did muffle the noise from outside.
Above, me horsing around on Waikiki Beach at sunrise. We were up early and walked the block from the hotel to the beach, which had a surprising number of people who were also out to see the sunrise, catch the surf, or secure a primo lounge chair in front of their hotel.
Here’s a short video of the beach during sunrise.
We then stopped for coffee at the branch of Honolulu Coffee located on the ground floor of the Westin Hotel. It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed a pot of French Press coffee before stopping to buy some boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts to bring back to Thailand. Ignore, for a moment, the fact that macadamias are grown in Thailand. It’s what people expect you to bring back from Hawaii, right?
While we had missed the opportunity to dine with Michael the night before, we had thankfully also been pencilled in for breakfast. Braving the commute into town from the west end of the island, Michael then drove us through the tunnel to the east side of the island so we could visit a popular breakfast place called Boots & Kimo’s in Kailua.
Boots & Kimo’s is a kind of random place located in a small strip mall and decorated like a sporting goods store. For whatever reason, it has gained notoriety with Japanese tourists and it seemed like a large portion of the diners were Japanese families. As Michael explained it, it has kind of reached the point where locals don’t come as often because it is too crowded with tourists. I felt a little guilty about contributing to the problem.
We had to wait about a half-hour to be seated, but once inside the service was quick and our food showed up in no time. Tawn enjoyed the eggs benedict, which were done just like the textbook shows. You can tell they poach the eggs in molds, though, and not free-form.
Here we are with our food. That blue Hawaiian shirt got a lot of mileage this trip, didn’t it?
Michael and I ordered the same thing: beef short ribs which they hang above the grill in the kitchen so it picks up the smoky flavor as other orders are being prepared. Then, when your order is placed the necessary ribs are cut off and finished on the flame. These were really tasty with a nice beefy flavor.
The thing Boots & Kimo’s is known for, though, are their macadamia nut cream pancakes. Per Michael’s suggestion, we ordered a stack to share. Good call because while they are really yummy, eating an entire order by yourself would be overwhelming. We discussed how they manage to get so much macadamia nut flavor into the cream sauce. The thing with macadamias is, they don’t give off a lot of flavor once cooked, so the process of extracting the flavor into the sauce must be done with some sort of “low and slow” steeping of the nuts in the cream. Anyhow, they were a really tasty end to our trip!
Finally, before heading out the door, we got a picture of the three of us. Why it didn’t occur to me to have Michael take off his sunglasses, I don’t know. Perhaps it is best he remains somewhat anonymous so as to lend to the air of mystery that surrounds this long-absent Xangan. We’ll see if my subtle needling will be enough to get him to write again.
A gracious host, Michael drove us to the airport, dropping us off just the right amount of time before our flight back to Guam and Hong Kong. Just enough ahead of time so we wouldn’t miss this flight!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of several beautiful gardens in the airport which passengers can spend time in. What a peaceful place to wait for a flight!
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!
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!
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!
This picture, probably from the 1980s, is very pretty, showing off both the beauty of the islands as well as of the airplane.
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?
Speaking of nice illustration, the toilet signs are appropriately decorated with aloha shirts for the men and muu-muus for the women.
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.
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.
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!
I’ve reached the age where I’m willing to spend a little more money so I can be comfortable when I travel, and being able to get a few hours of good sleep in the midst of a 30+ hour journey seemed like a good investment. This was the logic behind paying $60 apiece to rent three hours in day rooms at the Plaza Premium Lounge, a public “arrival lounge” in Hong Kong Airport’s Terminal 2.
Unfortunately, a few things kept the investment from paying dividends. This particular lounge is located below the train station. While it has soundproofing, you can still hear the “whoosh” of the train arriving every twelve minutes. If I had used earplugs, that might not have been a problem, but the coffee I had with my egg tarts earlier in the afternoon, or maybe just the rush of adrenaline brought on by travel, kept me from really relaxing and sleeping.
Nonetheless, I got more rest than I would have just wandering around the city or dozing in an airport chair, so I was thankful for that. The lounge itself was nice and the facilities were in good shape. The staff gave us a bit more than three hours before calling to wake us so the time to shower and change wasn’t held against the three hours we had paid for. Maybe that’s because they weren’t busy that time of day or maybe that’s just how they do it in Hong Kong.
Whatever the case, a little before 8:30 pm we were showered, changed, and checked out. We collected our bags from the locker facility nearby and did some rearranging with the packing. On the Air Asia flight, we had to prepay for our luggage, so managing the weight distribution was critical. At least for their international flights, Continental offers free luggage check-in, so we could move things out of our carry-on and into the luggage for the rest of the trip.
The check-in counters were deserted two hours before departure. United does the check-in and ground handling for Continental, which operates only two flights a day (to Guam and Newark). UA providing this services is a recent development, brought about by the merger of the two airlines. It took a few minutes for the agent to finish our check-in as there was some confusion about the assignment of my frequent flyer number. (Continental and Taiwan’s EVA Air have a reciprocal mileage program agreement and I was using my EVA mileage program number for these flights.) The agents were friendly, though, and resolved the problem in short order.
After the confusion was cleared, our bags tagged, and boarding passes issued, we headed through security and immigration. Unlike many international airports I’ve been to, Hong Kong places security before immigration, which makes more sense to me than at airports like Singapore where you don’t go through security until you are entering the gate. Who’s protecting the immigration officers there?
Uncertain what food would be served aboard our four-hour redeye Continental flight to Guam, we stopped for a bite at the popular local eatery Tsui Wah, a branch of which is located in the airport. I’ve noticed that many airports are moving from having just random restaurants or only fast food chains to having branches of popular local restaurants. San Francisco Airport is a good example of this. There you can eat the food from some of your favorite local restaurants inside the terminal. Good idea, in my estimation. At least you get something more interesting than Burger King and Starbucks, again and again, airport after bloody airport.
I think this photo says it all. We ate at a full branch of Tsui Wah on our two days in Hong Kong while returning, too.
Tawn ordered this dish, which if I recall correctly is a Singapore style curried noodles. I tried a bite and it was tasty and a bit spicy.
I ordered the baked pork chop smothered in tomato sauce and cheese, served over rice. It took about ten minutes for them to prepare but was worth the wait!
Hong Kong International Airport remains one of my favorite airports. While Singapore may offer free internet, some outdoor gardens, etc. I find HKIA a much more modern, user friendly, and well thought-out airport. The interior also is bright and open, making the travel feel just that much more exciting. It reminds me of a classic European train station, done up in a modern version.
Another benefit to HKIA: it is children friendly. There’s this good sized play area near the main food court. It features many segments of play airplanes, allowing children to burn off energy and learn more about aviation before getting on their flights.
The segment about the cabin, left, has all sorts of little details like the stickers on the “overhead bins” showing row numbers. Parents could actually use these as a learning opportunity for their children, pointing out the stickers and practicing how they’ll look for the row numbers once they get on their real airplane. It has all sorts of educational possibilities, not to mention just being fun!
The table in the cabin interior play area is covered with photos taken at the old Hong Kong airport, Kai Tak. The Wikipedia entry for the airport describes it very aptly:
“With numerous skyscrapers and mountains located to the north and its only runway jutting out into Victoria Harbour, landings at the airport were dramatic to experience and technically demanding for pilots. The History Channel program Most Extreme Airports ranked it as the 6th most dangerous airport in the world.”
This minute-long video beautifully illustrates just how crazy landings into Kai Tak were. Take a look.
Departure time was 10:30 pm from gate 20, one of the closet gates to immigration. HKIA is a very spread-out airport but unlike the design of Bangkok, there is a convenient train system that will shuttle you to the more distant gates in just a few minutes. In Bangkok, nearly every gate requires a hike, most of which is through a shopping mall of duty free stores.
Boarding started about 20 minutes before departure for our nearly full flight. Unlike many trans-Pacific flights, this one was served by a narrow body aircraft, a Boeing 737-800. During the boarding process all passengers were put through additional security screening, which is normal for flights heading to the US thanks to our overzealous policies. However, unlike most airports where this screening is done before you actually enter the gate, here in Hong Kong they have the screening in the ramp leading to the jetway.
The result? Passengers had to surrender water bottles they had purchased or filled inside the secured area of the airport, without an opportunity to get more water before the flight. This is extremely cruddy, resulting in passengers not being able to bring their own water onto the flight. To top it off, the United customer service agents failed to mention this procedure either at check-in or in the boarding announcements, making it all the more inconvenient and, because it was unexpected, irritating.
On this segment of the flight we had been able to purchase exit row seats (an extra $89 per person) in order to have a little more legroom and get some rest on the overnight flight. Again, our “book the window and aisle” strategy left us with an empty middle seat and some extra room. Note those little “SUV back seat” screens hanging throughout the cabin. More about those in a moment.
View of a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A310 next to us. Beautiful design on the tail. HKIA is a great place to see planes from all over the world, with the exception of Latin America which isn’t well-represented.
The four-hour flight to Guam was uneventful. Cabin lights were on and off – mostly on – for the first two hours as we went through lengthy announcements and then a meal service that, for a red eye, seems should have been delivered immediately after takeoff. The “meal” was half a turkey wrap, some fruit, and some almond cookies. About as much as you would expect for an American airline, I think.
There was no individual inflight entertainment. This plane is equipped with those “SUV back seat” style monitors throughout the cabin so we all watched the recent Harrison Ford movie “Morning Glory”. Well, as much as we could see it on the tiny monitor four rows away. Headsets were distributed for free and we were encouraged to keep them for use on other flights.
I managed to doze a bit on the flight but then it was time for descent into Guam. We touched down some twenty minutes early and taxied to gate 10. As we arrived, I was unsure what to expect, immigration-wise. This was our first point of entry into the US, although Guam is a territory rather than a state. As it turned out, we ended up having to go through immigration, but didn’t have to reclaim our baggage and go through customs.
The process was like this: when you arrive in Guam the terminal has these flexible partitions down the middle of the hallway. You are shunted into the “secure” side if your flight has arrived from an international destination. Then you go into the immigration queue just like at any other international airport. After clearing immigration you end up outside security in the ticketing and check-in lobby, so you re-clear security and head to your gate.
Back at our gate about fifteen minutes after clearing immigration, we spotted our plane for the 7.5-hour flight to Honolulu. As you can see, from a visual branding perspective, the CO-UA merger is also a merger of identities: Continental color scheme with the United name. That being the case, it has been much faster to update the legacy Continental planes than the legacy United ones.
Boarding was already underway when we reached the gate, but the procedure was very strange. Between the gate area and the jetway there was another set of immigration booths, so we had to go through immigration a second time within forty-five minutes, essentially reentering the US. I guess the implication of this second immigration check is that there must be passengers boarding locally in Guam who entered Guam without going through formal immigration procedures. Very odd.
The view from my window seat. The plane we arrived on from Hong Kong is the second plane back. Interestingly, the Guam airport seems to be located on a graded hillside and I noticed that the arrangement of the aircraft parking areas is a bit like terraced rice paddies, albeit not at a very steep grade. Look at the building just above the left side of the jetway. Notice how it “steps up” about a meter? It is hard to see in the picture but the ramp is level at the plane’s parking area but then slopes up to the next parking area. You can see the slope where the yellow cargo pallet carts are parked just beyond the wing of our plane.
Anyhow, our flight pulled back just as the sun was rising, the same time (6:30 am locally) we had departed from Bangkok the day before, although 24 hours had not quite passed thanks to time zone changes.
On our way to runway 6-Right we passed this Continental Boeing 737 in the Star Alliance livery. I wonder if some day all the Star Alliance airlines will merge (once foreign ownership laws change) and simply brand the airline as “Star Alliance”?
Our climb out of Guam on a cloudy Saturday morning.
Our plane, a Boeing 767-400, is a twin-aisle jet with a 2-3-2 arrangement of seats in economy class. Unlike the plane from Hong Kong, this one was equipped with individual seatback monitors with a choice of something like nine channels of movies and TV shows playing on a 2.5-hour loop. If you happen to tune in at a random time, you will find yourself in the middle of a movie and have to wait until the loop restarts.
It is certainly better than squinting to watch the show on a screen half a cabin away, but given the recent advances in inflight entertainment technology (not to mention things like iPods and iPads!) the quality is still pretty low. Interestingly, though, since this flight was technically a domestic flight (although nearly twice as long as our Hong Kong to Guam flight), you had to pay for a headset or else use your own.
The seats did have pillows and blankets provided, something rare for a domestic flight. Seat pitch (the point on your seat to the same point on the seat in front of you) is about 32 inches, typical for economy on many airlines and if you empty out the seatback pocket of magazines and the person in front of you doesn’t recline all the way, it is reasonably comfortable.
Despite being a domestic flight, free meals were served and they weren’t that bad, either. This was a breakfast flight and I had sausage and eggs served over fried rice. You have to appreciate that Continental tries to appeal to the local customers with the fried rice, and it strikes me as a better choice than hash browns.
Tawn opted for the French Toast, which was just about basic as French Toast can get!
About three hours into the flight, flight attendants passed out ice cream bars as a snack. Thanks to the dry ice on which they had been stored, these ice cream sandwiches were as hard as a rock and I had to wait about ten minutes before I could manage to break off a bite without chipping a tooth! One wonders what would happen if they offered a snack of, say, fruit or carrot sticks. Nonetheless, I can only greet an ice cream sandwich with a smile.
About four hours into the flight, we crossed the International Date Line, suddenly gaining back 24 hours of our lives. In fact, this flight was so funky because of the IDL that when I tried to book it on Continental’s website, it wouldn’t let me. I had to go to their ticketing agent in Bangkok to get it done. The reason? We left Hong Kong on Friday evening, arrived Guam Saturday morning, departed Guam Saturday morning, arrived Honolulu Friday afternoon, then connected to a codeshare flight to Lihue on Friday evening. That “back and forth” with the dates confused Continental’s computers, I guess.
About 70 minutes before landing the flight attendants passed out snack trays with turkey sandwiches every bit as dry as the ones I made for our Bangkok to Hong Kong flight! Also included were a Twix bar and cheddar cheese flavored crackers. Not the culinary highlight of the flight.
The skies were beautiful as we approached Honolulu. Sadly, I should have been sitting on the left-hand side of the plane for the best views of the island. However, I did film our takeoff and landing and will share it here if you’d like to view it:
Watching palm trees swaying in the breeze, we pulled into our gate next to an Air Canada jet (bet the crew is glad to be working that route!) and after about 29 hours had finally arrived in Hawai’i. But we still had one more flight to reach our destination… stay tuned!