Getting to Boracay
Because I stayed at Dubai Marina a bit longer than planned hanging out with my buddy Sarya, I got to the airport with less than an hour to spare before my flight and I did not even have my boarding pass yet. I picked up my backpack from the luggage storage, then flew upstairs to the closest set of check-in desks. Unlike the check-in experience in South Africa where I was sent from one place to another, the girl at the counter was very helpful. Even though I was supposed to check-in at the other side of the terminal, she gave them a call and got the permission to check me in. Awesome! She even gave me the card to get into one of the third party lounges as there are no Star Alliance lounges in Dubai (I could of gotten in with Priority Pass membership as well, but that is beside the point). Unfortunately, because it was already time to board, I did not have a chance to visit the lounge and went straight to the gate. The boarding ended up being delayed for about 20 minutes and I wished they would have indicated that so I could swing by the lounge for some dinner as I was pretty hungry. Not the best start to my Thai Airways experience.
Dubai - Bangkok on Thai Airways
I was pretty excited to fly with Thai as their service is considered to be among the best in the airline industry, up there with Singapore Airlines and Emirates. Indeed, I felt a very welcoming atmosphere coming on board with traditional Thai greeting. As I settled in, the usual rounds of drinks and hot towelettes were offered, all with warm (not fake) smiles. We were less than half full in business class, so I had the two seats to myself. They were the modern lie-flat seats, however, the bottom part was a tad shorter than usual, with the edge putting some uncomfortable pressure on my heels even when fully extended. Meanwhile, the service was just getting better and better - I was looking through a magazine as one of the flight attendants was passing by and she just reached out and turned on the overhead light for me. Then later, whisked away the plastic wrapping from the headphones that I stashed away in the seat pocket. The little things like that made me really appreciate it.
Alas, it was not all that rosy. I have already mentioned the delayed boarding. Because I did not get to go to the business lounge, I needed to recharge my gadgets, but the power outlets in my seat and in other open seats were not working. A few other seats had the outlets working just fine as others were able to plug in their devices. Furthermore, the IFE system and controls seemed pretty ancient and I had problems starting a movie to the point that I got a Lynux error displayed on the screen. They rebooted the system but I still had trouble starting a movie until the flight attendant started playing with the controls at the other seat and somehow mine started working. Go figure… Oh, and the movie I was trying to watch - Top Gun! I was not going to watch anything as I was pretty tired after my previous flight and the full day in Dubai, but how could I say 'no' to Top Gun?
The dinner menu offered multiple selections for each course and it was pretty tasty. I finished it up with a glass of port and some fruit while watching my favorite movie - not a bad deal! It did not take me long to pass out after that and I missed breakfast by waking when we already started our approach to Bangkok so my morning meal consisted of a rubbery croissant with a glass of orange juice.
We made our approach flying above the city and then south above the Gulf of Thailand before turning back and landing at the airport. All that time I was glued to the window trying to see any effects of the flooding I have seen in pictures on the internet. Surprisingly, besides a few areas around the river and by the bay (some of those areas could of been rice fields too), I did not see any streets covered with water or any major traffic jams of people trying to leave the city. Everything seemed normal.
Once at the airport, we were parked at a remote stand (really, Thai?) and got bussed to the terminal where it was pretty confusing to get around. There were two different security checkpoints for transfer passengers located at the opposite sides of the terminal and no monitors to show which side my next flight was leaving from. With less than an hour until my next flight, I just hoped I picked the right side to go to while trekking there for ten minutes. When I got to the checkpoint, there was a huge line and they did not have a separate lane for business class passengers nor did they care that it was already boarding time for my flight. What really ticked me off is that while I was standing in line, they did open up the 'diplomats only' lane to get some more people through there.
Finally getting through the security, I was able to find a monitor with gate information and it turned out that my gate was one of the closes to the checkpoint - finally some good news. Once I got there, I was told that they are delaying boarding by 15 minutes, so I ran back upstairs to go to the lounge and see if they had a shower as I was already feeling pretty nasty after three days of travel. Turned out they did not have showers, but a lounge at the other concourse did so I walked over there, took a very quick shower, and headed back to the gate just in time for boarding.
Bangkok - Manila on Thai Airways
We were once again bussed out to a remote stand and boarded a plane standing next to the one I just arrived from Dubai on. Great - all that work for nothing! While the aircraft was also an A330, it was configured with the old style business class seats which offered a bit of recline and a foot rest, but that was it. There were no power outlets either - yet another disappointment. Finally, what really ticked me off , was that we sat there waiting another forty minutes for some late passenger. If I would of known that, I would of grabbed some food while at the lounge as I was already starving. The disappointments just kept piling up. On the other hand, the service was once again pretty good and personal.
Manila - Caticlan on Cebu Pacific
The closest airport to Boracay is in the town of Caticlan on the nearby island. I was excited to try out Cebu Pacific after seeing their hilarious cabin safety demonstrations in tune to Lady Gaga. To do that, I had to switch terminals in Manila as we arrived from Terminal 1 and Cebu flies from Terminal 3. Surprisingly, everyone asked me how much time I had between my flights while pointing out where the free terminal shuttle bus stop is. Turned out that it was a very irregular service (as with mostly any transportation in Philippines), but thankfully I had a few hours to spare so I was able to use the bus.
Once I got to Terminal 3 and before I went to Cebu check-in desk, I had to do some major repacking as they fly ATR-72 turboprops to Caticlan and limit the amount of luggage one can check-in to 10 kg (which was an extra charge by itself). I repacked as much as I could stuff into my carry-on as well as put the second T-shirt on and wrapped my hoodie around my waist (making me sweat already as I was waiting to check-in). That effort paid off as my backpack weighted in at 10.9 kg and I was not charged any penalties.
Once I made it past security check, the terminal did not present much to do. I got some food and tried to take advantage of the free WiFi, but once again neither my iPhone nor my laptop was able to connect, so I did the next best thing - totaled up all my expenses from the city hopping of the last couple of days. Meanwhile, Cebu has delayed the flight by 30 minutes or so (as I will find out later, pretty much everything gets delayed in Philippines). Finally, we got bussed out to our airplane and, you guessed it, sat there supposedly because of delays with air traffic (while Air Phil Express flight to Caticlan took off just fine right ahead of us).
The flight itself was just fine with a bit of turbulence and a pretty hard carrier landing at Caticlan - the runway there is pretty short and rough, right next to the water with only one taxiway in the middle. The ramp area could fit three, maybe four, aircraft and that is it. I got my bags just fine and proceeded to get a tricycle to take me to the port. Meanwhile, I ran into Jamie - a guy from England that was asking the info desk how to get to the Friends hostel I was staying at so I offered him and the girl that was with him to share the ride. As it turned out, we both later went to Palawan and hung out together in El Nido.
Caticlan - Boracay
My high school friend from Ukraine is staying in Boracay for six months, spending the 'winter' there, so he gave me good step-by-step instructions on how to get there from Caticlan's airport and they were very helpful as everything around us seemed to be very chaotic. First, we got the tricycle for a quick ride to the port for 50 pesos/$1.16 (the price was set and we had to pay it at a marked stand, not to the driver). Once at the port, we each had to pay 20 pesos/$0.46 for the ferry to Boracay, 50 pesos/$1.16 terminal fee, and 75 pesos/$1.73 environmental fee ('tourist tax'). Everything was still pretty chaotic with people shouting, going back to pay one of those fees, etc, etc. Finally, we got on the boat and the ride to Boracay took only about 5 minutes. There we were met by more shouting tricycle drivers and split another 100 pesos/$2.30 for the ride to Station 1 where our hostel was located.
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