Phuket to Chiang Mai
After spending the last few days in tourist traps of Phuket and Ko Phi Phi, I was ready to move on to my next destination - Chiang Mai in the northern part of Thailand. Air Asia has a direct flight between Phuket and Chiang Mai and I got a fairly reasonable price on it considering that I booked it less than a couple of weeks out. So, after a quick breakfast at the hostel, I packed up my things and marched to the Phuket bus station 15 minutes away to catch a bus to the airport. On a side note, while packing up, I discovered that my shoes were gone! I looked everywhere in my dorm and could not find them. I did remember that they were still attached to my backpack the night before when I got out of the shuttle van. Did they somehow fell off at the hostel entrance? How the heck will I get some new shoes in this part of the world??? Saddened, I went downstairs just to find out that someone did untie them from my backpack in my dorm and placed them on the shoe rack there. It should be mentioned that Asian culture calls for shoes to be taken off when entering living quarters and sometimes other buildings (restaurants, etc) and I have gotten used to that. But I have never had an issue with shoes that are not being used being stored in a room. Especially, tied to a backpack. Especially, since they were so hard tied up that I gave up on trying to untie them while I was in Ko Phi Phi. Someone really went to the great lengths to get them down there... Oh well.
Bus Ride to Phuket Airport
Since I could not share the 400-500 baht/$15 taxi ride with anyone, I opted for the airport bus that only costs 85 baht/$2.75 and takes just a bit longer. I figured with my flight departing at 10:20, if I take the 8am bus, it will get me there sometime between 9 and 9:20 with about an hour to spare. Surprisingly, the bus showed up about ten minutes before 8am and we departed only a few minutes past 8 - I am just not used to things running so smoothly around here. And they were not - the bus kept stopping at random places picking up and dropping off locals along the way and I am pretty sure we did take a detour to drop one of the girls off as I have seen the signs to the airport straight ahead when we got off the main road. Oh well, we still made it there around 9:15 and it was a pretty smooth ride in an aircon bus. Nothing really to complain about.
Phuket Airport (HKT)
With Phuket being such and international resort destination (there were heavies from many European countries sitting on the ramp as well as Thai B777), the airport has been modernized and even the domestic gates were pretty decent. I quickly went through the luggage scan at the airport entrance, checked-in, and went through the security checkpoint. There were multiple shops in the departure area selling local fares as well as good old Burger King and Subway. The prices were pretty ridiculous thou - on par with airport prices in the US and at least twice the most expensive prices I have seen for food and drinks on Ko Phi Phi - they were really milking it. Thankfully, I had my mixed nuts baggy with me to tie me over.
Being the RyanAir of Asia, I dreaded my flight with Air Asia. Their seats are really crammed in together with about 28 inches of seat pitch (vs 32 inches standard economy pitch, which is not really enough for me as it is) and, as my friend Charles found out earlier, apparently their seat assignment algorithm automatically assigns a middle seat to the single travelers and to change that one needs to pay pay pay. What is even worse is the fact that I was willing to succumb and pay 375 baht/$12 for an exit row seat on a two hour flight, but I for some reason the seat selection did not work in either Safari, Chrome or mobile Safari browser on my iPhone.
Once I got to the check-in counter at the airport, I asked for exit row seat and unlike the usual check-in counter experience where they just give it to me if one is available (or pretend to give it to me while putting me in a regular seat, thanks Velvet Sky, Zest Air, and FireFly), they still made me pay 375 baht for it. Oh well, at least I knew I will be comfortable.
The flight itself was actually pretty nice - the aircraft was very new, the seatbacks were pretty high, the leather seats themselves were comfortable, and the flight attendants were cheerful (and I liked their new uniforms, especially the black polos guys wore looked more like casual clothes than working attire). As with other low costs (except FireFly), there was no free food or drinks provided, but, interestingly, buying something on board was still half the price of what it would of costed at Phuket airport. Go figure.
Chiang Mai Airport (CNX)
After a somewhat bumpy approach, the touchdown at CNX was very smooth and after a short taxi we got to our gate. The walk to baggage claim was a quick one and it took a few minutes for our bags to show up. While waiting, I picked up a bunch of brochures at the info stand (they were also giving out free sim cards, but I already had one I picked up in Phuket). There were also a couple of girls that looked like they were backpackers (the shoes dangling off their backpacks gave it away), so we chatted a bit and decided to split a cab to get in town.