Monday, October 20, 2014

To San José, Costa Rica and Back on United

I went to Costa Rica to go on a 9-day trip with other teachers from around the country. I left on a Thursday night from Ontario airport (ONT) on a redeye through Houston (IAH). I was able to snag some upgraded seats. The first leg was on a regional jet CRJ-700 and I literally slept the entire time. I have a really great neck pillow that actually allows me to sleep on planes. I have no idea if they served anything on that flight because it left around midnight and I slept the whole time. The flight was just over 3 hours I think and before I knew it we were landing in Houston. It was still dark when I landed and I arrived at Terminal B which required a ride on the tram to Terminal E where my connection was. 

I found the United Club in Teminal E and I actually took a shower there which was nice and refreshing. I had a really long layover and had plenty of time to kill. This is the view from the top floor of the United Club. 

My connecting flight from Houston to San Jose (SJO) was on a larger plane, a 737-800. The flight was quite full, but I was in seat 1A so I was comfortable. Below was my view.

The plane had Direct TV and the nice thing about sitting up in the front of the plane is that you don't have to pay for it. This was the lunch time meal.

Of course, coffee and cake for dessert.

It's always kind of creepy but also kind of neat to see another airplane near you while you are flying.

After crossing the Gulf of Mexico we made landfall over what I think was Merida, Mexico.

After flying over Mexico for a while, I think we flew over Belize. The water was a beautiful blue and I can see why the diving there is no awesome.

Not too much later, we were coming into the valley where the capital city of San Jose is. 

Having never been to Central America, it was really a treat for me to see all of the Latin American airlines that we rarely see in the states. Here is an Air Canada Rouge A319 on its way back north.

After 10 incredible days in Costa Rica, it was time for me to go home. I love that there's a sloth on the 10,000 note. I was fortunate enough to see several sloths in the wild on this trip and they are the cutest things.  

I couldn't get that good of a picture of my plane, but it was special because it's on of the jets with the new scimitar winglets, which look so cool. I had never seen one before and here is one that would take be back to the states. My flight was going back through Houston (IAH) again.

Once I got on the plane, I had to take some shots of the winglets and the TACA Embraer E-190 parked next to us.

In this picture you can see one of the baggage handlers laying down on the belt right inside the cargo compartment. 

Once again I was in seat 1A and this plane had the new Boeing interior with new overhead bins that look like the ones on 787s. This plane had electrical outlets and Direct TV but nothing was working. I was a little peeved especially since I saw on the United app that this plane would have power outlets and I purposefully didn't charge my phone.

They served a lunch and it was certainly filling enough. 

This is the coast of Belize again. It looks gorgeous.

Dessert consisted of little petit fours and coffee.

This is a shot of the really cool winglet as we are gliding down into Houston to land almost 4 hours after we left San Jose.

Once we landed I saw a United 787 and I'm so fascinated by these new planes. I've flown on a few of them and twice on United's.

My layover was about 2.5 hours long and since I have Global Entry getting through immigration and customs was super easy. My phone was dying/dead so I had to plug in my phone into an outlet underneath the baggage claim belt while I waited for my bag to come out. Arriving at Terminal E at Houston (IAH) is quite amazing. It's gigantic and such an improvement from what it used to be when arriving in the old international Terminal D. About 11 years ago I flew from Paris (CDG) to Houston (IAH) was the only time I ever entered the country through Houston and it wasn't a pleasant experience back then.

The only thing that irritated me about this connection was that once I rechecked my bag and had to go through security, there was no TSA precheck queue even though there was a sign for it. I've been really spoiled not having to take off my shoes and all the other garbage that comes along with security. Once I got through I headed back to the United Club at Terminal E. I considered getting some coffee, but decided to just relax in the lounge. I wasn't very hungry but I did need to charge my phone. My flight back to Orange County (SNA) was leaving out of the nearest part of Terminal C which was nice. When I boarded, I found my seat 1A on the 737-700. By this time I was so tired and the flight was so dark that I didn't take any other pictures.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bali Back to LAX on EVA Business Class and Premium Economy

It was really sad for me to leave Bali, but I had been away from home for about 11 days and it was time to go home. That many days is about my limit. I started wanting my creature comforts from home. Not to mention that I miss my dogs on long trips like these. Luckily enough our flight didn't leave Bali until the afternoon and we spent one last morning at the beautiful pool. We checked out of the hotel around 2:00pm and had the hotel van take us back to the airport and within 15-20 minutes we were back at DPS airport. I had used miles on this first leg for business class seats and we were checked in very quickly. As I had mentioned in a previous post, this airport is brand new and actually not really completed yet so there was some weirdness in the terminal with construction. After paying the departure tax and getting through security, we found the business lounge that EVA uses and it's just a sectioned-off area of a departure lounge right next to a gate. There wasn't much to eat and the drinks were limited. It was also really warm and the furniture was a little gross and dirty. At one point the lounge was very crowded and the food went very quickly.

Our plane arrived from Taipei slightly late and we boarded a little late too. The airside part of the terminal looks like a Balinese village with the hut design. It's really neat. On this flight to Taipei we would be flying on a A330-200. The flight to Taipei was a good 5+ hours and is almost directly a northern direction. The distance is about the same as flying from Los Angeles to Hawaii or New York. Since we were seated in business class, what they call Premium Laurel Class, we boarded first and found our seats in row 2.

When we took off we headed directly north and flew over the rest of the island. The airport is on the southern part of the island and the volcanoes are in the northern part. As we passed over them, the scenery was beautiful with the sun setting. Apparently there is a lake in the crater of the volcano just below. 

Below is a shot of the tons of legroom we had in these seats that were fairly old. The entertainment system was a little old too. The seats reclined to be almost flat but angled. 

Surprisingly the meal service was a little lacking for such a long flight. The presentation was pretty though. I love the salt and pepper shakers that look like little rocks. I wanted to take them and as I write this I'm thinking that I wish I had.

The dessert was a fruit plate and although I love dragon fruit, I was a bit disappointed and was expecting some cake or something sweet. They had ice cream though.

We arrived at Taipei around 9:30p and we had about a 2.5 hour layover before our 13 hour flight home. We found the same lounge we had used about 10 days prior and had a snack and did internet. Our flight left just before midnight. Luckily we were once again seated in EVA's premium economy cabin called Elite Class. I requested a bulkhead seat which they only release at the airport. We had pretty good legroom and had slippers and an amenity kit waiting at our seats. Our flight was on one of their older 777-300ERs.

Once we took off, they served dinner which was ok and nothing special. It was a little strange to be eating a meal so late.

Several movies and about 9 hours later they served breakfast and this was about 2 hours before we landed. Our flight was landing around 8pm, so having breakfast felt odd but that would've been the next meal after the dinner the night before.

We landed on the longest day of the year and by the time we were on the ground the sun had set. All together we had flown 20,481 miles on this trip. Vietnam and Bali were amazing and I can't wait to go back.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Day Tour on the Island of Bali

We had a day tour booked through For a whole day wherever we want to go, they only charge $55USD. I prearranged the sites I wanted to see by email and I was really happy with what we got. Our driver spoke really good English and he first took us to some shopping places for authentic Balinese crafts. After shopping at a batik place and a wood carving place we went to a Hindu Temple. I do not remember the name of the temple but we weren't too far from Ubud. The interesting thing about the Hindu temples we saw was that they didn't look like the Hindu temples I've seen in places like Singapore and Malaysia with all of the figurines and vignettes everywhere. These were all old stone structures that looked like a mix of Angkor Wat and Buddhist influences. Of course, I may be completely off base, but that's what they looked like to me. 

After this temple we went up into the mountains through lots of rice fields and found Satria Agrowisata. This is a coffee plantation where they have the famous kopi luwak, which is coffee beans harvested from the poop from an Asian civet. It's a nocturnal cat/lemur looking thing. It only eats the fruit with the best coffee beans inside and then passes them some time later. This is the most expensive coffee in the world and it sells for ridiculous prices. 

They have a free tasting of 12 different coffees and teas of all types and flavors. Some of the teas were really good and were flavors that I have never heard of before. The coffees were flavored too, but weren't the kopi luwak. That one you have to pay for to try.

Below is a cup of the kopi luwak that I ordered. At first, I didn't want to get it, but then I thought that not everyone can say they had the most expensive coffee in the world. Here it was just a little more than $4.25USD for the cup. 

This is me drinking the world's most expensive coffee.

After lunch, we were taken to a tourist restaurant that had the most amazing view of a rice field. We sat in our own little hut in the field among some lotus plants. We had our guide eat with us and we talked about Indonesia and Bali while we watched people harvest rice, which is quite a laborious task.

This was the gorgeous sampler of Balinese cuisine and it was amazing.

After we ate lunch, we were not too far from the holy water temple called, Tirta Empul. This temple is the site of a fresh water spring that has cold water coming out of it. They built a temple around it and there are a couple of pools. The idea is that you put your head under each of the 13 fountains to get the blessing.

After the Tirta Empul, we drove through Ubud to get to the Sacred Monkey Forest. This was a really interesting place. It's basically a large park with temples and lots of monkeys in it. You can buy fruit to feed them, but I didn't do it. I've seen monkeys in Malaysia and they were not nice to people that they thought were carrying food. In a way, they were really cute, but also kind of scary.

At one point, I had one hand in my pocket and a monkey thought I had food in there and jumped onto my arm. I was so startled that I let out a scream and eventually shook off the monkey. They are actually really tame and will climb up on you if you put your arm out, but they also fight a lot among each other, which makes them scary.

From Ubud, we drove a long way to the west coast of Bali to Tanah Lot, which is a temple complex on the coast. We arrived just as the sun was setting and it was gorgeous. It was also quite crowded with people trying to get a good spot for the sunset. Every view here was like a postcard.

The part of the temple pictured above is also only accessible during low tide, which it was that evening. We really lucked out with the timing of both the sunset and the tide. Right on cue all these bats flew out of some beach cave like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. After walking around for a little while until it was completely dark, we found our driver and he took us back to Nusa Dua, where our hotel was. But by this time we were hungry for dinner, so we had him drop us off at a shopping and dining complex called Bali Collection, where we ate dinner and did some souvenir shopping before getting back to the Conrad. It was an awesome day touring Bali and it was incredible to see that the island is so large that you really need several days to see all that it has to offer.