Invited to flight check Turkish Airlines’ Business Class to any destination on its network, Neil Steedman opted for a city break in Bangkok, including a day trip to Ayutthaya. The invitation meant quite a choice, because Turkish Airlines flies daily ex-Dublin to Istanbul, from where it operates to 238 destinations in 104 countries (and is adding 30 or more destinations each year!), with Africa and Asia particularly well covered. I chose Thailand’s ‘city of angels’, Bangkok.
Star Alliance member Turkish Airlines, which was voted Best Airline in Europe at the 2013 Skytrak Passengers Choice Awards for the third year in a row, is currently offering a return fare of €658 ex-Dublin via Istanbul to Bangkok, including all taxes, fees and surcharges, for bookings made up to 31st March 2014 and for travel up to 1st July 2014.
Dublin – Istanbul
Flight TK1978 to Istanbul was operated by a B737-800 with five 2×2 rows in Business Class. The wide seat had a good recline, a fold-down footrest, but a small overhead screen, the aircraft pulled back at the scheduled time, and I was presented with fruit juices, the Irish Times or Wall Street Journal, a (really) hot towel, and my drinks order was taken and the menu presented.
This comprised Turkish Appetisers or Mediterranean Prawns with Tomato Sauce followed by Turkish-style Grilled Minced Beef or Home Made Artichoke Ravioli, then by Profiterole, Vanilla Cream and Chocolate Sauce or Cheeses, and Tea/Coffee. A good start to my journey!
We landed at Istanbul 10 minutes early. The airport’s Business Class Fast Track through Transit Security is really a ‘semi-fast track’, because you initially join a shorter queue but this feeds into an Economy security belt. Hello?
Istanbul – Bangkok
TK068 to Bangkok (a codeshare with Thai Airways as TG 7544) is operated by an A340-300 with a 2x2x2 configuration in Business Class, the middle two seats being staggered and all seats having individual screens for the Planet inflight entertainment. Seats 1D and 1E are particularly good because there is a high central ceiling, they offer long leg room, and the cabin crew’s service counter is immediately in front. The aircraft pulled back on schedule.
I am not surprised that Turkish Airlines also won Skytrak’s Best Business Class Catering award this year. Turkish Do&Co chefs present beverages and a personalised folder of menus and wine list, the latter offering two whites, one rose and five reds, including one Turkish wine in each.
I chose Traditional Turkish Lentil Soup, Sis Kebab and Turkish Desserts with the Kavaklidere Egeo 2011 rose – and then reclined happily in my seat for a good sleep.
We landed on time and 30 minutes later I was through Immigration, bag collected, currency changed, and in a public taxi heading for Bangkok city centre.
For accommodation I opted to stay at two hotels near each end of the price scale, beginning with the 5-star Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa in Thonburi (http://bangkok-riverside.anantara.com).
This luxury property set in a 4.5-hectare garden on the Chao Phraya River offers 407 rooms and suites, as well as 11 dining options – including the Numero Uno deli and bakery, a chocoholic’s heaven! The hotel operates a free shuttle boat every 30 minutes to Saphan Taksin Skytrain station and to Asiatique night market, Bangkok’s newest visitor attraction that is just across the river.
One of the many great things about this hotel is that a concierge, Khun Peter, is also a Street Food Guru and Klong Guru, leading guided tours introducing visitors to Bangkok’s on-street food options and its canals. I opted for a klong tour that, including meals and drinks, costs THB 2,000 per person (€46) with a maximum of six persons. It’s a great way to explore a Bangkok without traffic, visiting attractions such as the ancient Wat Ratcha Orasaram (a Ratchaworawiharn or royal monastery) and having a pleasant canal-side lunch at the Artist House in Klong Bang Luang, which was followed by a short puppet show (the puppets making fun of me in a charming way!).
My second accommodation was the Himalaya Residence in the city centre at Sukhumvit 31 (www.himalayaresidence.net). This is a small hotel/hostel in a quiet courtyard within 10 minutes walk of Asok BTS and Sukhumvit MRT stations and offering single rooms at Baht 800 (€18), doubles at Baht 1,000 (€23) and rooms for three at Baht 1,400 (€33) or four at Baht 1,700 (€40) – all including breakfast and all with free wi-fi Internet.
It is also within walking distance of the Siam Society at 131 Asoke Montri Road (Sukhumvit 21) where a traditional Lanna building, culture and lifestyle of Northern Thailand is skillfully presented.
A day tour well worth taking from Bangkok is to Ayutthaya, one of the world’s largest cities around 1700 AD. The city was destroyed in 1767 by the Burmese army, resulting in the collapse of this former capital of the Kingdom of Siam, but the Ayutthaya Historical Park contains many ancient temples and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (whc.unesco.org/en/list/576).