An Airbus takes off or lands every 1.4 seconds. By the time you finish reading this story, about 500 will have done that all over the world; in 24 hours, 61,714 Airbus aircraft will have taken off or landed at any given airport on the map.
There’s a little bit of poetry in these numbers — one imagines airplanes carrying people home or taking them to adventures that lie ahead; the anticipation of a long-overdue homecoming, a reunion, or simply a weekend away to some island or a new city. Every single takeoff or landing is the beginning of a story for millions of people every day.
Last Wednesday, an Airbus made a special landing in Hong Kong. For the first time in the world, Cathay Pacific’s first ever A350-1000, which took off from Airbus’ runway in Toulouse 12 hours before, landed at Chek Lap Kok International Airport, signaling the start of a new generation of modern and clean-fuel airplanes for the airline’s fleet. It is only the second such plane in the world, and the first in Southeast Asia.
The wide-body aircraft will be used for CX’s longest route in its network: the 17-hour nonstop flight from Hong Kong to Washington, DC, a distance of 8,153 miles (13,122 kilometers). The service begins in September, four times a week, as the airline expands its long-haul network and increases its capacity in its 206 destinations in 52 countries. The A350-1000’s first commercial flight will be to Taipei, and will serve Madrid, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Manchester and Zurich from winter this year.
Cathay Pacific chief customer and commercial officer Paul Loo who, six years ago, negotiated the carrier’s order of 20 A350-1000s to be delivered until 2021 (the next delivery is in August), says, “We already have one of the youngest long-haul fleets in the sky (an average of 5.6 years in service), and with the arrival of the A350-1000, our fleet is only going to get younger. The aircraft follows the successful entry of the A350-900 variant, which has enabled us to expand our long-haul network at a near unprecedented rate, providing our customers with a wider range of nonstop travel choices while at the same time strengthening Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s largest international aviation hub.”
Called “the future of air travel,” the A350-1000 is longer than its 900 sister in the A350 XWB family with 54 more seats (CX’s configuration is from 280 for four-class planes with first, business, premium economy and economy; to 334 for those without first class).
“From now until 2024, we still have 79 aircraft to be delivered in total,” says Loo. Though he wouldn’t say the investment for this particular aircraft, he says the “the total cost of our investment is more than what Hong Kong is spending on building a third runway,” which is HK$141.5.billion (US$18 billion).
Cathay Pacific general manager for corporate affairs Kinto Chan says the airline’s A350 planes are partly powered with biofuel to reduce the airline’s GHG emissions and to fly greener; this plane flies on 10 percent biofuel. “Fulcrum Bioenergy will supply the aviation biofuel produced from municipal solid waste.”
Airbus head of A350-XWB marketing Marisa Lucas-Ugena says that compared to previous aircraft generation, the A350-1000 is 25 percent better in fuel burn, CO2 emissions, and cash operating cost. “Its new wing, inspired by and acquired from nature, morphs to mimic a bird’s wing; it has a new fuselage design using 70 percent advanced titanium and composite material, which means no corrosion or fatigue, and lower weight and reduced maintenance.”
The A350-1000’s Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine is the world’s most efficient large aero-engine flying today with 1.8 million flying hours and 99.89 percent operational reliability.
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CX 3510 or the ferry flight from Toulouse to Hong Kong had only 76 passengers composed of CX executives, engineers, and employees who had won a company-wide contest held by the airline, and journalists. Out of the 334 seats, only business and premium economy cabins were occupied.
As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, we were up and about inspecting the plane. Being a noncommercial flight, it was unlike any other flight of course. For one, the economy cabin was empty. Second, there was an atmosphere of celebration and for us journalists it was actually the only time we got to exchange business cards on this coverage, having done a series of interviews and tours at the Airbus factory the day before.
And third, the CX executives had loosened up as we were chatting on the aisles — finally, after six years, they were bringing this baby home! CX general manager for planning Lavinia Lau even helped with the breakfast service, serving bread to passengers. “When else can you do this?” she says with a laugh.
With all the journalists taking pictures and videos of the crew as they served drinks and food, it took twice the amount of time than on a regular flight. Leslie, a flight attendant who’s been with CX for 22 years, corrects me. “No, thrice!” he says. Indeed, the very cheerful flight attended was very excited to be on the ferry flight. “It’s a privilege for me,” he says. “Every crew wants to experience this and it comes only once in a lifetime.”
Cathay Pacific corporate affairs editor Alexander Jenkins says the airline held a contest among its employees and the winners were flown to Toulouse, had a tour of the Airbus facilities, and joined the delivery flight back to Hong Kong.
A brand-new plane is the norm for CX, which is receiving a new one every month as it retires some planes and adds to its existing 206-aircraft fleet — but a new-generation aircraft is a big deal.
It’s not only the hardware that makes the A350-1000 the most efficient aircraft today, it’s also the passenger experience. The cabins have a higher ceiling, a flat floor — no more bumps that cover wires running throughout the plane — wide panoramic windows, HD screens, more legroom, and LED ambient lighting with 16.7 million colors that make possible lighting scenarios to mimic natural sunrise and sunset and help reduce the effects of jet lag. Plus, what everyone wants — mobile and WiFi networks! The latter is especially good news for Filipino travelers who need to work on a long-haul — but who are we kidding? — it’s important to document their air travel on social networks in real time.
On the delivery flight from Toulouse to Hong Kong, we experienced just how intuitive the design is, and how much more comfortable the A350-1000 business class is compared to Boeing’s 777-ER of the same class, which the airline will be replacing in phases. The seat, which converts into a full flat bed, is longer and doesn’t have the bumps that I felt lying down — it felt like a true bed.
Also, there is a compartment beside the seat where you can store your handbag and other stuff compared to the net pocket in the 777. When you raise the armrest a water bottle cavity reveals itself so hydration is within easy reach at all times.
As for the entertainment system, the screen is full HD with a touchscreen remote control. Trying to find figure out the device, I was prompted, “Do you want to watch movie on this screen or main screen?” It means you can have one movie playing on your PTV and another one on your handheld screen.
In the economy seats, the headrest has been redesigned with a softer, leather- overed one that’s adjustable six ways, and it feels like a pillow now. There is also a mobile phone holder for when you want to watch movies on your phone or just a place to put it while you’re charging on the USB socket, and a cup holder. They’ve added a metal stepper on the aisle seat for you to reach the luggage stowage (the plane has a higher ceiling).
“Have you noticed that it’s quieter than on other flights? Sometimes on older planes, I can’t talk to my wife, but here that’s not a problem,” says Loo.
“It’s nine decibels quieter than the 777-ER,” Airbus’ Marisa Lucas-Ugena, who incidentally started her career at Boeing, told us the day before.
According to Airbus, “the air management systems help passengers to enjoy a more relaxing flight. Total cabin air is renewed every two to three minutes in a draft-free environment at the optimum temperature and with 20 percent more fresh air. In addition the A350 offers the unique possibility to install an active humidification system in business and first class to reproduce a private jet flying experience.”
Lucas-Ugena adds, “There are features on this aircraft that you cannot see but you can feel. And on a long-haul flight, you will feel better when you land.”
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Cathay Pacific flies from Manila to Hong Kong seven times a day to connect you to any of CX’s 206 destinations in 52 countries; 12 times a week from Cebu, and four times a week from Clark on Cathay Dragon. Starting in October, Cathay Dragon will have four times a week direct flights from Davao City to Hong Kong. Call the global center at +180014411011 for Smart/PLDT, +180087395117 for Globe. Log on to www.cathaypacific.com.
This week, I’m starting a series on the blog called “Stopover: Five Hours.”
We’ve all been there — flights that have excruciatingly long stopovers on the way to our destination or coming back home. Assuming you have five solid hours in a city (excluding travel from and to the airport), where would you go, what would you do?
What better way to explore than be guided by locals’ recommendations? The friends I asked for tips are taking us to a mountain peak for unparalleled views of the World’s Skyscraper Capital to the longest escalators, museums, golden temples, sky bars, restaurants, malls and quaint shop houses.
For the first of the Stopover series, FindingMyWay lands in Asia. Hong Kong is written by my super friend Anthony Legaspi, head of sales for Asia of the Hilton Group, who many years ago brought me to the best hole-in-the-wall crab dinner I ever had in my entire life, at Hong Kong’s Under the Bridge. Singapore by Insight Vacations regional director for Asia Sheryl Lim, who seems to be living out of her suitcase with all the traveling she’s doing.
Jakarta by Jakarta Post managing editor Primastuti Handayani, who was my classmate many years ago in Seoul, South Korea. Kuala Lumpur by Malaysian Star lifestyle editor Vicky Ooi, who was my roommate on a fun coverage we did abroad. And Bangkok by my former colleague Ana G. Kalaw, who covered the fashion and beauty beat in Manila for my newspaper Philippine Star and Cosmo PH, and now for The Magazine of Bangkok Post.
Suddenly, a long layover doesn’t sound so hellish at all.
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HONG KONG by ANTHONY LEGASPI
To get some high-intensity experience in a city like Hong Kong, five hours is impossible for it to be a memorable trip to the former British colony. But let’s try, shall we? So how do you take advantage of a long layover and make good use of this time to experience a bustling city?
Take the airport express to get you to the city in 24 minutes — the ride gives you a glimpse of Tung Chung and for about 15 seconds it enables you to get an idea of where HK’s Big Buddha is located — and if your eyes are quick enough, you may get a glimpse of the cable cars that transport thousands of tourists every day.
Reaching Hong Kong station at the end of the train ride, stop for lunch one level up to Tim Ho Wan, the most inexpensive Michelin-star restaurant in the world, and indulge in baked barbecued buns and some of the best dim sum you will find in town. Every day, people queue up in this thirty-seat restaurant, which really deserves more than you pay for, for its excellent food and friendly service.
While you eat to your heart’s content, the city provokes a lot of walking, so do walk and burn and burp that lunch by passing through the iconic IFC building — a busy office and shopping tower where the biggest brands are available for the self indulgent…but wait, by this time you may only have less than four hours.
Walk towards the Midlevels escalators. This 800-meter-long journey brings you to the famous Hollywood Road, a place that was built 100 years ago. Also known as Cat St., you can find here small gift items or maybe even a piece of furniture from some Chinese dynasty that will complete your living room.
But hold your ancient horses, packing and sending furniture or vases will take away the 180 minutes you have left, so better just have a cold beer in one of the cool places in Soho, which is just right around the corner.
Give yourself some 30 minutes for people watching before you head back to HK Station and look for the Exchange Square exit. Take bus No. 15 to bring you to the glorious views of Hong Kong known as Victoria Peak.
If I am only able to do only one thing in Hong Kong, I would go to her highest point, which is the Peak. It’s quite a sight — this stretch of twinkling skyscrapers and Victoria Harbour and, yes, the greenest hills found in the New Territories. It’s best to see it at dusk though. The queue can be long to take the Peak Tram but the ride to reach the top is a great experience!
Once you are grounded again, find the nearest MTR to bring you to Tsim Sha Tsui. You still need to see the Avenue of the Stars and the promenade, and see Hong Kong at its business best: a topographical and architectural happening on HK Island standing high over the waters of the harbor.
Yes, of course it’s the same area as HK Cultural Centre, Space Museum and Museum of Art if you are into that — but you have got only one hour left!
Rush your way towards the Star Ferry to Island side to bring you back to IFC — yes, that same place where you started so you can take the Airport Express back. But sit by the window on the ferry and feel the breeze as you enjoy the magnificent views.
Remember to take the opportunity to buy a Bo Lo Pao before you head back to the airport — this is HK’s best delicacy and make sure they insert for you a slice of nice, cold butter. Eaten best when your hands are dirty.
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SINGAPORE by SHERYL LIM
By Asian city standards, Singapore is small, so five hours can give you a glimpse and taste of the city-state without having to rush everything.
Singapore is one of the world’s most modern cities, and yet interspersed among towers are heritage buildings, parks, and hawker’s centers not far from pricey restaurants.
Some places to see:
Keong Saik Road. Once a prominent red light district peppered with brothels back in the 1960s, Keong Saik Road now is peppered with some of Singapore’s coolest places. With a string of restaurants, bars and shops, you have to drop by at least once when you come to Singapore.
LeVel 33. Located on the 33rd level of Marina Bay Financial Center (MBFC) Tower 1, it is the world’s highest urban craft-brewery. It is an innovative concept that provides an unparalleled dining experience complete with one of the best views of Singapore’s Marina Bay and city skyline.
Haji Lane. In this row of pre-war shop houses, which was once an empty street, you will now find quaint boutiques set up by local designers and young entrepreneurs presenting fashionable wear and products showing made-in-Singapore designs. There will also be excellent vintage shops selling an array of contemporary, quirky garments and accessories.
Singapore Botanical Gardens. An urban oasis, the sprawling Botanic Gardens, Singapore’s first UNESCO Heritage Site, provides great respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Within the garden, you can also visit the newly launched SBG Heritage Museum, which features interactive and multimedia exhibits and panels that illustrate the Garden’s rich heritage. The National Orchid Garden, lauded as the world’s largest orchid display, features over 60,000 plants and orchids.
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JAKARTA by PRIMASTUTI HANDAYANI
Jakarta has lots of interesting places to see in five hours. You can spend all of them in the Old Town area where you can enjoy the iconic Fatahillah Museum (originally Batavia’s City Hall during the Dutch colonial period). There are lots of museums nearby: Wayang Museum, Bank Mandiri Museum and you can see the Dutch architecture of BEOS railway station.
You can also go shopping at the nearby Mangga Dua area. If you prefer to spend most of your time shopping for local and foreign brands, then go to the Grand Indonesia Shopping Malls, the biggest malls in Jakarta. Don’t miss the dancing water fountain inside. Or walk to nearby Sarinah to buy gifts like leather or wooden puppets or batik clothes.
You can also walk or take a bajaj (motorized pedicab) to Jakarta’s iconic Monas (National Monument), located in between the City Hall and the Merdeka Palace. Facing the Monas is the National Museum or famously known as Museum Gajah because there’s a small elephant statue in the front yard. To fully explore the museum takes more than five hours because there are lots of collections to see. So save this for a longer stay in Jakarta.
The must-eat Indonesian food is nasi uduk, which you can find in most Indonesian restaurants. It’s rice cooked with coconut milk and served with side dishes like fried chicken or fried beef fillet.
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KUALA LUMPUR by VICKY OOI
Here are five things to do in Kuala Lumpur in five hours:
KL City Gallery: Jalan Raja (in front of Merdeka Square). Set in a century-old heritage building, the gallery has all things art and artistic as well as information about KL. It is also home to the Spectacular City Model, an architectural summary of the city and its story.
KL Tower: Jalan P. Ramlee. Take a ride up to the observation deck, at 276-meter of this 420-meter-high tower. It’s the tallest in Southeast Asia and currently ranks the 7th tallest structure in the world.
Nobu KL: Level 56, Menara 3 Petronas, Persiaran KLCC. If you happen to be here close to meal time, why not try to get a table at this famous international restaurant chain? It also has a panoramic view of the capital city and perhaps you may even see Malaysian glitterati dining next to you.
KL (Petronas) Twin Towers & KLCC Park: Kuala Lumpur City Centre. Work off the meal with a stroll around the park adjoining Suria KLCC mall. Here’s the chance to snap plenty of pretty pictures with the dancing fountains and the twin towers as backdrop.
Karangkraf Complex: Jalan Conlay. You will need to spend about an hour here to discover every type of handicraft from all 13 states of Malaysia. It also houses a crafts museum and demonstrations by craftsmen. And of course, plenty of handmade souvenirs for you to buy.
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BANGKOK by ANA G. KALAW
Five hours is not enough time in Bangkok. The traffic from the airport to the city and back alone will already take up half of the time. Thankfully, Bangkok has a decent sky train system that links the airport to the city. What goes down in these five hours all depends on what you feel like doing.
Option 1: Those who want to take in a bit of history and culture can take the Airport Link to the Phaya Thai station and from there, take a taxi to Wat Po or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, an iconic site that features a 46-meter-long Buddha covered in gold leaf. The compound it is situated in is very serene and peaceful, and houses pocket gardens, many golden stupas (hemispherical structures that typically contain “relics” or the remains of monks) and other Buddhist icons.
Wat Pho is a 10-minute walk to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) and the adjoining Grand Palace. The Emerald Buddha is another landmark relic that’s about 26 inches high and, despite its name, is made of green jade. It’s a pretty sight but can be missed if you’re the type who thinks one temple sighting is one too many.
The Grand Palace is a marvel to behold and is interesting, but makes for a rather impractical visit on a really tight schedule. (Chinese tourists by busloads mean cramming into narrow corridors and two hours of foot traffic). Instead, opt to stay at Wat Pho complex and get a traditional Thai massage.
Wat Pho is considered the leading school of massage in Thailand and the treatments they offer here, though simple and technique-focused (no lavender-scented lobbies, fancy massage beds or New Age music), are probably the best you can get in Thailand.
From Wat Pho, hie over to the nearby Tha Tien pier and take the public ferry down the Chao Phraya river in the direction of the Sathorn pier. Consider getting a quick drink, some snacks or afternoon tea in one of the five-star hotels located along the river. The Shangri-La and the Peninsula both have pretty and breezy riverside terraces from where you can enjoy a drink while taking in the Chao Phraya’s interesting sights (get off Sathorn Pier at and walk a few meters to Shangri-La or take the hotel boat to get to the Peninsula).
The Mandarin Oriental (get off at the Oriental pier) offers afternoon tea at its iconic Author’s Lounge, a light-filled space named for the literary greats (Joseph Conrad, John Le Carre and Somerset Maugham included) who have signed into the hotel’s guest register.
The Oriental offers two types of afternoon teas: a classic set and a Thai set. Go for the latter if you want to take in English teas with pandan-flavored scones, curry puffs and rice cakes.
Consider making the trek back to the airport after your Chao Phraya visit. Take the BTS back to the Phaya Thai station and then make a switch onto the Airport Link to go back to Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Option 2: Shopping lovers and the food-obsessed can use up their five hours hunting down fashionable finds and sumptuous eats in central Bangkok. From the Airport Link, get off at the Phaya Thai station and take the BTS skytrain to Siam, the city’s main commercial drag. Siam Station gives you access to the luxurious Paragon mall, Siam Center, home of diffusion lines and Thai designer labels, and Siam Square, a haven for funky finds and cute fashions.
A five-minute trek will lead you to MBK, Bangkok’s version of Greenhills. Here you can find fashion “overruns,” startup labels, souvenir stalls and everything that has anything to do with mobile gadgets.
Food is a huge part of Thai culture. The basement level of Siam Paragon is a maze of ready-cooked food, breads, fast food chains and stalls offering Thai food staples such as duck noodles, som tam, basil-topped stir fries and tom yum soup.
Siam Square and the little streets and alleys surrounding it also have great affordable Thai and international restaurants. Get a reprieve from all that shopping by getting a foot massage in one of the spas surrounding the Siam area.
A favorite is Chang’s right across Paragon. The chairs are comfy, and therapists experienced. You can also take the Airport Link to the Makkasan station and from there take the underground or the MRT to Sukhumvit station, which will take you to the Asok area and Terminal 21, an airport and travel-inspired shopping mall complete with boarding gate entrances and city-inspired floors (a miniature Golden Gate bridge on one level, and red double-decker buses on another).
One BTS stop (Phrom Pong) will take you to EmQuartier, Bangkok’s hottest retail haunt right now. EmQuartier houses the biggest foreign brands, has a fashion zone containing the best Thai talent, and has three floors boasting some of the best restaurants in town. EmQuartier’s food court is always great for picking up quick but tasty eats while its supermarket has great souvenir options.
If your five-hour stopover falls in the evening, grab the chance to indulge in some street food at Sukhumvit Soi 38 (BTS Thonglor).
This street is famous for having some of the best duck noodles, mango sticky rice, pad thai and khaosoi (rice noodles in curry soup). But you have to hurry. Local reports say that the street stalls and pocket restaurants will soon be taken down to make way for yet another condo-retail development.
So, Macedonia makes it the 50th country I’ve visited in my lifetime. This post should really be titled “How I learned to make interactive maps” to remember where I’ve been.
A couple of years ago, an acquaintance mentioned to my colleagues that she had traveled to Guam with me on a coverage. I said I had never set foot in Guam. Ever. But she was so insistent that for a second I thought: did I really go to Guam and forget all about it?
The answer is no. I had never been there, but it led me to think that there might be places that are slipping from my memory, though I loved being there at the time. (I forget where I put my car keys at least once a week, or is that twice?)
While I don’t keep a diary, working as a journalist all my life has taught me to mentally store details, atmosphere and conversations, to take down notes even when I am not working. After I started my travel blog in January, I told my friend Cedric in Paris that I wanted to make maps of my wanderings to remind me of the stories I’ve been wanting to write for years, also because I’ve lost thousands of pictures from some trips because I keep accidentally deleting them en masse.
He taught my how to do it over Skype, which was frustrating at first because I don’t know how to do shit on Google, then it got fun — and then obsessive. Each map can only have a maximum of 10 layers, and I’ve done mine per country. You can be as specific as per city and its sights or attractions if you have the time.
So here’s an example of how you can plot your travels. Trust me, don’t start until the weekend because if you’re anything like me, you’re not gonna stop till they are finished. Start mapping!