Asian travel: good or evil?

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HK being quote "Asia's World City" unquote -- [what exactly does that mean?] -- it's not been unknown for expats/locals to use HK as Asia's hub to even more exotic and distant places.

The traditional tour package 'Sing Ma Thai' is for trainee travelers or family groups of about 8. Here the Tour company -- let's call them Lucky Prosperous Travel Group [LPTG] -- will assign a Butlin suited rep -- jackets are invariably BRIGHT red, yellow, green, purple or blue; akin to TV Horse Racing commentators -- to personally escort you from the start of your trip at the Airport to when you arrive back to these sunny shores i.e. back to the Airport. "Sing Ma Thai" is a packaged tour visiting Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand which depending on your stamina can last 3, 5 or 7 days. For this you could see a new country/hotel every two days, travel by plane every other day and be given a wake up call at 4am every single day. Your LPTG rep will be fluent in Cantonese and knowledgeable about where to buy the best bargains from assigned dealers who can speak Cantonese, and where to eat Cantonese meals at assigned restaurants. [Note: all tips can be in HK or US dollars]. Exposure to the culture, history, food or people of the visited country is kept to a minimum although there are plenty of photo opportunities at the airports, coaches, hotel lobbies and restaurants.

Batpo has indeed once traveled on a package tour to Indonesia -- as you can tell, I wasn't impressed. In fact, I can honestly say it's not my cup of tea and I reserve the same feeling for package tours as I do for circuses that train bears to roll over a sparkly ball or likewise.

Something Batpo is very impressed with [oh yes, she does dispense praise as well as grouchy grumblings] is the service received from Asian airlines. There is a myth that only single male travelers get preferential treatment from airlines, I couldn't tell you if that is the case. As a single, ethnic female traveler -- the only rudeness so far experienced has been from other travelers, quite often if they're traveling in a group tour. The pack mentality entitles a carry-on allowance of at least 20kg compressed into a little wheely bag identified with a Hello Kitty sticker and requiring at least 3 males to lift and cram into the overhead locker regardless of the non-tour passenger sitting in the aisle seat. It also allows for the group decibel level to increase at least 25dB above the intercom and absolutely mandatory to all speak at once, whilst switching places and requisitioning all blankets, pillow and magazines for the 2 hour flight. Anyway, I digress. I was about to praise Asian airlines -- tour group mentality or Plane Etiquette can be another article when I am feeling riled up enough to write about it.

So, I was recently on two exceedingly long-haul trips with our national carrier. Taking full advantage of the loyalty programme, I was allowed into the hallowed airport lounge and the upper deck of the airplane. Let's just say it's a different world and I came back determined to work hard, become rich and forever travel in a style I feel entitled to. Not only was I treated like a human, I actually arrived refreshed and ready to take on Customs, Immigration and the other hassles of getting through the airport and into the Big Apple.

Of course, I soon came back to reality. Leaving New York's JFK Airport, I had to travel with American Airlines on two domestic flights. Subjected to three security searches -- ok, understandable considering 9/11 but did they have to be so brusque in that quasi polite manner? Ending each sentence with "ma'am" doesn't make me feel any less than a police dog being trained to jump hoops. Then being shuffled onto the plane like the passengers of Con Air [slick movie starring Nicholas Cage] even though this was their business class section made me wonder how the coach class passengers were faring. Coach class passengers now have to prepay meals at the gate -- US$7 for coffee, Danish and chewy granola bar.

Returning to HK in coach class, I still received wonderful service from a very pleasant crew, up-to-date movies on a personal TV and more importantly the feeling that I wasn't part of a very old and cranky bus service.

So let them say what they will about the Friendly skies etc, but hands down, Asian airlines get my vote.