Monday, July 22, 2024

Homecoming Trip 2024 ✈ Malaysia

For the last 3 years (after Covid), I've traveled home around this time of the year for an extended period of time to spend time with my family and to help take care of dad. This year's home trip was also booked for the same timing with the same plans but unfortunately, life doesn't always go according to plan. Following our short emergency home trip for dad's funeral at the end of January, I decided to keep this home trip and traveled home again after 2.5 months to spend more time with the family. Thankful that work was understanding and allowed me to take this extended leave. 

When I was home in Malaysia earlier this year for dad's funeral, I thought of extending my trip and considered cancelling the trip I had originally booked for April/May. I could have cancelled this April trip and saved some miles since we had just traveled back not too long ago. Mom also suggested I save my miles/money in case I need to make another emergency trip in the future (touchwood). 

Since our last emergency trip happened during work's busy season, I didn't think I would be able to completely shut off and spend time with my family even if I had extended my trip. As such, I decided keep the emergency trip short (10 days), and proceed with the original plan of traveling back for a month in April/May (after work busy season). Most importantly, I want to spend time with my loved ones when I am still able to, and not 'save' the trip for when it's too late. 

My original caregiver leave was already approved by my bosses in December but due to changes in circumstances, this option was no longer available for me but thankfully I was able to utilize my vacation and bereavement leave for this extended leave. 

24-26 Apr 2024 (Wed-Fri): Huntsville - Dallas - Tokyo - KL - Penang

I booked my flights for this home trip in July 2023 for 37,500 AA miles + $17. Thanks hubby for dropping me off at the airport at 5.45am to catch my 7am flight to Dallas.

Visited the AA Flagship Lounge during my 2-hour transit in Dallas. I was able to access this lounge with my Oneworld Emerald status as I was connecting to an international flight.

On time departure for my 11.45am flight from Dallas to Tokyo Narita on AA. I was supposed to have a whole row of 4 to myself for this 13.5 hour flight but a kaypo flight attendant decided to proactively move people around (no he wasn't doing it to balance the airplane's weight) and moved another guy to to my row. =.= He just doesn't want people to have a whole row to ourselves, and I looked to 'small' to need a whole row to myself. Anyhow, I still managed to make myself comfortable with 2 seats and slept almost the entire flight with my economy 'lie-not-so-flat'!

We were served 3 in-flight meals for this long flight. They were decent.

Landed in Narita airport 15 minutes behind schedule at 3.15pm and was surprised to see a staff holding a sign with my name on it when I got off the flight. Apparently, the staff had to help reissue my onward tickets on Malaysia Airlines. This was my first time experiencing such service upon arrival (usually this happens at boarding). Japanese customer service is really at the next level. 

Checked out some duty free shops in Narita....somehow Hibiki is always sold out in Japan. 

I intentionally chose to have a 7.5 hours transit in Narita to check out the lounges with my Oneworld Emerald status. My first stop was Cathay Pacific lounge. The lounge was quite empty and had plenty of seats. This is a business class lounge and the food was buffet style.

After a quick visit to the Cathay lounge, I hopped over to the JAL First Class Lounge. This was my 2nd time visiting this lounge (visited this lounge last year) so I was somewhat familiar with this lounge. 

JAL Salon bar is located at the lower level of the lounge and is open at 7.30am-12pm and 2pm-8pm. I didn't get a chance to visit the Salon when I was here last year so I decided to stop by (twice) for to try the Hibiki's Blender's Choice. Food is not served in this part of the lounge so it was much quieter.

Went back upstairs to the sushi bar / dining area and ordered some ala carte food using the app. 
Ordered the JAL Spepcial Original Beef Curry with Rice, Sushi Tsurutei: Weekly Sushi Plate, Japanese Meal Box with Rice and Miso Soup, Port Filler Poiret with Bacon, and Scallop & Potato Galette.

Took a refreshing shower and used the massage chair before leaving the lounge at 9.10pm.

7.5 hours flight from Narita to KL at 10.30pm. This MAS flight was completely full.

Landed in KL at 5am and it was good to hear the Welcome Home announcement on MAS. My recent trips back to Malaysia had been with other airlines (Qatar, JAL, SIA) so it's been quite awhile since I last heard this. I had a 3-hour transit in KLIA and had access to the MAS Domestic Golden Lounge. I tried going to the lounge at the international terminal but they wouldn't let me enter on arrival and asked me to go to the Domestic lounge instead. I was dumb and exited the immigration/custom instead of using the transfer desk so I ended up with a long walk around KLIA early in the morning. =.=

Even though I was a lil' disappointed that I couldn't visit the MAS lounge at the international terminal, I was actually pretty impressed with the food options in the domestic lounge. There was a noodle station serving Asam Laksa, Prawn Noodle Soup, and Miso Udon Soup. I ordered all 3 for my 'Welcome back to Malaysia' breakfast...hahaha!

Final leg from KL to Penang at 8.20am. Finally made it to Penang at 9.20am after traveling for 38 hours! Glad to be back again and thanks mom for picking me up from the airport. 

26 Apr -1 May 2024 (Fri-Wed): 6D5N Staycation @ AC Hotel Penang

In my attempt to reach Marriott Lifetime Platinum status, I decided to use 20K Marriott points for a 5-night staycation (mattress run) at AC Hotel Penang. Still not sure if I'll get enough nights to reach Platinum status next year but since this is one of the few hotels in Malaysia that is still priced at 5,000 Marriott points/night, I decided to try it out as it's a pretty good value for 20K points (5th night free).

This hotel used to be Vistana and was rebranded to AC Hotel in 2020. 

The rooms were recently renovated so everything looked new. 

View of Bukit Jambul from the room. Those beige/blue flats were our old childhood home 25 years ago.

One of the welcome amenity at this hotel for Marriott Elite members.

Pool and gym at the hotel. 

Complimentary buffet breakfast for Platinum/Titanum members. The buffet options were pretty good. They served roti canai and nasi lemak.

Breakfast was served from 6.30am - 10.30am. 5 days of complimentary 'brunch' for 2 person each day so I invited mom, grandaunt and the kiddos to join me for breakfast. 

Mom brought the kiddos on the last day for a swim.

1-23 May 2024: Penang

Home trip means spending lots of quality time with the grannies and mom.

Gotta have our usual McD sundae cone runs. We enjoyed this RM1 treat for so many years and it has now inflated to RM2.08 within the last 2 years!

Quality time with the family

9 May 2024: My home trip coincided with dad's 100th day ritual (to bring dad back from the columbarium to our home). It was good that all 3 of us were able to be home for the ritual.

My 4th consecutive year to be home to celebrate Mother's Day with the family. Bought mom a batik beach wrap for her Mother's Day gift.

The tiger aunt / discipline teach was back to spend time with the!

Attended niece's ballet pageant at my old ballet school and it was great to see my ballet teacher, Ms Grace, and ballet friend, Isabelle after so many years.

Met up with relatives. The kiddos population is growing rapidly...hahaha!

Of course, being back in Penang means hawker fooooood!!

Max Cafe, Simpang Ampat Yam Rice, Fisherman's Wharf Food Corner

Tangshan Cuisine Bayan Baru

CRC Restaurant

Sushi Mentai 

Dim Sum Station

Eastern Wishes Nanyang and Thai Cuisine

10-13 May 2024 (Fri-Mon): Touring Penang with friends

My friends from US/India, Kenny and Lakshya visited Penang so I offered to bring them around. It's been more than 10 years since I last toured around Penang so their visit gave me a good reason to tour around Penang. From NePals to PenPals, it was good seeing and catching up again with them after we last met in India last July.

Kek Lok Si Temple

Penang Hill

Penang Batik Factory. Bought a batik shirt, scarf, and beach wrap as gifts.

Entopia Butterfly Farm

Balik Pulau

Khun Thai restaurant

Air Itam Duck Meat Koey Teow Th'ng

New World Park Food Center and Fisherman's Wharf Food Corner

23-24 May 2024 (Thurs-Fri): Penang - Hong Kong - Helsinki - Gdansk

After spending 4 weeks in Penang, it was time to say goodbye. Thanks mom for dropping me off at the airport early in the morning at 5.45am. Traveling light with only a 10kg backpack as I was meeting up with hubby for a 9-days backpacking trip in Europe before heading back to the US. Booked these flights for 35,000 AA miles + $60.90 flying on Cathay Pacific and Finnair. Flew cattle class but got to use the Business Class check-in line with my Oneworld Emerald Status. 

Quick breakfast stop at Plaza Premium Lounge

7.40am flight from Penang to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. I was impressed with Cathay's recognition of my Oneworld Emerald status even thought I was traveling in cattle class. 2 flight attendants came to my seat to personally welcome me onboard and gave me a bottle of Evian. They even served my food first. There was an ang moh uncle sitting next to me and he was probably wondering why I'm getting all these 'prioritize'!

Arrived Hong Kong at 11.10am after 3.5 hours. Somehow Hibiki is always available in HK.

I had a 9-hour transit in Hong Kong...that means time for lounge-hopping. 

Lounge #1: Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge - The Deck. Cathay has 5 different lounges in HK airport, 3 Business Class and 2 First Class Lounges.

The highlight of Cathay's Business Class lounge is their noodle bar. I ordered the Pork Siu Mai and Hericrum erinacius and cordycep flower soup which tasted prety good despite the weird name. Didn't know Cathay has its own beer...Betsy, named after Cathay Pacific's very first aircraft.

Buffet options available as well but I didn't eat too much here to save my stomach space for later.

After a quick 30 minutes in The Deck, it was time to hop to lounge #2...Qantas Hong Kong Lounge. This lounge is much bigger and open with plenty of seating areas. Who would ever use that big round table in a lounge?

Food and drink options

Nice view of the tarmac from the lounge with a glass of bubbles. I was at the lounge around 12.30pm - 1pm and was hoping to try their 'plate of the day' ala carte dining but I probably didn't wait long enough for them to bring the menu. At least I got to try the beef siu mai from the yum cha trolley.

Lounge #3: Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge - The Wing. Plenty of seating areas with view of the tarmac.

Self-serve desserts and drinks

Reason why I didn't eat much in the first two lounges was to save stomach space for the ala carte dining at The Haven (dining area in the lounge). I ordered the Double boiled abalone and chicken soup, wonton noodles, and duck leg confit.

The standout feature of this lounge is the amazing shower suites, The Cabanas, which are the best shower rooms you'll find in any airport lounge. And yes I got the whole 'room' to myself for 90 min.

After a good meal and shower, it was time to hop over to lounge #4: Plaza Premium First. This was the lounge option that Finnair had for Oneworld Emerald status on the app. This lounge was pretty small and crowded. The buffet options were good but it was pretty crowded in the dining area too.

Final hop...lounge #5: Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge - The Pier. This was my 2nd time visiting this lounge so I was somewhat familiar with it. 

Requested to use the Day Suites for some anti-social quiet time.

Complimentary 15 minutes foot massage

Self-serve desserts and HK beer from The Pantry before dinner

Ala carte dinner at the Dining Room. The menu is similar to the one in The Wing lounge earlier so I opted for the special Cantonese-inspired tasting menu.

Double-boiled chicken soup, Marinated abalone on tofu, Wok fried prawn with crispy rice cracker, Xiao long bao, Sweetened black glutinous rice with cream and coconut, ice-cream, and chrysanthemum cocktail.

Wrapped up my 9-hour lounge hopping with a shower before leaving the lounge at 7.45am to catch my 14-hour flight from Hong Kong to Helsinki.