A Far East Spotting Trip Report
Blog reader Mark recently took an enjoyable spotting tour of the Far East finding airliners in some of the region’s more interesting and busy airports.
Travelling from the UK and staying at known spotting hotels, he was surprised at how affordable the trip was. We’ll include a run-down at the end.
Enjoy the trip report…
I wanted to cram as much as I could into my time away but also keep costs down, so it took a while using sites like Kayak, Skyscanner and Booking.com trying out various options and seeing what would work; I could have gone away for longer but even a day added at either end of the trip banged up the price a lot.
Eventually I decided on flying Etihad from London Heathrow to Singapore on Sunday 14th January, which would given me 7 hours at Changi but on the day a late arrival, plus needing to have my passport stamped used up about 2 hrs of that time. The bulk of my spotting was split between Cactus Garden/Harry Bar and the Sunflower Garden, with one circuit of the terminals.
From SIN I had an early evening Scoot flight to Kuala Lumpur. Hotels close to the airport were asking silly prices for some reason, so after a bit of ‘Google Earth’ time I decided on the S8 Boutique which is about a 15 minute drive away. I’d requested a top floor room with balcony and as hoped this gave (distant) views of the approach to all the runways, and departures on the nearest runway were almost overhead. I wasn’t planning to spend long at the hotel but as is the norm on my trips getting my sleep pattern adjusted seems to take ages, so I wanted the option of at least being able to do some spotting if I couldn’t doze off, or as is usually the way, nod off for an hour then wake up at silly times! The hotel was fine, room on the small side, but bonus of the balcony made it ideal. Transfers and breakfast included, cost me about £25.
Next morning I checked out and went to KLIA2 for a few hours at the smoking areas on the departures level. I prefer spotting from there rather than the viewing area at KLIA as all movements can be seen, plus I was flying AirAsia from this terminal anyway. After going airside I had a wander to log anything on stand that I’d not been able to read off. My flight to Bangkok departed almost an hour late but that did allow a few more required 9M- aircraft to hit the log.
I chose to fly to Don Mueang (DMK) airport because, being a Tuesday, that was a day when a China Express CRJ operated. I’ve been through that airport many times but this was probably the longest I’ve ever spent getting through security. By the time I’d made it to the viewing gallery the CRJ was already parked, so after reading that off and a quick look at what else was on the deck I decided to head to the main Suvarnabhumi (BKK) airport, as I’d be back at this airport in a few days. I did consider trying to blag the free shuttle bus (you’re supposed to have boarding pass, but I have managed to do the trip in the past) but as there was a big queue and limited space on the next bus I got a taxi to the Phoenix Hotel where I was spending a couple of nights. I have used that hotel many times and always have the ‘Plane Spotter’ deal, which gives a top floor room, roof access, breakfast and transfer to/from BKK for around £22 per night, which is great value.
On the Wednesday I had an afternoon in the city to meet up with some friends, before hitting the bars. I also finally got round to a visit to the Science Centre to see the DC-3 that I’ve always meant to check out on many previous trips.
At lunchtime on my third day at the Phoenix I checked out and used their shuttle to get to the airport. From there I used the free bus to DMK. The journey only took 40mins, so it’s not much quicker by taxi. I was flying out at 6.20pm, so this gave me plenty time to tidy up my HS- low cost airliners (I came home needing two Thai Lion and one Thai AirAsia X). After a few hours I went airside as that allowed me to walk the piers to read off anything missed from the viewing galleries. I had hoped my flight would depart in time to get a few pictures of the various military transports on the far side of the airport during the taxi out, but by the time my AirAsia plane to Hanoi left the stand it was dark.
My only previous visit to Vietnam was to Ho Chi Minh City in 2012, and I did think of going there again, but after reading a recent report from Paul Moiser on the Civil Aviation Enthusiasts mailing list I opted for HAN as I fancied adding a new airport to my visited list. Paul used the Anova Hotel and said views were good so after a few emails to him and the hotel manager I opted to go there too. I was met at the airport and on arrival I was given a room on the 5th floor. The airport is about 2 miles away but arrivals could be seen from the room and departures went right past my window. It would’ve been ideal for pictures but the winows didn’t open and had a dark tint to them. It wasn’t a problem as the manager gave me access to the floor above (only used as an area to hang washing!) that had a nice balcony and I was also allowed onto the roof, too. I spotted from the room for a couple of hours then hit the pillow to catch up on some of the Zzz’s missed from the long early hours sessions logging Chinese arrivals at BKK!!
Next morning after breakfast (2x fried eggs or noodles included in the price… better than nothing I guess!) I had a chat with the manager and arranged a driver to take me into the city later in the day. One frame my database had listed as stored at Hanoi is Boeing 727 XU-RKJ, but that wasn’t included in the recent log I’d seen posted. The aircraft still shows on Google Earth, but you never know how up to date those images are really. It was a while since I’d last made a 727 so decided to have a bit of a walk from the hotel before my city trip. Definitely an ‘interesting’ stroll dodging trucks, mopeds and plenty of stray cows, but shortly before I reached what would have been roughly in line with the end of the runway I was able to see the aircraft through some trees; very happy chap!
With the help of Flightradar24 I worked out a slot of around four hours where I wouldn’t miss too much, so set off into the city at 11am. Loadsa’ fun, with vehicles from every direction, and signs and traffic lights seemed purely for decoration! First on the list was the Ilyushin Il-14 at the CAA centre, a quick stop and after asking for permission at the entrance I took a couple of pictures, then it was off to the Military History Museum for the other preserved Il-14. Sod’s law the place was closed for the day, but a short walk from the entrance to the back of the site gave me a reasonable view of it, so all was not lost. I wanted to spend a bit of time doing the ‘tourist thing’ and seeing a few famous buildings, so had to give up on trying to locate the preserved Tu-134s.
On my way back to the hotel I stopped off at the airport for a while to see what landside viewing was like. There is a food court area with plenty glass where all movements can be seen, as can the shelters for Mig/Sukhoi fighter types on the far side the – not my thing but a few were active that provided some bonus entertainment.
Woke on my final morning at HAN, looked out of the window and the airport had vanished into thick fog! I could hear departures but nothing was visible, so after a bite to eat and settling my bill (£40 for the two nights and £14 for the city trip) I decided to check out and went to the viewing area used the previous day where I spent a few hours before going airside for my flight to BKK. Once through security the views are even better than from the food court, and you can walk the full length of the building with pretty good opportunities for grabbing some pictures.
I’d booked a first ever flight with VietJet. Sadly the stewardesses no longer wear bikinis but the tight short shorts my crew had on were certainly easy on the eye! Boarding was completed and the captain came on to say we’d be departing early, and were airborne 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I managed to grab a snap of the airport’s stored Il-18 during the climb. It was a smooth flight and just a short wait for a stand at BKK, with a big queue at immigration but it didn’t take all that long. I met the driver for the Phoenix where I was spending the remainder of the trip and got my room, dumped the bag, and was spotting from the roof in just over an hour after landing; nice!
Sunday would be my last proper full day of the trip, and just about all the daylight hours were spent on the hotel roof soaking up the sun. I had just the occasional 30 second dash to my room to grab a beer from the fridge, then at 5pm a visit to the nearby 7-11 store for some more and to grab a selection of street food from the local vendors. I turned in reasonably early for a change, and was asleep before 1.30am… wimp!!
I had been chatting with another spotter who mentioned a DC-3 that had recently been moved to the area, so on my final morning I went walking to track it down. It’s located north of the Lat Krabang Skytrain station on the 311 road, and took about 40mins to get there on foot. The story is that it will be displayed at a soon-to-be-built night market, but for some reason I left my camera behind so was only able to grab a few shots with my phone. The aircraft is in reasonable condition although no wings were attached past the engines, and I don’t know if there are plans to restore it at all. The person who told me about is pretty sure it is c/n 26471 which was 43-49210 / L2-14-18, and along side it was a Cessna(?) twin and nearby a green Jet Ranger type helicopter. The Thai Aviation website has the DC-3 as being at Muek Lek army store, which also has a couple of aircraft that match the others so perhaps that’s where they all came from. After another day of catching some sun it was time to pack and head to the airport at 11pm for my 1.55am Etihad flight home, with no queue at check in and straight through security. I was airside by 11.25pm!
All in all this was a very productive trip, including way over 300 new frames for me, which considering the number of times to that part of the world was brilliant. Other than a few delayed flights everything went smoothly, and an extra bonus was that all the Etihad aircraft were no more than half full, so at minimum I had an empty seat next to me. Always a plus to have bit of extra room! Both transits through Abu Dhabi added a few more for the trip, too.
I got good deals on all the flights. The total for all of them was under £650, and less than £200 was spent on hotels including food etc.
Thanks to Anthony Mark Robinson for sending in this report. You can email him here if you have any questions.