The Young Travelers’ “Best” and “Worst” Travel of 2016

Happy new year, guys! I can’t believe I’m into my fourth year of writing, and while life has been full of ups and downs, it’s pretty much been all ups with YTHK. While Jason and I both get busier this year, we’re definitely going to have better trips to write about. Speaking of that, we would like to revisit some of the best/worst travel moments that we’ve had this year, as we always do.

img_3023Nobody can deny where true home is for the Young Travelers of Hong Kong

Jason and I have been arguing since July on which were the best, worst and most interesting travel moments to fill our criteria, so here we go. We did this as well last year, and there I was pretty clear about one particular thing:

Obviously, this is just a follow-up and all relative, as I’ve enjoyed all my flights this year – each and every one.

The above stays just as, if not even truer this year, and Jason and I are just so lucky to have opportunities to actually be as snobby as we are.

Best Overall Flight of 2016 – Finnair A350 Business Class Helsinki to Bangkok

This was hands-down the best flight I’ve taken in a couple of years. Finnair’s A350 business class is a fantastic way to fly, from the cool cabin design to the complimentary in-flight WiFi, to the well-designed entertainment system. However, what really made this flight so incredible was the service. The flight attendants working this flight were some of the best that I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and were all so enthusiastic, welcoming and friendly. While the service wasn’t exactly polished, the warmth of the crew more than made up for that.


Finnair Airbus A350-900 Business Class

Worst Overall Flight of 2016 – Virgin Atlantic 787 Economy Class Hong Kong to London Heathrow

Don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy the flight, but it did become apparent that cuddling up to one of my closest friends became the only truly enjoyable thing about the flight. While the food was decent, the seat was uncomfortable (as is the norm on a 787, though I’ve definitely seen better-padded seats) and the service was terrible.

DSCF9008Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class

Best Business Class Airplane Food of 2016 – Cathay Pacific 777-200 Business Class Hong Kong to Taipei

While this flight was ultimately a disappointment in terms of our A350 getting swapped to the regional business class product that I don’t exactly love, the soft product more than made up for it, from the great crew to the great food. The main course in particular was my favourite this year, with perfectly cooked shrimp on flavourful risotto. It’s one of the few dishes this year I can still taste when I think of the flight, which speaks well.

IMG_0220Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-200 Business Class Main Course – Pan Fried Prawns, Tomato Cream Sauce, Green Beans, Capsicum and Tapenade Risotto

Best Premium Economy/Economy Airplane Food of 2016 – Virgin Atlantic 787 Premium Economy London Heathrow to Hong Kong

While my seatmate didn’t have as nice of a time on my flight in Virgin Atlantic premium economy from Heathrow to Hong Kong (due to the gin and tonic I spilled on him, which kept his pants wet the entire flight), I did. The main course wasn’t as memorable as some of the other dishes I’ve had in past years, though was still the best non-premium cabin economy meal I’ve had this year. The fact that I got to eat at the bar due to a broken tray table didn’t hurt, either.

DSCF9270Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Premium Economy Meal – Roast Chicken and Tagliatelle

dscf9268Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Upper Class Cabin from the Bar

Worst Business Class Airplane Food of 2016 – Korean Air 747 Business Class Seoul Incheon to Hong Kong

What’s worse than an equipment swap from a 747-8 with Apex suites to a 747-400 with angled lie-flat seats after connecting from a longhaul flight? A really, really crap onboard meal. I know it was my fault for not playing safe with the bibimbap, but the dry chicken gave last year’s worst meal (Cathay Pacific business class) a run for its money.

Korean Air Boeing 747-400 Business Class Main Course – Roasted Chicken Breast with Champagne Cream Sauce Served with Potato Gratin and Mixed Vegetables

Worst Premium Economy/Economy Airplane Food of 2016 – Cathay Dragon A320 Economy Class Hong Kong to Guilin

Jason and I agreed to write our own rationales for why we thought our dishes were the best/worst, though I’ll write this one for him. In his review, Jason stated:

However, instead of a wrap, a packaged drink and a cookie, we were greeted to a bottle of water, some snacks and a Toblerone bar. I can’t really complain about that given that it’s a 1 hour and 15-minute long flight, but it wouldn’t kill them to offer a cold sandwich…

Jason was being way too nice. On both my meals to and from Xiamen, I got a hot meal on Cathay Dragon, and those flights are even shorter. Yes, I get that Hong Kong to Guilin is a leisure market with no competition, though that’s just another reason why you should be showing off everything you’ve got, and not just serving some random crap to make your customers a little full. Jason felt unimpressed (he chose this as his worst economy meal of the year, and he’s been taking tons of economy/premium economy flights), and I can’t help but feel like he was ripped off.

IMG_8588.jpgDragonair Airbus A320 Economy Class Snack

Best Flight Service of 2016 – Korean Air 777 Business Class Seoul Incheon to Vancouver

While I’ve loved Korean Air’s service all along (a shoutout to James, working at Korean’s Hong Kong call center, who’s an extremely nice guy who’s helped immensely with all bookings I’ve made with Korean Air), the best service I’ve had on any flight that I remember has to be on this flight. While the fact that we had an empty cabin may have helped, I’ve never felt as cared for by someone I’d only met for a few hours, even before I was accidentally exposed as a travel blogger. From telling me where the best views were to offering to turn on the cabin lights for us so I could photograph the empty back cabin, I can safely say this was the best flight this year, albeit their occasional defensiveness (they were trying to keep their jobs after the nut gate in 2014, after all).

Someone might say that this was only because Korean Air knows about my blog, though that’s clearly not true, given how sh*t the service on the inbound sector was.

IMG_7297Korean Air Boeing 777-200 Business Class Presents from Crew

Worst Flight Service of 2016 – Virgin Atlantic 787 Economy Class Hong Kong to London Heathrow

I won’t beat around the bush given I’ve already talked about it, but from the yelling to go back to my seat when I went to the washroom in a drunken state (not that I blame her for that, but there are certainly nicer ways to communicate in this world) to the throwing and late clearing of trays, I started feeling like I was headed to Beijing on Dragonair’s old A320.

DSCF9010Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Economy Class Extra Legroom Row, where I would have got an empty middle seat and thus more space to edge away from the flight attendants

It’s not even about the fact that this was economy class on a European airline, as premium economy and economy share the same flight attendants, and service in premium economy was great.

Best Business Class Hard Product of 2016 – Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class Taipei to Hong Kong

I haven’t tried many business class products this year, though objectively I know reverse herringbone seats are some of the best seats in the industry (I would’ve got to try out the Apex Suite which I’ve heard is even better, but…), and Cathay Pacific has managed to top their A330/777 product with their new A350 product, both padding, storage, bed comfort and entertainment wise. I’m definitely curious as I have plans to try even more products for next year, though I ultimately prefer reverse herringbone seats to Vantage style staggered fully flat seats or forward-facing fully flat seats.

IMG_0593Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-900 Business Class

Best Economy Class Hard Product of 2016 – Cathay Pacific A330 Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur / Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong

While I’ve kept this on the spot for three years straight, they have three likely sources of competition: Singapore Airlines’ new economy class, Cathay Pacific’s new A350 economy class and Thai Airways’ new economy class. However, I haven’t tried the former two, and I feel like on the padding and storage front, Cathay Pacific wins Thai by a very slight margin. Cathay Pacific’s seats feature that nook below the screen that I’ve found to be very handy, while Thai doesn’t.

img_2543Cathay Pacific Airbus A330-300 Economy Class

Worst Business Class Hard Product of 2016 – Cathay Pacific’s Regional Business Class Product (777 Osaka to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Taipei, A330 Taipei to Hong Kong)

Jason and I have had a pretty heated debate, with Jason first writing a post “Is Cathay’s Regional Business Class That Bad?“. Ultimately I can’t complain that Cathay offers an inferior product on some regional flights, though it is a little angering that there’s no indication whether you’re getting a reverse herringbone business class product, or if you’re ending up with their largely inferior regional product. I ultimately do feel like I slightly prefer an angled lie flat compared to this due to a few more positions you can get comfy in, which is why we found this regional business class product at the bottom. I think I’d prefer these seats to a regional recliner, so I’ll update when I have the chance to fly in one.

IMG_0187Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-200 Business Class

Worst Economy Class Hard Product of 2016 – Finnair A320 Business Class (Economy Class) Barcelona to Helsinki

Given that Business Class in Europe is basically a glorified Economy Class product we’re qualifying Finnair’s regional Business Class seat as an Economy product. Even for an Economy seat, the seats are pretty bad. The seats lacked any sort of in-seat power, and was lacking in the padding and storage departments. Boo.

IMG_2517.jpgFinnair Airbus A321 Business Class

Most Interesting Flight of 2016 – Cathay Dragon A320 Economy Class Hong Kong to Xiamen

While seeing Cathay Dragon’s new economy was fun, due to how unreviewed the product is, the real treat was seeing all the changes made to Cathay Dragon, which I felt showed the amazing amount of potential the brand could have. Jason and I also argued over how practical the brand was (Jason thought Cathay Dragon was useless, while I thought the idea was brilliant), and it looks like I won. Not only is Cathay Dragon a much more fun and minimalist airline, given that it’s moving parallel with Cathay Pacific’s new branding, it is much easier to identify that Cathay Dragon moves under Cathay Pacific now. Unfortunately, I was stuck on old liveries for both flights, but that’s a small issue that will soon be rectified as they keep repainting their aircraft.

img_2960Cathay Dragon Airbus A320 Economy Class

Best Hotel Stay of 2016 – InterContinental Osaka

There were certainly some flaws that we experienced at the InterContinental Osaka, such as the Two Bedroom Inferior Superior Residence and the caveat with IHG’s service when it came to suite lounge access. But from the service (including how they handled our dissatisfaction with the initial suite) to the incredible entry level rooms to the great restaurant, I can easily call this the best stay of the year.

dscf51861InterContinental Osaka Deluxe Twin

Worst Hotel Stay of 2016 – Barkla Concept Hotel Xiamen

Okay, I get that this is a budget hotel and sometimes you get what you pay for. But it was pathetic to see how much money they spent on the public areas and the “London-style” decorations in the room, and not have decent, working WiFi and dirty nooks around the room. In retrospect, it wasn’t objectively the worst stay I’ve had this year (there were bedbugs at the tulou, which didn’t happen here), but it was certainly the most pathetic. Which is sad, because the designs actually have potential to be one of the better options out there.

img_3149Barkla Concept Hotel Xiamen Modern Room

Best Hotel Food of 2016 – W Taipei

I’ve been to quite a few hotels these few years, and the W Taipei offers hands down the best food spread of any hotel I’ve ever been to. Period. I mean, there’s ice cream on offer – what more could you expect?

img_2362W Taipei The Kitchen Table Food Spread

Worst Hotel Food of 2016 – The Westin Wall Center Vancouver Airport

Honestly, I have to say that the Westin Wall Center didn’t offer less of a food experience than I was expecting. However, I guess continental breakfasts aren’t only limited to dry pastries, dry bagels and dry bread (and a few other items), so let’s just say that this spread was simply the “least good” this year, and not the “worst”.

IMG_7581The Westin Wall Center Vancouver Club Lounge Breakfast

Most Interesting Hotel Stay of 2016 – The Hotel Victoria Jungfraujoch

The Hotel Victoria Jungfraujoch is definitely one of the most well-intentioned hotels I’ve stayed at this year, so I commend them for that. While they offer incredible hospitality and I do love the staff that work there, the half-eaten pizza in the junior suite and the lack of air conditioning at the hotel certainly was a little bit more WTF, and a little less WOW. All this came with apologies and, in the former case, chocolates, so I guess I’m not complaining.

IMG_1189Hotel Victoria Jungfraujoch Junior Suite Afternoon Snack

Best Airline Lounge of 2016 – Cathay Pacific “The Pier” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong

I’ve been to a few great lounges this year, and there are a few lounges that I actually really want to put on the list. However, this year’s most well-rounded experience, from the decor to the variety of options to the amazing food to the great workspaces to the service (and more), is a single-handed take home by Cathay Pacific’s The Pier. It only opened in June this year, and it’s certainly the best business class lounge in Asia, if not one of the best in the world. I’m still excited to try out potential contenders such as Qatar’s Al Mourjan lounge, Japan Airlines’ Haneda business class lounge and Emirates’ main business class lounge, but for now I have no choice but to give Cathay Pacific’s The Pier the win.

IMG_0105Cathay Pacific The Pier Business Class Lounge Hong Kong

Best Outstation Airline Lounge of 2016 – Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge Osaka

There were two non-hub airline lounges this year that pleasantly surprised me the most – Cathay Pacific’s Taipei lounge, Qantas’ Hong Kong lounge and Japan Airlines’ Sakura Lounge in Osaka. So why am I choosing Japan Airlines’ when the other two lounges are probably better? That’s because Cathay Pacific gets a lot of recognition for an amazing lounge in Taipei, and Qantas is well known for an amazing lounge here – whereas no one’s really heard of the fact that Japan Airlines’ Osaka lounge is stunning. Plus, Cathay Pacific’s lounge doesn’t really feature a spread (just lots of noodle options), and Qantas’ lounge has no ideal place to work, where Japan Airlines has a few business cubicles, a smoking section and a great spread.

Now, Osaka is technically listed as a Japan Airlines “hub”. However, you can’t deny that Tokyo’s two airports are the two airports that Japan Airlines really focuses on, while Osaka is kind of just chopped liver on the side, with a few extra routes headed there. In other words, all international destinations that Japan Airlines serves from Osaka are served from Tokyo’s two big airports, whereas the same isn’t true the other way round.

DSCF5992Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge Osaka Kansai Relaxation Room

Worst Airline Lounge of 2016 – Cathay Pacific “The Arrival” Lounge Hong Kong

It seems unfair to judge an arrivals lounge when I’m talking about all the amazing departures lounges up there with The Pier and the Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge. However, Swiss manages to do a stunning arrivals lounge with loads of terminal light, great food, great service, and nice showers with a few bedrooms – Cathay Pacific manages a stuffy lounge with a stuffy dining room (apparently the actual a la carte food is nice, but the spread sure isn’t), stuffy showers and service that is out-of-this-world indifferent.

I mean, if you can pay for a business class ticket/fly enough to get status, surely you can cash in that extra bit more for a decent seat at one of the restaurants in the arrivals area, where you also get food and free WiFi (admittedly not showers, but that’s probably the only perk of the lounge)? I’m not sure why Cathay Pacific bothers with the lounge as such – if you can’t offer a good one, don’t offer one, in my opinion, it speaks better for the reputation of the airline.

img_2670Cathay Pacific The Arrival Lounge Dining Area

Best (Aviation-Related) Travel Moment – Boarding the Cathay Pacific A350

At Young Travelers of Hong Kong, our minimum is to keep up with the times when it comes to Hong Kong-related travel products. It was certainly nice to finally be one flight where I actually became one of the first people to review their product. It was nice to be on an A350, too, which I enjoyed – the cabin is stunning, and it definitely speaks for the future.

img_5145Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-900 Hong Kong Airport

Worst Travel Moment – Korean Air’s Equipment Swap

For the same reasons above, I was really excited to finally get on one of Korean Air’s 747-8s and experience the Apex Suite that I was long looking to take. However, it turned out to be a flop – I still got home safely on a 747-400, but that was about it.

img_2177Korean Air Boeing 747-8 Hong Kong Airport

Favourite Trip of 2016 – London to Zurich via Hong Kong

While Jason and I both met incredible people this year, I have to say that this was the standout trip where I met the most amazing friends, experienced the most culture and overall had the best experience. The edge was definitely given by the fact that I tried three awesome European cabin products…

IMG_0407Shoutout to everyone I met at Oxford, all the tour guides I met in Switzerland and more

Bottom Line

For the Young Travelers of Hong Kong there is nothing that we’d ever call a “bad” year, but there are definitely some best and worst travel moments throughout that ultimately just make the blog a more fun place for all of us.

I’m excited to say that we’re already seeing tons of changes to the blog next year, and we can’t wait!

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