My excitement was building in the days leading up to the release of the June roster. Knowing that it would be my last month of flying, I was eager to see where I'd be sent. The day came and I opened the email to reveal just 2 flights. The first was my 48 hour Hong Kong, which I was very much looking forward to, and the second? Manchester.
Now don't get me wrong, I've had my share of decent Manchester layovers, but when it comes to least exciting destinations on the A380 fleet, Manchester is second only to Jeddah. If you like to shop, it's great. If you like to sleep, it's even better! But this was my very last flight as crew for my airline and I didn't want to do either of those things. I was rather disappointed and made a desperate attempt to swap the flight for either a Seoul or Paris. Somebody had to be willing to take the flight from me!! I seemed to be out of luck. Every request came back as rejected, and I began to accept my fate.
A few days later I landed from my Toronto flight, and having just missed the bus back to my apartment I decided to occupy my time using the crew computers. Just for curiosity, I decided to check the online swap shop to see if anybody had decided that they in fact wanted to go to Manchester. I couldn't believe my eyes... somebody was actually offering me a Bangkok trip in exchange! Knowing how popular that trip is, I hadn't even attempted to request it before. I clicked accept as fast as possible and went home ecstatic... my last flight would be to Thailand!
I was certain that things couldn't get any better, but boy was I wrong. Once I got home I checked out more details of the flight, just to see if I knew any of the crew. I actually had to do a double take when I saw my roommate Kim's smiling face on the crew list. Was this really happening?! After 6 months of wishing for a flight together, we'd been magically blessed with 4 day trip to finish off what's been an amazing career.
When Kim returned home I shared my happy news and we squealed with excitement, likely waking up our neighbours. It was going to be one awesome trip!
We set off at a ridiculous time of day, bound for the airport. Sleepy, but excited, we proceeded to the briefing room, passed our safety questions and we were off to the aircraft! It was an easy flight over, as Bangkok flights typically are. Kim and I snapped dozens of silly photos and happily worked together for the first and last time.
5 1/2 hours later, we were in Thailand! The long bus ride to the hotel served as a much needed nap time. Upon arrival, I headed to my room... room # 1111! This made me happy, as I've always made wishes when the clock hits 11:11. I'm sure that in the past I've even wished to be a flight attendant going on layovers. It seemed rather fitting for my final trip. I had a quick shower and tried to make myself look presentable before Kim came knocking on my door ready to go. We were all set for adventures in Bangkok! Our first stop was a very non-touristy one... Starbucks. Frappucinos in hand, we kept cool in the humid air.
Our plan for the afternoon was to spend our meal allowance at MBK, the massive mall that I manage to end up at each layover. We ventured to the street in search of a taxi but instead hopped onboard a tuk-tuk when the driver offered to bring us to the mall for the bargain price of 20 baht... less than 1 Canadian dollar. The only condition was that we stop at a tailor along the way. We weren't obligated to buy anything, but if the driver stopped and brought potential customers the shop owners would pay for his fuel. We walked into the store and were quickly attacked by the employees eager for a sale. I made up a a grand story about how I would return with my mom to get my wedding dress made. Leaving them feeling a bit hopeful, we dashed for the exit and back to our tuk-tuk.
We cruised through the streets and weaved in and out of traffic in ways that would strike fear to most Canadians, but as an expat living in Dubai scary driving no longer phases me.
We made it to the mall safely and paid the driver double the fare for a tip, but still less than you'd pay for a chocolate bar in most countries. MBK was chaos as always. Jam packed with tourists and locals, we wandered from floor to floor in search of items that we didn't need. As I'm preparing to leave Dubai forever, my lonely roommate stocked up movies and TV series to occupy her time when she finds herself alone in the big apartment.
Next up was the best part of trips to Thailand... dinner time! We headed to the food court where I ordered my favourite... Tom yum goong soup! It was delicious as always and went perfectly with my banana milkshake. I felt great sympathy for Kim, who is allergic to seafood. I just couldn't imagine a life without prawns!
Full and ready to carry on with our day, we left the food court for our next adventure. A few months back I'd discovered a Thai photo studio in the mall, and since then I'd been eager to visit and have a Thai-style makeover. Much to my luck, Kim agreed to join me and we headed to the studio where we choose dresses to wear before being rushed to makeup. As someone who rarely wears much makeup, I must admit I felt ridiculous. Layer after layer of makeup was applied to my face. I was relieved when I glanced over at Kim to see that the ladyboy applying her makeup was making her equally cake faced. Next up was hair. There was a lot of backcombing, a lot of hairspray, and uncontrollable laughter as we were made into Thai princesses with extremely big hair. Once it was finally time to change, it all came together.
In our flowing colourful dresses, we looked the part and were quickly ushered to have our photos taken. As a photographer's fiance and flight attendant with a rather unique uniform, I'm more than used to having my photo taken. However, I couldn't help but to struggle with the extremely unnatural posing and giggle when the photographer made me tilt my head to the side. I could never be a model. It was absolutely hilarious and despite the awkward posing we had a blast being photographed. When we were finally able to see the photos, they were perfect! We looked like Thai royalty.
We ordered our favourites to be printed and then decided to return to the hotel. We'd been up for nearly 24 hours and our bodies were struggling for energy. We taxied back to the hotel and called it a night, hoping to get a good amount of sleep before our flight in the morning.
The next day we were off to Hong Kong! It's always a long day as we must return to Bangkok the same evening, but we were motivated by the buffet lunch in the airport lounge. First though, was breakfast! I made sure that I was one of the first ones through the passport line so that I had enough time to pick up one of my favourite snacks... mango sticky rice! Once onboard, Kim and I hid in the galley eating our delicious Thai dessert until it was time to board the passengers.
The flight over was busy and quick, as usual. At the end of the flight the purser approached me to tell me that he'd sent one of the business class crew members to sit in my jumpseat and take over my door. I was going to the cockpit for landing!! Since joining the A380 I've never had the opportunity to sit up front, as I've always been responsible for a door. I ran to the flight deck and took a seat next to a girl from business class who was also in her finals days as a crew member.
I've had the opportunity to sit in the flight deck for landings into Dubai, India and other places in the middle east, but nothing compared to the view of Hong Kong. On an unusually clear day, the mountains, sea, and skyline normally buried beneath a layer of smog were all visible. Even the captain was excited, pulling out his camera for a few shots of his own.
It was in that moment that I remembered why I was here in the first place. I didn't move across the world to go shopping in glamourous destinations or for the flight discounts. I'd did it simply because I loved to fly. I felt the same feeling that I'd had on my very first flight. This was my dream that I'd spent years trying to achieve and it was great to have a reminder of that fact. I was sitting in the cockpit of an Airbus A380, the most advanced passenger plane in the world, landing in one of the most incredible cities that I've ever visited. It felt like I'd reached some important revelation, like I could leave now on a positive note. All homesickness aside, it has been an absolutely incredible 18 months and I'm just happy that I'm one of the few people fortunate enough to have ever lived my dream, even if it was only for awhile.
I listened to the radio thinking of my pilot-to-be husband-to-be. If he feels the same way that I do up there, I couldn't be happier for him. We've got exciting futures in the skies!
Once we'd reached the gate we disembarked and made our way to the lounge for lunch. I loaded my plate with spring rolls and researched things to do in Bangkok with Kim. She went back to the plane early to sleep while I remained in the lounge, eating and wasting time online. I was feeling pretty sleepy when it was time to finally fly back, but the thought of sitting in the flight deck again woke me up. It was a beautiful evening as we departed Hong Kong, flying over the shining lights of the massive city. The moonlight lit up the mountains around us and I selfishly felt as if the day had cooperated just for me. Once the seatbelt signs had been switched off, I went back into the cabin to do some work before heading back in for landing into Bangkok. What is normally an exhausting and uneventful day had been pretty darn great.
Once we'd landed, left the airport, and reached our hotel, Kim and I were tired but determined to go for ice cream. It was 1:30 am as we headed to the mini-mart across the street for a much deserved treat.
We ate our ice cream and agreed to meet up the next morning early to make plans for the day. With only 4 hours of sleep I was less than eager to get out of bed, but I reminded myself that today was my last day of my last layover and my last flight working for my airline. I hopped into the shower and waited for Kim's phone call to meet her downstairs. Equally drowsy, she was quick to agree that our first stop should be to get coffee. We walked through the rain to Starbucks, got caffeinated, and then headed onwards to MBK to collect our photos from the other day.
We laughed rather uncontrollably as we pulled them out of the envelope. It had been so much fun, and the results were great. We happily proceeded to grab lunch... one last Pad Thai, of course.
It was nearly noon and we still hadn't made any concrete plans for the day, so we retuned to the hotel to ask the concierge to arrange transportation for us to go to the Tiger Temple. It was a 2 1/2 hour drive and we both knew that we should have left earlier in the day, but that didn't change our minds. We'd just be extra sleepy for the return flight to Dubai!
Our driver arrived 15 minutes later and we began the long ride to the Kanchanaburi province where the temple was located. I'd planned to use the time to sleep in the car, but our awesome driver kept us awake with his unusual music selection... a bit of my personal favourite, Jason Mraz, some classic power ballads, and the highlight... an acoustic version of the YMCA. Kim and I sang along in the back seat, excited for the day ahead.
It seemed to take forever, but we finally made it. We'd failed to realize that wearing shorts was not permitted inside of a temple, and were forced to buy a pair of pants at the entrance. They were baggy and we looked funny, but I must say, they sure were comfy! Once we'd paid our admission we were off to see the tigers! I didn't know what to expect of the place, but I was happily surprised. We wandered through the quiet paths, searching for signs or indications of where to go, when all of a sudden I caught a glimpse of a crowded area and spotted a tiger! We excitedly made our way there, happy to find that it was where we could have our photos taken. A volunteer took my camera as another took my hand and led me from tiger to tiger. I was able to sit down next to them, and smile happy but nervously as I had my photos taken with the beautiful animals.
We were assured that the tigers are not drugged, they have simply been raised with people and even in the wild tigers spend most of the day sleeping. Kim and I were ecstatic about our photos as we continued through the park. It was really an amazing place. Monks wandered the grounds walking tigers, and deer, birds, cows and other animals roamed free. It was free from the chaos and crowds of a zoo, and we were free to interact with the animals. We spent awhile watching the tigers, amazed and happy that we'd made the trip. My already perfect layover had just become so much better.
It was getting late and we both realized that we had to return to Bangkok to get some rest before our flight. We didn't want to leave, but we got in the car and began the long journey back with even more music to sing along with. By the time we reached our hotel it was nearly 7 pm and we had only a few hours before we had to leave. I quickly packed my suitcase and crawled into bed for a short but much needed nap. My wake up call came too soon, and I put on my uniform one last time to go check out of the hotel. It was such a bittersweet feeling.
We flew back to Dubai. The crew was great, and I'm really going to miss this job and my great roommate. Once we'd landed in Dubai one last time, everyone wished me good luck as they said goodbye. I've finally come to the end of my journey here, and I really couldn't think of a much better layover to have finished it off with!