This is the second post in a multiple part trip report of our long weekend trip to Koh Samui, Thailand. If you just want to see pics of the lounge scroll to the bottom.
Koh Samui: Part 1 – Any Hilton in the World
Koh Samui: Part 2 – The Oryx Lounge Saves the Day
Once we had our Hilton booked, all we had to do was get there. Seems easy, right? Doha to Bangkok is just a short little 6 hour flight, and then you take a quick little hour and fifteen minute flight to the island of Samui. Well, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
First off, I think I have learned that booking day flights is a very poor idea. I’m a most talented procrastinator, and so trying to pry myself away from the office to get to the airport seems to be difficult for me. I know I have enough time to get just one more little thing done… That one more thing turns into 3 more things, and before I know it, Dawn’s sitting in a taxi in the site parking lot waiting on me for 15 minutes. I should mention the parking lot has very little space, strong rules against idling taxis, and is heavily guarded by at least three men (about two too many). The guards were lenient with Dawn (she brings them baked goods), but I doubt they were happy about it.
By the time I finally shutdown my computer and hopped in the taxi I realized that, this being Doha and it being the middle of the day, traffic was going to suck. I hadn’t eaten lunch yet (see procrastination noted above), but luckily for me, my wife had the forethought to bring me lunch (including a much needed Coke) to eat on the way. We certainly weren’t going to have time to grab something at the airport. So, I’ve got lunch, but traffic is not looking good. Then the driver pulls out of the parking lot headed in the opposite direction of where I knew the airport to be. I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, but he was headed in the exact direction that we try to avoid every day when going out for lunch. And there was a long line of cars in front of him. And they weren’t moving. I had finished my pizza, coke, and cookies by the time we had moved about two car lengths. Apparently, this guy was not working for a tip. Nothing we could really do now, though, but wait it out. Once he made the commitment to head in that direction there was no going back. We just had to hope for the best.
It turned out that after inching our way along for about 20 minutes, the floodgates opened ahead, and we were on our way at a much more reasonable pace. We got to the airport with ‘enough’ time to spare. Although I had checked in online and printed our boarding passes out, we needed to visit the counter. There are a few things we like about Qatar Airways, and there are a few things we hate about Qatar Airways. One of the things that Dawn and I are not big fans of is how far the chairs lean back. You’d think this was a great benefit, right? Having almost the equivalent of an angled lie flat seat in economy? Score! Yeah, it’s totally awesome until the guy in front of you realizes how awesome it is, leans his chair back as far as it’ll go and all of a sudden you’re resting your chin on his bald spot. Not my idea of a great way to spend six hours on a plane. Not to mention trying to get out of your seat if you have to get up to go to the restroom. It makes me think of the scene from Dumb and Dumber where Lloyd and Harry are riding on the motorscooter and Harry has to go to the bathroom. Just go man. Yeah, that’s how close you are with your neighbor in front of you when he/she leans his/her seat back.
Anyway, we’re not big fans of sitting behind people if we can help it. Luckily, Qatar Airways usually blocks off the exit rows and bulkheads during seat selection on the computer, but you can request them for free when checking in at the airport. Knock on wood, but I think that every time we’ve requested them, we’ve gotten a bulkhead or exit row. So, it was well worth our time to check in at the desk, even with being on a somewhat tight schedule. As expected we scored the exit row seats for our flight to Bangkok.
We were off and through customs headed to our gate in no time (E-Gate, which allows you to skip the customs nonsense, both when leaving the country and arriving, is a must have for any Doha based traveler). Once we got to our gate, there were quite a few people standing around the gate as if some announcement had just been made. We asked someone what was going on, and he let us know that the flight was delayed. Approximately four and a half hours. Four and a half hours? What’d they have to do? Fly in a new plane? Yeah, pretty much. Some mechanical failure was causing them to switch planes. I know how these things tend to go (or at least seem to go). There’s a mechanical problem. The flight’s going to be delayed 30 minutes. Thirty minutes turns into an hour, and an hour turns into two. Pretty soon you’re looking at six hours, and there’s no end in sight. At least they were starting off with a delay of four and a half hours instead of teasing us with a 30 minute delay. Whatever it was, they knew it was a big enough issue to get a whole other plane.
So, there we were. I had hurried (as much as a procrastinator can hurry) off to the airport only to find out I could have crawled to the airport and still made my flight. There are many reasons I’m not a fan of the existing Doha airport (and will be very excited if the new one ever opens – I think we’re on year four of the delayed opening of the new one), and a few of those reasons are the seating setup is lousy and there’s not much in the way of shops or restaurants. To be honest, I like airports. I like both people and plane watching, but the Doha airport is good for neither of those. Luckily, I had qualified for Executive Platinum on American Airlines last year thanks to an incredible American Airlines promotion, my Thanksgiving pseudo mileage run, and my trip back to the States over Christmas. One of the perks of having the top status level on American is access to OneWorld first class lounges when flying on a OneWorld carrier. I knew that perk was going to come in handy as we fly Qatar Airways quite a bit. I wouldn’t have guessed I was going to get four and a half hours use out of it for our first visit though.
The Doha airport has two lounges the Oryx Lounge and the Privilege Club Silver Lounge (edit – now I’m thinking it might actually have three with a Privilege Club Gold Lounge in there as well separate from the Oryx Lounge). I’ve been told the Oryx Lounge is the nicer of the two, but I’ll probably check out the Silver Lounge sometime just to see the differences. When travel problems arise, I’ve learned that the first thing you need to do is to figure out your backup plan. To be honest, I had little faith in the new plane coming in on time and maybe even at all. I’ve also learned that the best place to get the quickest service is typically the airline’s lounge. The lines are shorter, and they put their best people there. Originally I thought the Oryx Lounge was a Qatar Airways branded lounge that was contracted out to other airlines, but now I don’t think that’s the case. When I asked the lounge workers about the flight situation they directed me to the transfer desk out in the main portion of the terminal. They had no power other than to tell me the same information I could get from checking a departure board.
Dawn went into the lounge to get comfy, and after dropping off my luggage I headed to the transfer desk. The lines for the transfer desk were a mess like any other line in the Middle East. There were separate lines for passengers with and without status, but they didn’t mean much, and most people just crowded towards the desk asking questions at random people who appeared to be working there. I waited patiently as I had no where to go. I had plenty of time to kill. Eventually, my turn came, and I asked about getting waitlisted or on the standby list for the 9:00 pm flight to Bangkok. Our originally scheduled 2:00 pm flight was supposed to leave at 6:20, but like I said, I didn’t completely trust it. Plus, a backup plan is never a bad thing to have. It turns out they can’t put a passenger on a single itinerary on two different flights. The lady had complete confidence in the 6:20 flight (that’s her job, right?), and since there was nothing else I could do other than buy a ticket for the 9:00 flight I left it alone and went to wait it out in the lounge.
Now, lounges typically charge around $50 if a regular, economy class passenger wants to visit (the Oryx actually only costs $40), and since I won’t even pay $50 for a meal in a nice restaurant I would almost never pay that kind of money to visit even the nicest lounges. When it’s free, though, that’s another story. It really is a pretty nice perk to be able to have a place with a little more comfortable place to sit, food to snack on, and all the Coke you can drink. Especially when you’ve got 4.5 hours to kill. Luckily, the Oryx Lounge is one of the nicer lounges that I’ve visited.
It was quite a large lounge, and it was way busier than I would have expected. The seating areas were adequate, but nothing special. As it was the middle of the day I had pulled out my laptop to try continue to work a bit. I’m not a big fan of actually working on my laptop while it’s on my lap. It would have been nice if they had some seating with actual desk type areas for laptop users. I guess I could have used the tables in the little cafe areas, but those were pretty full, and there would have been nowhere to plug in the laptop. In one of the seating areas they had an Eddie Murphy movie playing on a TV. While it probably kept some people entertained, it was quite loud, and so we moved into another room.
There were two distinct areas of the lounge separated by doors, but anyone was free to be in either area. Each space had a buffet and dining area. Most drinks were self serve in see through refrigerators, but if you wanted something alcoholic you had to request it from a server. The beer, wine, liquor was only advertised on a small 8.5×11 sheet near the kitchens. With Qatar being a mostly dry country, it made sense. Thinking about it now, though, I’m not sure how they pull that off as I thought only hotels were allowed to serve alcohol. Maybe it’s a travel thing? Who knows.
The food was quite good, and I wish I hadn’t just eaten lunch as there was plenty there to have an excellent meal. It was a lot of traditional arabic food along with sandwiches and breads. From now on, I think I’ll plan on grabbing lunch or dinner there before my flights.
The lounge also features these napping chairs located in front of floor to ceiling windows. Since the place was busy those were all filled up, but it’s quite a nice little feature – especially since the lounge is open 24 hours/day and Doha hosts plenty of overnight transfer passengers.
As with most international lounges, it also boasts showers. While I love taking showers in lounges after a long flight (or sometimes a short flight), as this was my departure airport I held off. Plus, it didn’t seem like that nice of a shower. The lounge also had a Smoking Room in the lounge which was a first for me. The Arabs love their cigarettes, even more so than Europeans I’m pretty sure.
Killing four hours in the Oryx Lounge wasn’t ideal, but it certainly made the delay much better than it would have been without lounge access. As our delayed departure time came closer we headed to our gate. Minus the typical line issues I mentioned above that are prevalent in the Middle East, boarding was uneventful, and the plane eventually departed on time (the second time). Thanks to the long layover we had scheduled in Bangkok, we just barely made our original connecting flight in Bangkok, and were quite ready to explore Koh Samui.