Growing up in Hong Kong, I can vividly recall the TV commercials put on by Malaysia’s tourism board with the jingle “Malaysia, Truly Asia”.
It’s a tagline that feels particularly poignant now that I’m preparing to embark on my first leisure trip to the Asia-Pacific region of the post-pandemic era.
Thinking back to those long and dreary days of March 2020, I remember feeling a sense of profound disbelief that my typical fast-paced travels would need to be put on hold for a little while. I recall wondering when, if ever, we’d be able to take to the skies again – and in particular, when we’d be able to visit Asia like the good old days, given how locked-down everything was in this part of the world.
Indeed, it’s taken the vast majority of Asian countries a fair bit of time to reopen their borders to tourists. But you know how the saying goes: “Better late than never.”
2022 has proven to be the year of vast reopenings across the region, with Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and South Korea all welcoming back tourists without quarantine.
Planning a trip around Jessy’s one-week vacation period this April, then, my thoughts naturally gravitated towards one of the aforementioned countries.
After deliberating for a long time between Thailand and Malaysia, we thought back to our lovely time in Langkawi a couple of years ago and decided that a return visit was something we couldn’t resist.
We’ll be spending a couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur to absorb the energy of one of Asia’s great metropolises, then three nights in Penang to check out a new city and dig into its world-renowned food scene, before wrapping up with two nights on the island paradise of Langkawi – all spanned by a series of premium flights that I’m very excited for.
On our way to Malaysia, I’ve booked us on a very convenient routing of ANA 787 business class from Vancouver to Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur, for a total of 85,000 Aeroplan points per person.
I had actually secured a few bookings for Japan Airlines First Class out of Los Angeles as well, but the flight timing didn’t quite work out: we’d get into Tokyo too late to catch the direct flight to Kuala Lumpur.
Plus, with a whirlwind multi-stop routing on the way back in service of a bucket-list First Class product, I thought we’d take it easy on the outbound with the most direct routing.
The irony of flying a Japanese airline with a transit in Tokyo – and being so close, yet so far to entering Japan – isn’t lost on me, and I’ll most definitely be binge-eating my emotions away by guzzling down the lunch, snack, and dinner menus onboard my twin ANA business class flights.
The good news? We’ll be returning from Malaysia on a westbound routing via Europe, making this my first round-the-world trip since before the pandemic.
The bad news? Well, it’s going to be quite a laborious journey.
The entire return journey is built around the item that currently sits at the very top of my bucket list when it comes to aspirational First Class flying: Singapore Airlines A380 New Suites Class.
As you can imagine, award space on Singapore Airlines’s crème de la crème is exceedingly rare; however, a few months ago, the airline decided to release a large batch of “Saver”-level award availability (including many dates with two seats, and even some dates with three seats) to members of their own KrisFlyer loyalty program.
Now was my time: I had personally transferred a big chunk of points from my Amex US MR and HSBC Rewards accounts into Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer when they had a 15% transfer bonus a few years ago, lying in wait for this exact opportunity.
I booked us two seats in Suites Class on Frankfurt–New York JFK for 86,000 KrisFlyer miles per person. Having thoroughly relished my experience on the Old A380 Suites back in early 2019, I’m beyond excited to check out the all-new Singapore Suites experience – and share it with Jessy this time, no less.
The transatlantic crossing promises to be a memorable one, but the rest of the itinerary still needed to be built.
As things stand, I’ve redeemed 80,000 Aeroplan points to fly Thai Airways business class from Bangkok to Frankfurt to catch Singapore Suites right after, and a hodgepodge of low-cost carriers and regional economy class flights to get ourselves from Langkawi to Bangkok.
(I’d love for a more direct routing to open up – say, Qatar Airways Qsuites award space to open up on Kuala Lumpur–Doha–Frankfurt, but I’m not holding my breath at this stage.)
From New York, a “Latitude Attitude” booking brings us back home to Vancouver onboard Air Canada Signature Class via Montreal. I expect to be quite exhausted but the end of our return journey, but in a good way – and a way that I’ve missed dearly over the past two years.
Kuala Lumpur is one of the world’s best “sweet spots” for luxury hotels at exceedingly affordable prices. When the St. Regis prices less than $200/night and the Alila less than $100/night, you know you’re getting a very sweet deal.
Indeed, I was spoiled for choice as I looked at where to stay over our two nights. Marriott alone has the St. Regis, W, Ritz-Carlton, and JW Marriott as four very attractive options, while Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons – two non-points chains with whom I’ve been meaning to broaden my horizons – are also priced very affordably relative to their quality.
In the end, I knew we wouldn’t be spending too much time at the hotel given our intention to explore the city as much as we could. And since I’m still undecided as to whether I plan to retain Hyatt Globalist status this year, I figured I may as well maximize my Globalist benefits while I still had them.
The Alila Bangsar Kuala Lumpur worked out to be $90/night at the Hyatt Privé rate, which was a deal I simply couldn’t resist. Even its Category 1 designation and the points rate of only 5,000 Hyatt points per night still fell short of our target redemption value of 1.9 cents/point (CAD).
After Kuala Lumpur, we’d then be heading to Penang for three nights, where the hotel options aren’t quite as plentiful.
Still, Marriott Bonvoy has two hotels right beside each other, which would more than serve our needs. I booked two nights at the Courtyard Penang for excellent value at 5,000 Bonvoy points per night, sandwiching a $300/night cash rate at the more upscale Macalister Mansion by Design Hotels on our anniversary.
(Of course, every hotel on this trip is being told we’re “celebrating our anniversary this week” for suite-talking purposes.)
Finally, last time out in Langkawi, we stayed at the Ritz-Carlton and The Andaman, Luxury Collection. This time, we opted to try a new property – and what better option than locking in a good price at a Marriott property that had dynamically increased its pricing as of March 29?
We’ll be at the St. Regis Langkawi, booked using two Free Night Awards worth 50,000 points from Jessy’s Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant Card. I’m excited to conclude our trip with a few relaxing days by the beach, while getting to check out a new corner of a beautiful island that had given us such good memories a few years ago.
Malaysia requires a negative PCR test within two days prior to departure, which we completed in Vancouver. We also had to purchase travel insurance of at least $20,000 (we bought a Manulife one-year plan) and submit a traveller form on the MySejahtera app.
Transiting through Germany, plus potential transits through Singapore and Bangkok, should be manageable for fully-vaccinated travellers, so the only remaining obstacle is a negative antigen test within one day of flying to the United States, which shouldn’t be too difficult to locate.
Of course, Canada has dropped the requirement for a negative test prior to entry as of April 1, meaning that our journey home from New York ought to be smooth sailing.
The agenda for this trip is quite simple: eat good food, celebrate our anniversary, and simply soak in the feeling of being in South East Asia again after two long years of uncertainty as to when we’d get to return to this part of the world.
All the while, there’s a truly spectacular First Class experience to look forward to at the tail end of the trip, as I finally check off one of my most pressing bucket list items in the form of Singapore Airlines A380 New Suites First Class.
It’s so great to be travelling more freely around the world again. This trip kicks off a period of emergent “revenge travel” for me in the spring and summer months, and I’m looking forward to sharing with you the reviews and highlights from the upcoming journeys.