allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 2193 posts, RR: 5 Posted (1 year 7 months 1 week 4 days 19 hours ago) and read 10530 times:
The story so far...
My wife B, four year old son Alex and I have flown Scoot from Sydney to Singapore then AirAsia to Penang and Kuching in Malaysia. Now it's time to strike out and see a new country, Taiwan, one we've never visited before (although it's actual status is the subject of debate which I'm not going to get into here).
During the planning stages I had us flying from Kuching to Kuala Lumpur and on to Taipei with AirAsia or more likely to Singapore with Tiger and Taipei with Jetstar Asia. Basically, this meant overnighting in one of those cities with the added expense of accommodation and transport. Then I found a routing with Malaysia Airlines going "straight" to Taipei. Okay, they aren't considered a low cost airline, but the price was highly competitive with the other options and it meant we'd be "saving" one day.
You see, the more I read about Taiwan, the more excited I was to visit.
Even better, the routing and aircraft offered a bit of interest for an avnut. From Kuching we would fly on Malaysia Airlines' regional service MASWings up to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah with a brief stopover in Bintalu, seeing even more of Malaysia than expected. The MASWings flights would be on ATR72-500s, so we would have a bit of turboprop action as well.
They wouldn't be our first ATR72s in Malaysia, as we flew with FireFly from Kuantan to Singapore back in 2009. I've also ridden a Virgin Australia ATR72-500 between Sydney and Canberra.
I couldn't find any MASWings trip reports on airliners.net (though I don't trust the search), so this might be the first! So I'm dedicating this report to Palmjet, whose love of regional flights is an inspiration.
How would we find Malaysia Airlines after our somewhat controversial last experience with them? They weren't particularly bad experiences, just not indicative of a supposedly five star airline. Then again, our only short-haul flight with MH was pretty good. From BKI we would be flying on a MH 738 to Taipei. I was hoping that it would be one of their new ones with seatback screens. A little luxury would be nice.
After saying goodbye to Mother-in-Law and friend, who had an early flight back to Kuala Lumpur and then Sydney, we spent the morning at the Sarawak Museum and Indian Bazaar. Then we had to race back to the hotel to collect our luggage and head off to the airport. Despite being the middle of the day traffic was slow in parts due to Malaysian schools having two separate sessions a day.
The rush turned out to be unnecessary, as there was plenty of time to check in and pass through security, with landside being pretty empty. Prior to lining up the queue to check in we had to first pass our big luggage through an x-ray machine. The MAS check in agent didn't seem particularly friendly, but we got our boarding passes soon enough and checked in our luggage.
Landside at Kuching Airport was quite pleasant, with sweets stalls, a toy shop (we didn't let Alex in there), tropical reef fish tanks and duty free. Working out which gate to go through to reach airside was confusing. Not only do the Malaysian Borneo states have a separate immigration system to Peninsula Malaysia, but also to each other. As our first destination was Bintulu, still in Sarawak, we had to go through the intra-Sarawak gate and the accompanying security screening.
Our gate was at the far end of the terminal, past the duty free, local products and food shops. We waited a while on the rows of seats, watching other passengers board Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia jets, a military transport land and taxi to the hanger opposite the terminal. Our flight seemed to be filling up fast, judging from the numbers seated nearby.
Alex is a big fan of vending machines. Hopefully nothing smelling like the pictured Rafflesia inside.
Boarding was via stairs and the rear door of the ATR. When I had booked online I had selected seats in row 7, but our boarding passes said row 1. Soon after we sat down B and Alex, sitting in seats 1A and B, were approached by Christine, one of the two flight attendants and the one stationed at the front of the aircraft.
"I'm sorry sir, but we will have to move you."
I realised that the front row was an exit row, and kids weren't allowed. Damn you Malaysia Airlines! Once again you stuff up our seating! Yes, on that last sequence of trips as well MH had managed to split our family up. I was fuming with the supposedly amazing airline for lacking any intelligence. Fortunately, the very friendly and smiley Christine, with the help of another passenger, rearranged things so that B and Alex were sitting behind me in row 2 (B demanded to sit with him) and the swapped passenger sat in 1A. Also fortunate, despite every other seat being filled, he and I had the front rows to ourselves, while Christine took a fold down seat in the aisle facing towards the rear.
Jump seat folded up
40 years of Malaysian Hype...err...Hospitality
Now we were all settled in I was surprised to see a tiny screen fold down from beneath the luggage compartments and display the safety demonstration. This was something I'd never seen in a turboprop before!
After the demonstration the screens stowed themselves again. As we taxi out I can see a old Caribou aircraft parked in the distance, a MASCargo A332 and an AirAsia A320 moving to take off before us.
Caribou in the background
The ATR doesn't seem to require a whole lot of runway to get airborne and we are soon rising above the tarmac and heading northwards.
The airport terminal, looking almost empty
Business aviation - decided to take the "bus" today
Into the clouds
Of all the flights on this trip, this is the one I had dreamed the most about. There was something romantic about cruising above puffy tropical clouds over jungles and sea. And it was, though the skies were a bit hazier and greyer than I imagined, while below the odd lazy brown river snaked through a jungle often obscured by cloud.. The cabin was quite comfortable, pretty jet like really, and Alex soon fell asleep.
Rows 1 and 2
Reasonably fresh, though somewhat sparsely filled, egg and cucumber sandwiches were served, along with apple or orange juice. The tiny screens then dropped down again and I thought we might get some entertainment. Nope, it's advertising time! Did you know that KFC vouchers make a great gift for lovers or business associates? Ads over, the screen disappeared again.
It tasted better than it looked.
Hazy clouds and river
It was grey
Cloudy skies make for bumpy skies, so it wasn't quite as dreamlike as I imagined. As we began our descent into Bintulu the clouds cleared and the sun shone upon the landscape below. It was then that damage wrought on the landscape by logging and the monoculture of palm oil plantations became clearer, compared with the rich diversity of the jungle. Just the difference between the tall jungle trees and the squat palms was interesting enough in itself. The green land was cracked by the scars of roads.
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 2193 posts, RR: 5
Reply 1, posted (1 year 7 months 1 week 4 days 19 hours ago) and read 10532 times:
Bintulu is a rapidly developing city that services the LNG and petrochemical industries. The name means "Place of Gathered Heads", a reference perhaps to the local head hunters. The hospital green airport exterior is large but a little rundown, the two airbridges empty. It felt like nowhere. This was just a 15 minute milk run stop for the aircraft and we would continue on in the same seats in the same aircraft with the same crew.
Bintulu Airport Terminal
Despite having no international services, Bintulu still managed to demonstrate the stupidity of Malaysia's internal immigration system. we had to leave the aircraft, walk across the tarmac, up some stairs and then all the way to the opposite end of the terminal. There we collected some handwritten boarding passes, passed the wrong way through the immigration checkpoint to get our passports stamped and then reverse the whole procedure.
From the side
Welcome to Bintulu. BIMP-EAGA stands for the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area
Walking back again right to the very end
Thanks to the immigration procedures we were the last to board, which made no sense as we were in rows 1 and 2. This leg was a little emptier.
Packing it in
Then the engines were started up, the little screens reemerged and the safety demonstration was shown again. It was actually quite humorous in its way.
In case of turbulence bobble heads may feel dizzy.
The airport is a little outside the city of Bintulu and our takeoff path took us around the coast of this port and river city.
Bintulu from the south
The old airport would have been very convenient
Wisma Bintulu - The Bintulu Development Authority Headquarters
You can see the extent of new housing development.
Christine was again our friendly flight attendant
The flight was much like the previous one, though perhaps a bit rougher as we ascended into dramatic grey skies. The little screen advertising show was repeated - it's just a DVD, then the screens stowed again. We were served rolls again, but this time they contained crab salad.
Pot of gold prospecting, anyone?
How long until this landscape changes again?
Up towards the clouds
Bun anna Coke
Crab and cucumbers. Nice'n'soft.
Between cloud layers, this was looking a little scary for a turbulence hater
Looking a bit grey outside
With nobody in the seat opposite us, I popped over to take a few photos.
The light was nicer on the left.
Our route took us over Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei. Another country I had now "seen".
Bandar Seri Begawan
Pulau Muara Besar. Across the other side is Malaysia.
Shipping off the coast of the Malaysian Federal Territory of Labuan
Alex and B slept while the aircraft entered an area of thick cloud. The cabin was quiet except for the drone of the engines, which I didn't find particularly loud. Welcome to Sabah!
Seats were green and blue. Not particularly cheerful
Getting a little rough
Now and then you could see something
The pilot announced that we had begun our descent into Kota Kinabalu Airport. The capital of Sabah, KK, as it is known locally, stretches out along the coastline against a backdrop of mountains, jungle and plantations. I wondered if I could spot Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Malaysia. As we landed I saw a bolt of lightning flash in the distance and was glad we were down on the ground.
Look at the little buildings on stilts in between the modern developments.
Not sure what this is.
Hong Kong Express I think
Kota Kinabalu International Airport
A MH 737-800 lands. Would this be ours?
Time to get up
Bye faithful ATR72, I enjoyed the trip!
MASWings and MAS
Yet again we encountered Borneo immigration silliness as we had to again go out through a poorly signposted immigration route past an empty security check - we just walked around the x-ray machine. The airport itself was modern and new, but we walked straight to the boarding gate, this time passing through a security check.
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 2193 posts, RR: 5
Reply 2, posted (1 year 7 months 1 week 4 days 19 hours ago) and read 10530 times:
There were two MH 737-800s waiting at gates very close to each other, both having arrived a short time ago. From reading other trip reports I knew that MAS provide an inconsistent product with some 738s having seatback screens and others not, and it's a lottery as to which one you will get. Which would be flying to Taipei: the old livery or the new with its OneWorld logo, MAS having only recently gained membership. I was sure that the latter would have the new product inside.
As a family with young child(ren) we were allowed to board first on the aircraft to be greeted by a smiling crew and burgundy leather seats. What a difference from our last MH 737 flight, in a 400 model, with its jelly bean colours. Actually, I kind of liked the latter and it would have been fun for Alex. No matter, because these seats had personal widescreens mounted on the back. Wide and clear screens! After so many flights on LCCs over the last few years, coupled with the awful, awful screens of MH's 747s, the sight of these decent models brought a smile to the face, especially that of B who has missed them more than me.
Less colour, but more luxury
So much better
Right, the rest of you can board now!
The attendants on this flight were so much warmer and friendlier than on the 747 legs between Australia and Europe. One of the ladies gave Alex a couple of boiled sweets, which he still recalls, and then there was the ever friendly, ever smiling Chief Purser Qasim who was either gay or not gay in the same sense that the famous Malaysian Chef Wan is.
Lemon Tea lolly. You mean I can have tea now Daddy?
Getting in the mood with lighting
Then it was time to taxi out and do the safety demonstration.
Bye again, thanks for the flight!
Let's play the piano!
Nice pagoda in the middle
Crossing the coast
Bumpy trip through the big cloud
Was that Mount Kinabalu?
Outside, a lovely evening light. Inside, fiery orange mood lighting. Once at cruising level the crew handed out earphones.
Orange mood lighting
Leaving the coast
Light and reflection
The crew now came through serving meals. The choice was chicken curry or sichuan fish with noodles. Alex was served first and we gave him the noodles, while we selected chicken curries for ourselves. The food was good quality and all of us loved the cake. Again, better than what we had received for most of the previous MH flights.
Outside it was a hazy pink and orange. But we wanted to watch our movies, selecting "Rio" for Alex and the both of us watching "The Life of Pi" - directed appropriately by Ang Lee of Taiwan. You see, movie watching is a rare luxury for us with a busy daily routine and a four year old kid who sleeps late. We've averaged one trip to the cinema per year since his birth. Rio (which he knows only from the Angry Birds game) didn't keep his attention for long, so it was off to the backup plan of the Android phone/video player with lots of ABC4Kids/BBC shows.
A red mood
Shadows in the sky
Life of Pi. Should have been set in Canberra
We've got the blues
What're you watching?
I struggled to fit the whole movie into the roughly three hour flight time, especially as I had to peek out the window now and then. It is fortunate that I had my own earphones as those supplied in the aircraft were collected before I had finished watching. The cabin lights were switched off and we had views of sparkling city lights as we descended into Taoyuan International Airport.
Taxiing past Cathay and China Airlines A330s.
We all agreed that we had just had one of the best flights for a while (discounting some of my solo travels). Great comfort, food, entertainment and crew. They had even got our seats right on this last leg. A couple of little niggles: the announcements were very muffled and difficult to understand, the entertainment selection a bit lacking and the flight map had a few issues. But if Malaysia Airlines could consistently provide this level of service and comfort then we'd be happy to fly with them in future.
Arriving in a new country is always accompanied by a bit of trepidation, especially when you don't speak or read the local language. That makes it exciting as well. Taipei's Taoyuan Airport was interesting in design, but looking a little worn around the edges. We passed through immigration, grabbed some brochures from the tourist office, some money from the ATM (you need to know what kind of global program your ATM card is member of, like Cirrus or Maestro) and bus tickets to the Taipei's main station.
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 2193 posts, RR: 5
Reply 3, posted (1 year 7 months 1 week 4 days 19 hours ago) and read 10517 times:
We stayed in the CityInn II nearby to Taipei's main train and bus stations. Whilst down market from our Singapore and Malaysian abodes it was much closer to what we usually stay in Japan. Free washing machines, video on demand, internet, central kitchen facilities and helpful staff who speak English. I would definitely stay there again.
My impression of Taiwan was that of a grittier, more Chinese version of Japan. Unsurprising, due to its history of occupation by both. Though much of the local Chinese cuisine wasn't necessarily to our taste, there are lots of food options and no reason to starve or hit the western chains (unless you are hungry at 11pm and don't feel like going far from the CityInn). The people are friendly and helpful, except when in a crowd (which may be composed mostly of mainlanders), when they push-push-push. My top tip is don't go anywhere touristy on a weekend. We tried doing the Pingxi Scenic Line and the trains were totally chockers. Same with the Shilin food market. But other than that we loved it and definitely want to return to Taiwan in future. So many trains to catch...
Streets of old town area
Great idea for showing occupied toilets. Even more useful for women.
Old parts robot
We had to take elevator mad Alex up the world's fastest.
View from atop Taipei 101
View from Taipei 101
Songshan in the distance
Damper boy, not made of flour
We spotted Bigfoot
Portashrine. They use scooters everywhere and for everything
Modern Toilet. The food's not great, it's expensive and the queues are long. But we did it for our toilet obsessed son
Fancy a cistern of tea?
Don't you hate it when they are too hard?
Ahh, that came out easier!
Train to Ruifang
I found the architecture quite interesting in a gritty kind of way.
Love messages to a diesel? Jintong station
This line was originally built to transport coal.
The train line runs right through the middle of Shifen
Messages requesting luck.
Shilin night market food
National Palace Museum, full of Chinese treasures of no interest to a four year old.
The area around Yuanshan MRT station is great for watching flights to Songshan Airport.
Dalong Street Night Market
Temple at Tamsui
As our flight from Taipei to Narita airport left way too early in the morning we transferred to the Novotel at Taoyuan Airport for our final night. Amazing hotel, not just for its great view of the airport. Very friendly staff, great food at the restaurant, indoor swimming pool and best of all, lots of toys for kids. There was even a giant panda plush toy waiting in our room for him. We really wished we'd arrived earlier.
Taiwan's version of the Shinkansen took us to Taoyuan station.
Views from our room at the Novotel
The airport was fairly quiet at night.
In the next instalment we fly Scoot again from TPE to NRT and I'll share more pictures of our time in Japan. See you then!
CdnCactus From Canada, joined Mar 2013, 196 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (1 year 7 months 1 week 4 days 18 hours ago) and read 10412 times:
Thank you for the report. I just came back from a month long stay in Taiwan and now I feel like hopping on a plane and head back...haha.
You're right about tourist attractions being overrun by "Mainlanders"; Taiwanese have a semi-love/hate relationship with them - the economy needs the infusion of their cash but some of them can really try your patience.
I wasn't able to get to TSA to do some spotting. Maybe next time...
palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1223 posts, RR: 17
Reply 7, posted (1 year 7 months 1 week 4 days 13 hours ago) and read 9961 times:
Quote: I couldn't find any MASWings trip reports on airliners.net (though I don't trust the search), so this might be the first! So I'm dedicating this report to Palmjet, whose love of regional flights is an inspiration.
Ha! Thank you for the dedication. I really do enjoy a good regional or multi-stop trip. Yours looked excellent. What a great way to get to TPE. I don't recall reading any MASWings reports, at least not recently.
Quote: My legroom
Nice legs (again) !
Looks like the ATR72 flights went well overall - and not too bouncy or turbulent for you. Those seats look quite old fashioned - certainly not the slimline lightweight versions that Virgin Australia have on their ATRs? The fold down screens on the ATR were pretty neat too - can you remember whether Virgin's also have those? I wonder if they are now standard issue with the newer versions of the ATRs?
Crab and cucumber? Yuck - two of my least liked foods - in one sandwich. Ugh.
Great to see you were on the new MH 738 too. I sampled my first Boeing Sky Interior 737 with QF only last month between SYD and BNE and it was pretty nifty inside, especially with all the disco lights and colour changes.
Looks like good quality service on that last sector as well - the meals looked quite tasty.
TPE is a city close to my heart - I visited there in 1990, again in 1992 and lived there in 1994-1995 as a student. The Taiwanese are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people on the planet and I had a great time there. The pushing and shoving, however, common at bus stops and other public transport sites, has been a feature of life there for a long time, and long before the mainlanders arrived (!) The first time I was in Taiwan, it was only 3 or so years since the lifting of martial law, so it was a very different place back then and there were few tourists. It was a challenge if you did not speak Chinese. I really need to go back and see what's changed - your report has been great to get me thinking about how and when, and most importantly, with which airline!
allrite From Australia, joined Aug 2007, 2193 posts, RR: 5
Reply 8, posted (1 year 7 months 1 week 4 days 9 hours ago) and read 9614 times:
Quoting Carfield (Reply 4): MAS Wings sounds like a pretty good regional airline. The free sandwiches caught me off guard... these days a free sandwich is pretty amazing.
I found them reasonably close to QantasLink in Australia, where they also often seem to serve meals, or at least a snack on short flights.
Quoting Carfield (Reply 4): It is an OW livery plane, so it should be easy to find out the rego.
I tried, but it seems like there's more than one when I look at the photos.
Quoting CdnCactus (Reply 5): Thank you for the report. I just came back from a month long stay in Taiwan and now I feel like hopping on a plane and head back...haha.
Thanks! We were in no hurry to leave.
Quoting dirktraveller (Reply 6): Seems you had a really pleasant experience on board your mainline MH flight. So how did they rate as a 5* airline group? or maybe compared to other carriers in the region you have flown?
I'm in two minds about what to rate MH. The 738 flight was probably close to 5 stars, but it's only a short flight in a narrowbody. But it could so easily have been worse on a different plane in their fleet. My expectations of MASWings weren't particularly high, but they delivered a service close to my benchmark of QantasLink, so I don't have any complaints. Overall, if the 738 flight is an indication of what they will provide with more modern aircraft then they could we be deserved of a 4 or 5 star ranking.
Where I really feel let down was in service on the ground. A lot of the fault probably lies with regional authorities and Malaysian Airports, but I also found check in staff at both AirAsia and MAS to be a grumpy lot. The fact that the MAS agent didn't catch the fact that a child was seated in row 1 doesn't speak highly of their skills or training and it reminded me of the Malaysian check in staff on our long haul MH flights and our seating issues there. No initiative! Other airlines query us if we aren't seated together.
Only my wife can say that! :P Many years ago I remember young cousins in Malaysia being fascinated with those hairy monkey legs.
Quoting palmjet (Reply 7): Those seats look quite old fashioned - certainly not the slimline lightweight versions that Virgin Australia have on their ATRs? The fold down screens on the ATR were pretty neat too - can you remember whether Virgin's also have those? I wonder if they are now standard issue with the newer versions of the ATRs?
The aircraft certainly didn't feel brand new, but I preferred the cabin to that of Virgin Australia's ATRs. I don't recall seeing those screens on the Virgin Aus aircraft - I think I've only seen fold down screens on Qantas 737-400s (maybe the 800 as well). I suspect that MASWing's system is fairly old too. Who would use a DVD as a source these days when a hard disk or solid state would save on weight and maintenance?
Quoting palmjet (Reply 7): I sampled my first Boeing Sky Interior 737 with QF only last month between SYD and BNE and it was pretty nifty inside, especially with all the disco lights and colour changes.
I had it first on a VA 737 SYD-MEL. I read in an old Qantas magazine that they first had mood lighting in the 707. Was just imagining John Travolta's aircraft decked out with disco lights (and him in a white pilots uniform).
Quoting palmjet (Reply 7): Crab and cucumber? Yuck - two of my least liked foods - in one sandwich. Ugh.
So you don't like foods beginning with the letter C?
Quoting palmjet (Reply 7): The Taiwanese are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people on the planet and I had a great time there. The pushing and shoving, however, common at bus stops and other public transport sites, has been a feature of life there for a long time, and long before the mainlanders arrived (!) The first time I was in Taiwan, it was only 3 or so years since the lifting of martial law, so it was a very different place back then and there were few tourists. It was a challenge if you did not speak Chinese.
We certainly found them friendly. I think my enduring memory will be of the warmth of the staff at the Novotel Taoyuan, more so than at any other Novotel we've stayed at, but we experienced it in so many other places. There feels to be more warmth in the Taiwanese than the hardness in so many of their mainland cousins. The pushing and shoving wasn't a shock - we've been to mainland China - but it's the kind of thing you don't wish for when you are trying to holiday away from peak hour public transport commutes at home.
There was still a language barrier with our Mandarin being limited and I did discover the joy of Google Translate via a phone camera where wifi was available. But there was usually enough English to get by.
Quoting palmjet (Reply 7): I really need to go back and see what's changed - your report has been great to get me thinking about how and when, and most importantly, with which airline!
I think we definitely want to return. I'm highly tempted to do a routing via Singapore or Malaysia up to Taiwan and onwards to Japan again, considering the availability of low cost airlines. It looked like there were quite a few turboprops flying around Taiwan for you too!
One photo I meant to share:
Malaysia is always going on about being number 1. Well, they'll have to give a lot more blood to knock Taiwan off its perch!