Trip report AKL KUL BKI // SDK BKI KUL AKL
Well , here goes , I have never done a trip report before , but I was inspired by CX777Fans recent report on his trip to Borneo .
NRT To The Jungles Of Borneo On MH. 4 AC Types. (by CX777Fan Jan 17 2006 in Trip Reports)
And I rashly promised that I would write one since I was in Borneo a couple of months earlier .
3 May 2003 - my partner and I are off on a slightly premature 40th treat for me ( 2 months early to be exact ) and we weren’t going to let a little thing like SARS hysteria ruin it for us .
At the time I was working in the travel industry , but no AD/ID ticket for me this time … we had splashed out for the real thing , a genuine revenue ticket , albeit in economy , on MH ( although we took advantage of a great offer they had at the time to upgrade the return KUL-AKL leg to business class for a reasonably modest sum - sorry , can’t remember the exact amount ).
My only previous experience of MH had been a weekend trip AKL-BNE return for a company conference and as often happens with these things it had been a bit of a blur so I didn’t really remember much .
At the time MH had their own separate check-in at AKL at the extreme end of the terminal ( not sure if this is still the case ) as I worked for a big consolidator , and my partner worked for a company which bought lots of cargo space on MH we dropped some fairly heavy hints at check-in about upgrades …but to no avail , we did , however , secure window/aisle seats right at the back of the last cabin where the seating changes from 3-4-3 to 2-4-2 . Some people don’t like these because they are close to the toilets - but I like to stay hydrated and if I take these seats not only do we not have to worry about being in a ‘triple’ with someone else , but I can check when there is a queue starting to form and get myself in it before I am desperate ( just avoid the very back pair of seats as they are limited recline) . MH are one of the last bastions of 34” seat pitch in economy .
IFE - this was pre AVOD but MH did have the little seat back Tvs - a fairly limited selection of movies and most of them six months or more old but since I spent most of my time with the moving map on that didn’t really matter .
A word or two about the crew … the uniforms for the female crew are very fetching … but the guys ! What were they thinking … two badly mismatched shades of green … absolutely hideous . Most of the crew are Muslim and as a consequence have very little idea about alcohol - this results in some wonderfully generous measures but you really need to keep an eye on what you are drinking … I also have to say that the wine might have been selected by a non-drinker as well …it was …. ‘adequate’. The crew were very obliging and while I am not trying to restart the eternal MH/SQ slagging match I have to say that in my opinion they seemed less robotic and more genuine than the SQ crews I have previously encountered .
An interesting feature of MH if you have never traveled on them before is the indicator on the main screen showing in which direction Mecca lies .
An uneventful flight with nice views out the window of the Queensland interior before hitting the coast … sadly there was cloud cover most of the rest of the way to KUL. After three years I don’t remember the specifics of the meals , but I do remember enjoying them .
Arriving at the massive KUL airport which is underutilized at the best of times , but with people panicking over SARS even quieter than usual you could understand how it is described as ‘the airport in the jungle’. We had an early morning start the next day to fly on to BKI ( Kota Kinabalu ) in Borneo so had chosen a cheap but adequate hotel near the airport .
Up early the next morning and waiting for the shuttle to take us to the airport I noticed a group that were clearly airline crew … but which airline … the uniforms were extremely colorful without being gaudy . Eventually we worked out that they were from Merpati - at this point an extremely inappropriate thought was running through my head …. No , not that sort of inappropriate thought .. A previous colleague of mine used to sing “It’s Merpati and I’ll die if I want to” to the tune of “it’s my party” as his comment on their previously irregular safety record and of course without thinking about it I found myself starting to hum it …. Fortunately my humming is pretty unrecognizable ( much like my ‘singing’ ) so nobody caught on . Incident avoided … phew !
The flight from KUL to BKI in a 737-400 takes around 2 hours . A nice breakfast was served and we had a chance to do a bit of island spotting on the way - for the last 40 minutes or so we flew more or less parallel to the Borneo coast . “Borneo” … isn’t it funny how some place names evoke the romance and mystery of travel …for me Borneo has always been one of those names . On approach we could see Mt Kinabalu in the distance which we would be climbing in a few days time . As we taxied in I noticed a couple of Air Asia a/c , first time sighting for me , surprisingly I hadn’t noticed any at KUL , but then I was half asleep.
For those of you who are only interested in the a/c side of trip reports please skip the next few paragraphs as they will be totally devoid of interest to you.
Borneo lived up to my expectations . Kota Kinabalu ( or KK as everyone refers to it ) is the gateway for exploring the Malaysian province of Sabah and has a slightly frontier feel about it . Over the next week and a half we had some really wild experiences . First up we spent a night being hosted at a village beside Mt Kinabalu - the rice wine was strong enough … but the coconut wine was ….. Well , let‘s just say it was ‘different‘ . After a recovery day we ‘climbed’ ( I have to be honest , it was more a hard walk than a climb) Mt Kinabalu - a fantastic experience split into two parts - you start from about 1800m altitude and climb through the jungle , getting occasional views of the sea on the way , to the rest house at Laban Rata ( 3261 metres ) where you try to sleep for a few hours before getting up in the small hours to climb the rest of the mountain in darkness so that you can be at the summit (4101m - although there is some dispute over this ) to view the sunrise . During the night climb it was incredible to watch lightning below us out to sea . As often happens , coming down was even harder than going up and everyone was very happy that our next stop was the hot springs at Poring where we massaged away our aches and pains in scalding hot water surrounded by jungle and some of the most amazing butterflies I have ever seen . Unfortunately the forest canopy walkway was closed for maintenance while we were there , I have heard that it is amazing .
The next night involved camping out in the jungle - the real thing ! Our group leader had a treat in store for us as well , a night hike away from the camp , only about 5 of us went on it … part way through we had to climb across a depression using a fallen log , not being a great one for heights I decided to stay there and wait for the rest of the group to come back … it was a very ‘interesting’ feeling watching the rest of the group disappear and to be left standing on my own in the jungle armed only with a flashlight . I decided to test myself and turn it off then count to 60 in the pitch black , I started off calmly enough 1 …, 2.…, 3..., But as the background noises got louder my heart started thumping and my breathing quickened … so did my counting 57,58,59 ,60 … I turned the light back on . Afterwards some of the other people in the group told me that they thought staying there alone was far scarier than walking across the fallen log .
The next night was another homestay , this time in a remote village … my partner and I were hosted by a very sweet family who apologized for only having one guest bed and hoped we didn’t mind sharing it . We had a quiet chuckle to ourselves … how subversive , getting a very conservative muslim rural Malay family to put two gay men in a bed together , however out of respect for our hosts , and because we were dead tired we did not abuse their hospitality and went straight to sleep.
Up at the crack of dawn for a longboat ride up the river … saw a lot of monkeys , many birds and a few crocodiles , including a rather large one which submerged very close to our boat causing a few nervous exclamations from the group.
The next day we were off to what many regarded as the highlight of the trip . The Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary . Sadly , these beautiful creatures are pretty much doomed regardless of the hard work being done at this and other refuges . Their habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate ….what for ? Palm oil plantations as far as the eye can see and then some , palm oil is a vile product and one of the few vegetable oils that is almost totally devoid of any health value … in fact for what it does to your body you might as well be using lard , such a tragic waste . There is never any guarantee that you will get to see the Orangs as they are free to come and go as they please, it is important not to touch them or get too close as they have no immunity for common human ailments and can easily succomb to a cold or viral infection . They were very engaging to watch and around a dozen of them came out of the surrounding jungle to the viewing area . One pair even put on a “Discovery Channel” type sex show for us much to the horror of some Malays who hurried their kids away . Murphys Law struck on the way back to our camp. I had just put my camera back in to my pack and put the pack on my back when we turned a corner on the trail , and about 10 metres away there was an adolescent male Orang coming the other way , he passed within about a metre of us . I consoled myself with the thought that while it might have been a great photo , it was an even greater memory …. And he wouldn’t have looked half as impressive viewed through a camera as he did with no barrier of any sort between my own eyes and his .
Next day off to the former capital of British North Borneo , Sandakan , a sleepy but pleasant little place which made KK look like a metropolis . We had a launch trip out to an island for some turtle watching … and on the way a pair of amorous turtles provided us with another “Discovery Channel” moment . Thanks to SARS the island accommodation was very empty and although the group were on a no frills budget we got upgraded to really nice accommodation . We snorkeled and sunbathed/sunburned for a while until the order at sunset to get out of the water and off the beach so as not to scare away the stars of the occasion - at that point it was time to head to dinner and then the bar awaiting the moment when call would come to go back to the beach . To minimise stress to the turtles the groups are only allowed to approach one selected female each night leaving the rest in peace , surprisingly the turtles are less stressed if you are behind them and so we enjoyed the fabulous if bizarre sight of this large female turtle laying her leathery eggs with a group of about 16 hushed and expectant travelers crouched behind her . As soon as she finishes the laborious task of laying and burying her eggs she heads back to the water … at this point the eggs are carefully dug up again and transferred to the hatchery where they will be safe from the eagerly waiting Monitor lizards . The last part of the night involves the release of a batch of freshly hatched turtles - they are miniscule compared to their mothers and we each take one gently down to the waters edge and release it , hoping that somehow , against the odds it will survive and grow up to return to this beach one day and start the cycle all over again .
Ok … plane buffs start reading again … we have a relatively rare bird coming up . The fokker 50 took us on the short hop from SDK ( Sandakan ) back to BKI ( KK ) on the way we flew past the side of Mt Kinabalu looking out at the summit , where , one week earlier ( where did the time go ?) we had watched the sun rise .
I like the fokker 50 as not surprisingly it reminded me of the good old F27 which most Kiwis of my age have fond memories of . The high wing makes for good views , although I didn’t like the F50 windows as much as the F27 ones. Got great views of KK as we headed back in for our last night in Borneo relaxing by the beach .
The next day we headed back to BKI airport . The SARS panic was still in full swing … and we saw a couple of tourists who were into the full facemask thing… the only thing was that they couldn’t understand each other when they were talking so they kept taking the masks off and then putting them back on , inevitably one of them dropped their mask on the floor where it was walked over before they put it back on , so much for hygiene ! Our 737-400 back to KL had actually originated in TPE … you should have seen the look on this couples face when they realized it ! They tried to change to a later flight but then found out that the later flight originated in HKG - they settled for our flight which was great as we spent the next two hours watching them trying to eat their lunch and drink their drinks through the masks . Before we knew it we were on the ground at KL where as we disembarked we had our temperatures taken and were asked some questions about our health . A far greater threat to our health , both physically and mentally , was the taxi ride into KL - I wish we had taken the train , however , the taxi driver failed in his desire to commit suicide and take us with him and dropped us off at the Mandarin Oriental , where , in contrast to the “roughing it” of the rest of the holiday we were to enjoy unabashed luxury . Thanks to SARS we got a luxurious room for the equivalent of USD70 per night , less than a third of the standard rate - we had magnificent views of , and into , the Petronas Towers barely 50 metres away from our window.
After two days in KL it was time to go home , we had learned our lesson after our insane taxi driver and decided to relax and take the train out to the airport . MH customers can check in a KL Sentral station which is very civilized and we decided to take advantage of this , as business class pax we were also given the vouchers which entitled us to use the premium queue for exit formalities . By contrast with the taxi ride the train was very relaxing . We arrived at the airport and once again it was almost deserted which was a real shame because it meant that there was no queue at all for us to jump for exit formalities . We made our way to the business class lounge and decided to have showers before we boarded since we had checked out of our hotel in the morning and it was now early evening in a very humid part of the world . Hubby went and got given a towel , I was behind him in the queue and they explained to me that all the cubicles were occupied but if I took a seat they would call me when one became available . I sat and waited , about 5 minutes later someone else walked up to the counter and got given a towel and sent off to a cubicle …. If you are the sort of person who gets abusive and angry when something goes wrong read on and learn … I walked up and politely reminded the gentleman on the desk that I had been waiting for a shower cubicle , he was very apologetic and embarrassed and asked me to come with him , he then led me to the First class lounge where I was given my own bathroom …. Very nice!
Time to board and hubby and I took our seats upstairs in a very empty business class section . This was pre-refit so they were still business class seats unlike the current MH product . About two hours into the flight I remarked to my partner that the guy about three rows ahead of us looked familiar , shortly afterwards I went forward to use the toilet and sure enough on the way back to my seat I recognized the Marketing Manager from my company on his way back from a conference in JNB . No AVOD but still had personal Tvs and very nice catering , as it was a mostly overnight flight I quickly settled down into the doze that usually passes for sleep on a flight . At the time of this trip MH had daily flights into AKL , of which three or four per week routed via BNE - unfortunately this was one of those flights , I say ‘unfortunately’ because the Australian authorities are nearly as paranoid as the American ones with the result that even though we were on the ground for only 90 minutes we were required to disembark with all our hand luggage and go through security screening before being allowed to reboard - what a PITA and , I am sure , a WOFTAM as well .
All in all a great trip with an airline that doesn’t seem to get the recognition it deserves .