First, thanks for reading. This trip was back in 2003, so those who want tail numbers and a course by course description of dinner may as well stop reading now. Sorry, no pics, but I'll write as descriptively as I can.
Date: 26 May 2003
Flight: MH 081
NRT-BKI (Tokyo Narita to Kota Kinabalu - Sabah, Malaysia)
Flight Time: Approx 6 Hours
Seat: 29k - Economy, Exit Row.
This flight was taken around the time of the SARS outbreak in SE Asia, so arriving at Narita around 11am was eerily quiet as a lot of Japanese travellers cancelled their trips overseas - whether to a SARS affected country or not.
Checkin and immigration were usual NRT T2 efficiency. When my partner and I arrived at the gate, we had to double check the mnitors to make sure it hadn't been changed. There was a big MH 777 parked outside and only a couple of dozen pax waiting. As it turned out, only about 30-40 people would be flying to Kota Kinabalu or on to KL today.
Despite the small number of passengers, there was the usual number of cabin crew, however on this flight they didn't seem to be working very hard. On such an empty flight, one might expect top level service (at least so far as Y class goes), especially from an airline with MH's reputation. While the service wasn't bad, it lacked some of the warmth of JL/CX/SQ. A bar service and lunch were served. IFE was of a high standard on PTVs. The 777 was spotlessly clean and a beautiful aircraft to fly on.
Prior to landing, an announcement was made that upon disembarking, all passengers would have their temperatures taken individually on the jetbridge before entering the terminal. A SARS survey was also distributed along with imigration forms. Sure enough, after leaving the ac a doctor and a number of nerses were sticking thermometers in everyone's ears and asking the same questions as were printed on the health form.
That same evening we were connecting to a flight to Miri in Sarawak, but MH staff told us we had to clear immigration and check in again. Once inside the terminal, we walked up and down trying to find the way to immigration. It wasn't signposted at all. Most other pax from our flight seemed to be transiting and continuing on the same AC to KL, and as pax were coming through the health screening one by one, there was no line of people to follow. Eventually, a cleaning lady pointed to a flight of stairs which lead down to arrivals immigration. We collected our waiting luggage and exited the terminal. For some reason I was expecting a busy terminal with lots of taxi drivers and hotel touts vying for business...like many airports in SE and South asia. However, the only other people around were a couple of family groups of Japanese tourists who had all donned their face masks for fear of SARS. (The irony being that Sabah and Sarawak had no reported cases of the disease, while Japan in fact did have a couple of isolated out breaks!)
We changed some money, went upstairs and got a coffee (terrible) and fruit tart (wonderful) at a chain store-style cafe. Our layover was about 3 hours, which was quite long as Kota Kinabalu airport isn't really interesting. After checking in amd getting back into the main terminal area it was getting a bit dark for spotting, but what I waw was an assortment of MH a/c (777, 737-400, F50) and some Air Asia jets.
Date: 26 May 2003
Flight: MH 2829
BKI-MYY (Kota Kinabalu-Miri)
Flight Time: 55 mins
Walking across the tarmac to the a/c, I was excited about this flight because it was my first flight on an F-50 and essentially, my first non-jet flight. I still remember clearly the sound and the feeling of the engines coming on and how the whole aircraft seemed to rock with the power the props generated. The flight was full and the cabin was fairly cramped and old. The lights seemed to give off a greeny-yellow palour - a big contrast to the flight from NRT on a nice shiny 777!
As someone used to jets, the take off roll seemed slow and "powerless" but we lifted off without using up much of the runway and gently and gracefully (if not quietly) became airborne for the hop down the west coast of Borneo for Miri. From memory our cruising altitude was 16 000 feet and the flight took off and landed about 15 minutes late.
Drinks were served on this flight that was mostly full of Malaysian business men. There were a few bumps along the way, but nothing serious. Our landing in Miri was one of the smoothest landings I've ever experienced!
We spend just one night in a sea side hotel in Miri which was very comfortable. We were just able to get dinner before the restaurant closed at midnight. The next morning we wer up fairly early to get a taxi back to the airport (in the midst of a tropical downpour).
Date: 27 May 2003
Flight: MH 2614
Flight Time: 30 mins
Seat: Not assigned.
This reamains to date one of the best flights of my life - eclipsed perhaps only by the flight back to Miri a couple of days later.
Check in was done outside the terminal in kind of a covered porch and it was all a bit chaotic. There were seperate queues for flights to places like KK, Kuchin and KL. Then a line with a sign for "up country" flights - or something like that. We joined the up-country line and were placing bets on the likelihood of miles actually being credited for this flight. (I won, they were!) At the counter, a very surly middle aged woman looked after our tickets while an ancient man weighed our bags on an old fashioned scale with a big round dial. Handwritten tags with the destination and weight were tied to our bags with elastic. Next I was surprised to hear "Now, sir, please step on the scale". With a smile I dutifully stood on the scale and watched as my weight was written down next to my name on a computer print out of the passenger list.
Walking out across the tarmac to our twin otter was exciting. Apart from 10 minutes ina cessna when I went sky diving, this would be the smallest a/c I'd ever flown on. I climed the couple of stairs into a dark a/c interior reminiscent of a mini bus. The seats were light brown bench seats just like you'd see in a toyota people mover. The only difference being the a/c seat belts. I took a window seat near the back of the a/c which was more or less full. There were obviously no cabin crew. Prior to take off, the co-pilot simply ducked his head through the open door/hatch into the cockpit and did a head count and told everyone to fasten their seatbelts. About 50% of us obeyed.
As we taxied to the runway, it was fun being able to watch the pilots through the hatchway busy completing their checks and twisting knobs and flicking switches to prepare for the flight. We lined up on the runway and suddenly the DHC-6 seemed very small. The props started spinning faster and faster, and the feeling of the whole a/c being alive that I'd experienced the night before on the F-50 was repeated ten-fold on this one before the breaks were releases and we started rolling down the runway. Without using much runway a all, and at a comparitively low speed to a jet (obviously) we gradually became airborne. We turned inland and the view from 12 000 feet just got better and better! The city gave way to agricultural land, which then gave way to forest. After about 15 minutes, we flew over a high ridge and over a high jungle plateau. As we crossed the edge of the plateau there was a bit of bumpy air which the co-pilot had told us to expect. Now the view was even better, the ground was probably a thousand feet closer and we could make out rivers and hills amongst an otherwise fairly flat sea of beautiful green jungle.
All too soon, we started our descent. As we got closer to the ground howwever, it became evident that the landscape wasn't as uniform and flat as it had seemed from up high. Our final approach was a fairly exciting descending zig zag around the airstrip to allow us to land facing the direction we'd just come from. There seemed to be a bit of a crosswnd as we came down, as the final seconds were bumpy and we landed on the left-side wheels first. When the door opened, I didn't want to leave the a/c, however I was lured outside by the rich aromas of the jungle all around the tiny airport. The smell of the air was almost liquid it was so rich with oxygen and the life of one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.
3 days at the Royal Mulu Resort was too short. As well as walking through the jungle, we visited some of the most amzing cave systems in the world. The sight, sound and smell of 5 million bats leaving the world's biggest enclosed chamber at dusk will remain with me for life.
The flight back to Miri was just as enthralling as the flight into the jungle. This time however, it was obvious that miles wouldn't make it to my account as Mulu airport didn't have a computer! After checking in with the same process of being weighed, and being handed a "boarding pass" (a bit of MH paper with my name and "miri" written on it) by a local-looking bloke in a cowboy hat, I waited in the "waiting area". The waiting area was simply a covered porch adjacent to the single checkin counter with its antique scales. Certainly no premium lounges here! This also seemed such a long way away from sipping G&Ts on a 777 while watching Hollywood films on my PTV.
The sound of the approaching flight from Miri was unmistakable. It landed and the pilots joined the passengers in the waiting area for a cigarette and a cup of tea before heading back to the a/c. on the way they announced that the plane was ready for boarding. Boarding meant stepping over the scales and behind the counter to go out the back door on to the tarmac. On the way through the back office, was the only consollation to the modern world - a fax machine with passenger manifests waiting to be read and ticked off as pax checked in.
for the return flight, i grabbed a seat in the front row next to the open cockpit door. This time to co-pilot asked one or two people to shift seats to balance the weight inside the a/c. Our flight back took us over the spectacular limestone pinicles that the area is famous for. Seeing the jungle give way to agriculture, then the city of Miri was something of an anticlimax after my "jungle adventure"
We had a short transit then a totally unmemorable 737 flight back up to Kota-kinabalu. The only thing I do remember about that flight was how quiet and fast a 737 felt after the planes I'd flown on the previous few days.
Next a few days of sun on the islands off KK and wonderful seafood. Followed by the 777 night flight back to Tokyo. I remember service was a bit better on this flight, but I slept for most of it. The Japanese package tourists who had spent the week playing golf at the resorts just outside KK wearing surgical masks, all dutifully took thir SARS masks off upon arrival at NRT. Ah the irony.
This trip report probably bored a lot of readers, but I enjoyed re-ling the memories and the contrasts of my flights with MH into the jungles of Borneo.