After a few days in Singapore being soaked by the rain, it was time to head up to Malaysia. The first leg of my Malaysian adventure would take me across the Strait of Johor to Johor Bahru, where I would then go onto JHB (Senai International Airport) for a flight to Penang.
Why fly this way instead of a nice, comfortable ride to SIN
and a flight on a SQ
777? Simple. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
wanted to charge well over SGD200 for the flight (MH was even dearer ...), whereas the not-really-discounted AK
was a mere RM117. Even after adding taxi
fare from my hotel in Singapore to JHB I would still come out substantially ahead. And the enthusiast in me wanted to visit another new airport ...
Singapore to JHB
I found practical information on getting to/from JHB from SIN
to be rather lacking (even the Singapore Information Centre and the hotel concierge doesn t have any practical guides, only what they can find from "official" sites), so I hope this helps those of you who wants to fly lower-cost from SIN
My flight would depart at 10:35 from JHB, but everyone seems to think that the causeway crossing would take forever, so I decided to leave very early at about 6:30, catching a taxi from my hotel (Furama Riverfront) to the Johor Bus Terminal
on Queen Street
near Little India. This bus terminal is within walking distance of the Bugis MRT
station. I must ve been influenced by the lack of sleep and the pitch dark, but I still think the bus terminal looks like the dirtiest place in squeaky-clean Singapore! A prelude of Malaysia, indeed ...
From here there are regular express (and not so express) buses that go to Johor Bahru via the Causeway. I caught the first of the Johor Bahru Expresses (S$2.50), which runs every 15 minutes or so. You could also catch SBS Transit's Route 170, but this takes a little while longer than the direct expresses. For an extra S$1 you may as well travel direct.
One note of caution is that you need to lug your luggage up onto the buses, which surprisingly have no provision for travellers with baggage. On this not-so-full service it was OK
We departed Queen St direct and flew through the quiet darkness of Singapore, getting onto the PIE
and then the BKE (the abbreviations of the expressways in Singapore). The traffic is still very light as it is barely 7:00am. Before long the first immigration checkpoint at Woodlands came into view.
You have to get your luggage out here before trudging up to get an exit stamp from Singapore. Come back out the other side, you have to find the right queue to join to catch the next bus that turns up. It was quite easy as there s very few other people doing the border crossing at the time, but not as easy if you re travelling at a busier time.
It didn't take long for the whole bus to be cleared through immigration and we departed for the Causeway. The traffic coming the other way was absolutely horrendous whilst we got a clear passage through. It s actually quite a pretty border crossing as the buildings of Johor Bahru came into view.
It s safe to say the Malaysian checkpoint set the tone for the rest of Malaysia. After the squeaky-cleaniness and complete efficiency of Woodlands came the dirty, inefficiency of Johor immigration ... they didn't even have arrival cards at any of the holders so you had to go and ask the officers to give you one! (who I might add weren't exactly looking sharp, rather sleepy actually)
At least there was no queue. I had my passport stamped and onwards I went. Came out the other side to find a throng of touting taxi drivers (another feature of life in Malaysia that's outlawed in Singapore) welcoming me to Malaysia. Travelling with a suitcase, they obviously read I was going to JHB. The Chinese taxi drivers touted in Chinese (as I m Chinese) and the rest in English ...
As it was still very early (7:45am), I decided to take a walk around downtown Johor Bahru before catching a taxi (or the airport bus) to JHB. I later realised that I could re-board the bus to get to the City Airport Lounge just had to battle through those cabbies and cross the road. (So for others if you had gone into the pedestrian tunnel you've gone the wrong way!)
Downtown Johor is quite interesting to say the least, it was early but there was a lot of bustle already! I took a walk along Jln Wong Ah Fook, where food stalls dominated as were what looked to be empty shopfronts (but they could just be closed at that time of the morning). I love how there's steps in the footpath every 50m or so - lucky my suitcase wasn't heavy!
After a while I was getting hot and sweaty and the "weightlifting" was taking its toll. I decided to hail a taxi. Ah, the joy of non-metered taxis. The going rate is apparently around RM35, but I found no taxi driver would accept anything lower than RM50. Oh well, what's a few Aussie Dollars?
30 minutes later, after the driver testing the acceleration and top speed of the Proton Sata, I arrived at JHB, about 2 hours after I set out from my hotel in Singapore. However, this was done when there was hardly any queues at Immigration and hardly any traffic.
Date: Friday December 7, 2007
Route: Johor Bahru JHB - Penang PEN
Aircraft: Airbus A320 9M-AFX
I never worked out what on earth those x-ray machines at the entrance of the check-in areas did. The operators were best described as vegetables and I managed to pick up my suitcase at the other end without them going through this machine.
Check-in at Air Asia opens 2 hours before departure so it was a few minutes wait before I could check-in, time spent going to the bookstore and getting copies of the day s Chinese and English newspapers. When it opened it was a painless process where I got my shopping receipt ... I mean boarding pass from the agent.
By now I was getting a little hungry, so I made a beeline to the airport restaurant for some ultra-expensive, ultra-bad noodles (RM5).
After spending some time reading the paper it was time to go to the gate. JHB only has 4 airbridges and none of them were in use. It actually looked a bit like a ghost-town air-side. But the terminal is rather lovely, with floor-to-ceiling glass (albeit tinted). Our gate would be waaaaaaaaaaay down the other end, of course! I arrived in good time and continued reading, waiting for the aircraft to arrive. I had been told by a friend that AK
uses its ageing 737-300 s on this particular route ... I haven t flown a 737 Classic for a long time so was actually rather looking forward to it.
The Great Air Asia Foot Race
At 10:00am the queue for boarding already started forming. I m beginning to feel very glad for shelling out RM10 for Xpress Boarding
. This queue increased quite dramatically as soon as an Air Asia aircraft landed on the runway, which, to my "disappointment", was a brand spanking new A320!
9M-AFX slows down on the runway after arriving from Penang.
Turns onto the ramp and then does a 180 degree turn to point the right direction.
Ah, so this is what "true" low-cost aviation means.
There might be empty airbridges but they aren't used!
The Petronas tanker didn't take long to turn up:
As the passengers disembarked via the air stairs:
A short few minutes later the 10 of us who had purchased Xpress Boarding were allowed to board. They didn't really like me stopping to take photos on the tarmac so only really got this one:
Of course the RM10 entitled me to the pick of seats in the A320. I settled for 5F. A minute or so later the first of the "normal" passengers boarded, and by all accounts it was a nice foot race to get on board first!
How much fuel is in the tanker?
LCC legroom really isn't very good ... but who cares for a 1-hour flight, any A320 seat is bound to be more comfortable than one on your metro/route bus.
The boarding process seems pretty long for someone who always gets on board last when seats are assigned. But the aircraft was starting to fill up - the flight would be more than 90% full. And check out one of the cute f/a's.
Getting Away – 12 MINUTES EARLY!!!!!!!!!!
The doors shut at 10:20 and engines started moments later. At 10:23 (12 minutes before
scheduled departure time we started taxiing towards the runway. The benefits of using a small airport was apparent as we taxied onto the runway and turned right, no waiting at all.
JHB’s airport terminal is pretty small.
There's a spot at the end of the runway for aircraft to U-turn for take-off (there’s no parallel taxiway here)
And so, at 10:27, the pilots opened the throttle and we accelerated along Runway 34. Fuel saving obviously wasn't an issue as there was a lot
of power applied and we were airborne very quickly. Airborne 8 minutes before we were even scheduled to leave the gate, now that’s a new for me ...
Fields abound near JHB:
And over a small town:
The heavy rains of recent days has taken a toll on the state of Johor with some very bad flooding in the villages, here you can see a river has burst its banks:
From there we climbed above the clouds for a rather bumpy ride north. The flight attendants (who were all very
attractive in that black number :wink: ) started to sell drinks and food which nobody seemed to buy, before wheeling round the duty free which nobody seemed to buy either.
I settled into my seat and read some more. Before long the pilot announced we were descending for Penang.
As is usual in the tropics it was another bumpy ride down. Here’s the scenery as we leave the peninsula behind:
And a small village:
Soon I glanced the island of Penang in the distance and the aircraft banked right to meet the Runway 04 approach. The weather, to my disappointment, was showery. :cry:
The island got closer and closer and we were almost there. I was thinking what a beach that would be to go spot planes!
And over the threshold:
We taxied quite quickly to the terminal where we disembarked via, shock horror, the airbridge!!! (Interestingly, my flight to KL
was also from the same gate and on that occasion the airbridge was not used – I wonder if it was used because of the weather)
I ran around the terminal to get some photos of other planes but realised there wasn’t much there apart from this Lion Air MD82 (PK-LMK).
Surprisingly, my suitcase had just appeared when I reached the luggage carousels. From there, it was a RM38 (fixed price voucher) taxi ride to my hotel in Georgetown. Penang’s rip-off taxi drivers and inadequate public transport system would be the main reason why I did not enjoy Penang that much, in addition to the stifling heat and humidity. (And btw, the return taxi from my hotel to the airport was RM50 ...)
All in all, it was a good flight on a budget airline. It was a bus ride, no more and no less. The flight operated on time and I arrived safely on the other end. What more could you want from a 1-hour flight?