Four countries, five hotels, ten flights with five (or seven if you split out the AOCs) airlines to seven airports and in eleven days. Okay, not so strange for an A.Nutter, but I was travelling with my wife B and almost-five-year-old son Alex. Insane? Yes. Fun? Absolutely.
In March this year we did Low Cost Asia 1: SYD-SIN-PEN-KCH-BTU-BKI-TPE-NRT-OOL-SYD
with Scoot, AirAsia, MASWings, MAS and Jetstar. But that was over almost a month. The following trip reports can be considered sequels where we fly (or attempt to fly) on mostly low cost airlines (plus a couple of full service ones) to places we missed on the earlier trip.
I'll spare you the most of the booking story here because it is very long and complicated. Suffice it to say that it was done in many parts and was a combination of sale fares, existing flight credits to Japan and a A$1000 Jetstar voucher won in their 9th Birthday Instagram competition.
The itinerary was not arranged as I would have preferred - usually we try for trips from least developed country to most, but we were constrained by prices and available flights. So we ended up with a number of long flights and pressure points with tight connections on unrelated airlines.
Day 1 - 2: AirAsiaX SYD
, AirAsia KUL
, Jetstar SIN
Day 5 - 6: Jetstar Asia KIX
Day 6: Jetstar Asia SIN
Day 7: Vietnam Airlines SGN
Day 9: Jetstar Pacific/VietJet DAD
, Malaysia Airlines SGN
Day 11: AirAsiaX KUL
I'd like to credit the Jetstar Holidays call centre team in Australia for their cheerful patience at working out complicated options for handling our bookings with the airline, especially in contrast to AirAsia's call centre which was most unhelpful with queries.
The other aspect of this this trip worthy of some note is that we attempted to do it only with carry on luggage.
Without further ado, let's get flying on the first leg, from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur with AirAsiaX!
We'd already flown a few times on the other two low cost long-haul airlines out of Australia: Jetstar and Scoot. AirAsiaX was all that remained. We'd flown their short haul sibling AirAsia a few times and thought they'd done a pretty good job, so we were confident of a decent flight. However, there was a level of stress underlying this flight. After we arrived in Kuala Lumpur we had less than 1.5 hours to transfer to a separate AirAsia flight to Singapore. Then in Singapore we had a 2 hours, 20 minutes to transfer to a Jetstar flight to Osaka.
I had discovered that it wasn't possible to preprint online boarding passes for each of our flights, which meant that we would probably need to exit, go through a document check at the airline counter and re-enter immigration at each transit, and we would have only 45 minutes/1 hour before each flight to do that. Silly to do this? Yes. But I was used to checking in online when I booked these - internationally between Australia and Japan seems to be no problem.
There wasn't much time for spotting on this trip - not with an energetic almost-five year old.
|View from the land side food court|
|What I wished I was flying|
We had some breakfast/morning tea at the food court, then with limited time passed through the quiet immigration desks, the first of six on this segment of the trip. B was pulled aside to enter the full body scanner, the first we'd seen in use since Amsterdam in 2011.
ETD: 10:55 (local)
ETA: 17:30 (local)
AIRCRAFT: Airbus A330-300
I know that many flyers out there seem to hate children, but I see a young child as almost a must have travel accessory. You often get to skip queues and board early, and that was the case here. Ahead of us in the queue was a buck's party headed for Phuket, the groom in a multicoloured tutu and wig. I really don't think that bucks parties are a good idea to inflict upon other countries.
|Class, all class.|
Upon boarding the the aircraft what struck me first was how narrow the seats were. They have somehow packed nine across in economy, 3-3-3, as opposed to Jetstar's 2-4-2. The lack of width was readily apparent when sitting down on the seats, though I didn't find them uncomfortable and the legroom was okay for me. The width issue was exacerbated in the window seat of row 20, our row, due the lack of a window and its indentation near the head area.
|My butt looks big in this.|
|3 x 3 x 3|
|Just for you, Palmjet.|
Alex started off at the window, B in the middle and me on the aisle. Not my preferred configuration!
|He really takes the safety card seriously and is upset that he isn't tall enough to see the safety demonstrations|
The first two rows at the very front of the aircraft have angled lie flat seats, twelve in total. Then comes a quiet cabin of 63 seats from which children are banned. We were in the cabin behind that.
On a trip that could ill afford delays it was Sydney that struck again. The airport congestion meant we found ourselves seventh in the queue for a takeoff to the south on the main runway, a delay of half an hour.
|We caught up with the Boxing Kangaroo later that evening in Singapore.|
|A soon to be familiar sight|
It was a brilliant clear blue day as we rose up into the air and past our southern haunts. There were wonderful views of Sydney, but as soon as the seatbelt light was extinguished Alex just wanted to watch videos I had converted for viewing on an older Android phone, so I negotiated a swap of seats.
|The Royal National Park|
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The cabin crew began handing out prebooked (and thus prepaid) items like comfort packs and video tablets. There's a magazine called 3Sixty which is a decent read, but apart from that it's BYO entertainment. B had purchased a novel at the airport, Alex had the aforesaid Android phone loaded with kids programs (thanks ABC iView), episodes of Doctor Who and the Goodies and movies. I had my Android mobile phone loaded mostly with music and a little tv.
|In the seat pocket|
Despite the lack of seat power points the batteries held up okay, though AirAsia have turned the lack of power into a money making opportunity by hiring out battery packs to those that need them. I brought my own.
We were wishing that the batteries would run out quickly on one little Indian family seated in the middle rows. They had forgone earphones and were playing Thomas the Tank Engine videos out loud to their young boy. Parents, as soon as your kid is old enough to use earphones, then please use them when in shared transport! We had little earphones for Alex at age 9 months and he has his own cheap volume limited pair now.
|A lot of reflected red in the cabin. Only the forward cabins had mood lighting.|
Anyway, I had access to the best form of inflight entertainment there is - the window! And what a magnificent form of entertainment it is. I was almost brought to tears by the beauty of the Australian landscape outside of the window.
From the suburbs of Sydney we then crossed the Blue Mountains, steep ridges dividing the coastal plains from the green pastures around Bathurst.
The further west we flew, the drier the countryside became. Ochre and black, interspersed with dry rivers and salty white lake beds.
The straight lines of human roads and fences are visible in much of the landscape, despite it's remoteness, but there are a few patches of nothing other than the straight lines of red dunes.
I wanted to understand everything about the scenery outside. The geology, the environment, the history, the future in a changing climate. I wanted to hear its story.
|West of the Blue Mountains|
I had preordered two meals but they weren't served until two hours into the flight, by which time Alex was falling asleep. When I was ordering I saw no choice other than the "Asian option", which meant we were given two green curries without any recourse to the wider range of choices on the meal card. Maybe I stuffed up. I ordered one nasi lemak, on account of it having a half a boiled egg (Alex's favourite food). He was too tired and only picked at it. The meals were fine without being fantastic, though a little small perhaps. Unchilled bottled water was provided with the prepaid meals.
|Nasi lemak and some super scrumptious nuts|
|Nasi lemak contents. The green curry just looked unappetising.|
As the view outside disappeared beneath the cloud the flight really seemed to drag. The cabin felt hot and stuffy.
When one of the attendants came through a bit later, either collecting rubbish or selling something from the cart, we asked her about connection options, especially with the late flights. She helpfully suggested that we try the "Fly thru" transfer terminals and that immigration can be a bit slow. The crew all seemed helpful enough and quite friendly.
We crossed the West Australian coast over Derby (took me a long time on Google Maps to find it!). Derby was the terminus of the first scheduled aviation service in Australia, with West Australian Airways first flight on 5 December 1921. The Perth to Derby service was once the world’s longest passenger airline route.
|The cloud retreats as we approach the coast|
|King Sound is at the confluence of a number of rivers, with Derby experiencing Australia's highest tides|
|Ardyaloon (One Arm Point) township and airport, Dampier Peninsula|
Normally the over water stretch is a chance to watch a video or grab some sleep, but neither would come. It wasn't the smoothest of rides, though not particularly turbulent.
Sooner than expected Indonesian islands appeared below. I suspect that we were flying over Bali and Lombok or the adjacent islands, but without the map it was difficult to tell. It was interesting to see how dry they looked, along with impressive volcanic mountains.
|Flying over the "volcano island"|
|Smaller island (I think)|
|Towards Sumenep, Madura Island|
|Salt making in Sumenep|
|The soil is not particularly fertile|
As we crossed further northwest we encountered more of Indonesia, more of the expected jungle green that is generally associated in many westerner's minds with South East Asia.
|Approaching more islands|
|Mountains make their own weather|
Sailing above the late afternoon clouds, you could tell we were in the tropics.
|High cloud, bumps ahead|
I saw quite a lot of other air traffic out of the window. Earlier, across Australia, another aircraft had crossed our path below us on what was probably a perpendicular direction to our route. But due to our high relative forward velocity it looked like the other aircraft was slewing sideways.
|Thai Airways above|
|Somebody else below (about to be sucked into our engine )|
There were spectacular views of Singapore, partly hidden beneath an ominous grey cloud. If only we could have bailed out then it would have saved a lot of time having to fly up to KL
On the last stretch now, a route we will do twice. The descent into Kuala Lumpur International Airport is so familiar, though the scenery of the hills and jungles disappearing into palm plantation monoculture was still interesting.
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|West Malaysian coastline|
|Descending under a dramatic sky|
As we touched down how nice it would have been to say "Hooray, we are back at the second foreign airport I ever visited." Last time we arrived here from Australia we checked into what is now the Sama Sama Hotel adjacent to the main terminal and just relaxed.
But now there no time to relax, but a sense of desperate urgency. As soon as we stopped we grabbed our bags from beneath our feet and the overhead lockers and got ready to run. There are no airbridges at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal and no photos are allowed on the tarmac. We hurried down the stairs and along the marked paths past the other A330s, cursing the slow groups who dawdled.
The Fly-thru counters sit in a roped off area to the left of the entrance. The sullen looking attendants offered no assistance and we were now further back in the queue for immigration. But the queue moved quickly, signposted fingerprinting was not performed and we were soon through. Then straight (or as straight as could be achieved on the circuitous path) to the document check desk with only one other passenger in front of us. Now, back through immigration, past the shops and too the gate. Transit one complete!
The giant shed that is the LCCT is in desperate need of the under construction replacement, due now in May 2014. The lack of decent air conditioning meant we felt hot and sticky.
|Airside at the LCCT|