Day 1, Penang 13's adventures
Trip Start May 16, 2011
4Trip End May 24, 2011
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A quick stopover en-route
A nice swift check in for us all, bags released onto the conveyor and boarding passes in hand, we all walked through the security check points - a bit like dairy cattle on their way to the regular milking stalls in the dairy - we had all done this before and knew of the regulatory checks we would have to go through for the next 15mins or so,
We all found ourselves in the general boarding area of the airport, a quick cup of coffee, then we were off to our plane
Before we knew it - we were off - a nice "on time" departure, quickly up in the air - taking off over the mouth of the Tweed River - the Gold Coast quietly and quickly diminishing behind us.
The jet was about 3/4 full. I suppose with the great airfares on offer - Air Asia's influence in Australia is only going to become more substantial. The passenger demographic seems to be a mix of Holidaymakers, I'm presuming Asian people heading back to Asia to visit their families, and maybe even a few business people.
Everything on the aircraft seemed quite new, nice comfy leather seats, the obligatory reading material in the seat pocket (Airline mag, safety card, duty free specials)
A few hours had passed, the flight attendants once again came through our section - they seemed to know which meals we had chosen when we did our bookings...All we had to do was produce our boarding passes for a double check for them. then we were presented with a steaming hot little foil tray housing our "Malaysian Meal" - or "Western Meal" whatever we had chosen. I remember being handed my tray - together with a little clear plastic packet of what i was assuming was just roasted peanuts as a snack. On opening my tray i could smell the welcoming scent of Malaysia - Nasi Lemuk - a heady curry and rice, with a half Hard Boiled egg. Turns out the packet of peanuts also housed dried anchovy fish - designed to sprinkle onto the curry (We learn more about this concept during our cooking class later in the holiday)
Tasty meals downed, a couple of Asian beers and we were set to settle in to watch a movie. Unfortunate issue here though - turns out that we should have pre booked our movies when we booked our airfares. Apparently Air Asia was only able to offer pre purchased movies on this flight - bit of a bummer for us as we still had 5 hours of flying time ahead of us.
Anyway - this gave us all an opportunity to enjoy the scenery from our windows
Time passes quite quickly while up in the air. The in-flight magazine had been read front to back, a few Scotch and Dry's under my belt, some smooth Tunes from my iPhone - OK I'm ready to hop off now. Now 7 hours in, by my calculations - we should be about an hour from Kuala Lumpur - however an announcement over the PA system indicated otherwise. Everyone else on the aircraft must have been thinking the same though, turns out it was a miscalculation with the 2 hour time difference in Malaysia.
Sooner than we knew - Cabin crew had begun to prep the cabin for landing, everyone on board tidied themselves up - stowed away their books, iPods and Magazines, Double checked their immigration entry cards which we had completed on the flight earlier and secured their passports back into their hand luggage
Feeling the wheels touchdown on the tarmac - a very smooth landing at KLIA - Kuala Lumpur's international airport. Looking out the window of the plane as we taxi towards the Low Cost Carrier terminal - i could see the Satellite Terminal of the Airport - sitting smack bang in the middle of a series of runways. surrounded by Asian carriers - Thai, Malaysia Airlines, Eva Air - they were all there - the big full service carriers of Asia. Looking further - we could see the main terminal building - connected to the satellite terminal by the under-runway rail link. Ah this brings back fond memories of the other times we had flown in here - a nice big "cool" well air conditioned terminal to rest a while -while we were in transit. However with our discounted tickets with AirAsiaX - we were relegated to the lesser "LCCT" (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) for our 4 hour stopover.
We alighted the aircraft, just a short walking distance over the tarmac toward the cavernous colorbond building that is the LCCT. We just followed the crowd, across the tarmac, under the covered walkway, around the corner, through the sliding doors, up the stairs, down the corridor, past a few dodgy shops with bored sales assistant's leaning on their counters staring out at us, down another corridor, then finally into immigration. There were lines and lines of waiting people, we all looked at each other and decided its easier and quicker if we all split up into a few groups and just join lines near each other.
This is where you have to size up the immigration officer to see who looks the most friendly..
Our chosen line was distinctly Russian. "These people all look Russian" said Melissa... A little bit feathery after our flight.."So...whats a Russian look like" I responded...."Cant you tell" she said....look at them they are all big, pasty, smell a bit, they don't look happy and they are speaking Russian" Fair enough I said. I did see an Aeroflot jet on the tarmac - so putting two and two together - yes - we were defiantly in the Russian line up.
Looking over to the other lines - we were all pretty much in the same situation - I saw Bobbie, Marty, Lisa, Grant, Al, Mal ad Kim not far diagonally behind us - a multicultural mix of people in front of them, but their line didn't seem to be moving. Come over with the Russian's I said.
Further over i could see Assh and Kate taking a punt at the 3rd line from us, this line seemed to be moving faster - however there were a lot of people in large groups with bags everywhere ahead of them.
The closer we progressed toward the immigration counter, the more detail we could see on the immigration officers. Our officer was a young woman - probably about 25, She wore a black Hijab headscarf and also had a younger man assisting her behind the computer. With absolutely no expression she looked as us and said "Next"
The process we then went trough was all official and definitely a no smiles situation. One at a time, we had to hand over our passport and immigration card with our correctly filled our details (Flight number, address of where we're staying, duration of travel),, then stare blankly into the apricot sized orb of a web-cam web-cam siting on a long squeaky springy thing, then position our pointer finger on a greasy looking fingerprint mesmerizer/ready thingamajig for scanning Talk about "Get-Smart" style technology to enter Malaysia these days...
Anyway we all passed the Malaysia entry test with flying colours and not a single word uttered to any of us from the Immigration officers. after a couple more long corridors - we then found ourselves in the arrivals hall of the LCCT building thinking what now.
4 Hours in this dodgy terminal with limited seating, limited shops and limited air conditioning wasn't going to be a great start to our holiday. So its off To the main terminal building (KLIA) on the opposite side of the runways. This involved a bus over. However - we all had our bags with us, "Lets find a baggage lock up somewhere". After asking at the information kiosk, we finally found the official baggage lock up - but after we saw it - basically a series of about 50 tiny lockers coupled with about 600 full sized luggage bags just placed on top of , in front of , around and just beside the so called "Lockers" and all around the desk area. We made the executive decision to just take out bags over the the KLIA terminal with us - after-all - we were just going to sit there for a few hours.
We found the bus departure point, all jumped on the unusual 3 tiered bus with glamorous curtains and took the 5-minute journey over to the other terminal. Once there - we all wanted pretty much the same thing - a relaxing lounge area, a bar and a bite to eat. The bus dropped us off at what looked to be a food-hall area in a below ground area of the terminal - at an unusual food-court called the "Food Garden" I remember walking through it; terracotta tiled floors all through - bright fluro tube lighting overhead, big and "too green to be true" artificial palm trees in gardens all around, and about 30 Gaudy and brightly lit food-stalls - all offering Asian food court style food
So Assh, Grant and I walked, and walked, finally coming to an opening in the roof where we could look up - I could see through the plate glass handrails at the edge of each airport level - a typical airline bar/lounge area a couple of floors up which looked very comfy, my sights were set on that - i could see space for all of us to sit together up there. Assh saw a couple of what looked to be airport workers just ahead near the glass elevator just in front of us, we asked them where the best Lounge area was - they just quickly said Level 2 to us
Not much on offer as far as food goes here though - just a few Gourmet pies and Samosas in the display heater on the counter - so we all ordered a nice cold beer and then all set off for whatever we could find - the all OK given form the bartender - "Yes - bring food back here - no worries". On our return - we all had a mixture of food and drinks to tide us over, some of the Girls headed back down to the Food Garden and returned with plastic bags full of soups and curry's - together with a couple of the big stainless steel plates packed with all sorts of rots, rices and curry's. Others of us just ventured to the adjacent restaurant and ordered from their menu.
All in all - we whiled away a few hours here, exchanged some Money - Jules did a bit of Shopping, then we jumped back on the bus and returned to the Low Cost Carrier terminal where we were able to check into our connecting flight pretty much straight away
On-board the Air Asia aircraft - we were all settled, once again - all sitting together, the plane was pretty empty - as this was the last flight of the evening to Penang. Up in the air - a meal was quickly placed in front of us all - not that we really felt like anything - but it did go down well. Before we knew it - the cabin crew had been through and cleared our trays away, and we were descending through the night into the sparkling well lit island of Penang. Looking out the window of the aircraft - I could see the line of lights on the mainland, a dark void that is part of the Straits of Melacca, then a glistening spectacle of lights that was "Georgetown" on the edge of the island.
A quick and smooth touchdown and we were here - Penang finally.
Once again a walk across the floodlit orange tarmac to the terminal building for us all, and into a large hall where our bags were revolving around the baggage conveyor. While we waited for all our bags, I just poked my head around the corner to see a couple of guys with signs with our names on them. Phew - our ground transfers were still here - our flight was a little late.
We quickly made a quick toilet stop for us all, then met our two drivers who had our minivans waiting just outside. Bags loaded, people divided between the two vans, we were on our way to the Hotel. Driving from the airport to the Old Quarter of Georgetown was a surreal experience. The freeway we were driving on was reminiscent of the Gold Coast - tall buildings, Shopping Centres and the ocean just behind. We caught a glimpse of the 13km long bridge linking Penang to the mainland. Danny - our driver told us that the Malaysian Government was halfway through building another bridge - but this new bridge was actually 21 km long. Penang seemed really the place to be I thought.
We could see that we were arriving into Georgetown's "Old Quarter" - the roads suddenly became very narrow, the buildings all looked really old, and all of similar style - Chinese shop houses
We all slid out of the vans and there was a man waiting for us outside the building. He introduced himself to us, (cant remember his name) but he was quietly spoken and seemed to be waiting up for us all. He gently asked each of our names, and handed each of us a key in turn. Ushering each of us to our rooms, he quietly showed us through our beautiful rooms and explained the basics and reiterated that the front door should always be kept locked. I can remember the large chain and vintage padlocks on the door.
Phew - I though - we're here. It was so surreal - these absolutely beautiful little houses - for us all. Our room had a little outdoor rear courtyard, open to the night sky
Time now for us all to just relax, settle in and get some sleep.
Many adventures await us in Penang over the next few days...