Sri Lanka Adventure [10 – 18 June 2010]
Part I: Pre-Trip [Singapore, 10 Jun 2010]
Part II: The Long Shuttle [Singapore – Kuala Lumpur, 10 Jun 2010]
Part III: AK255 [KUL – CMB, 11 Jun 2010]
Part IV: A Slice of Cultural Triangle [CMB – Dambulla, 11 June 2010]
Part V: Temples [Dambulla – Kandy, 12 Jun 2010]
Part VI: Into the Hills [Kandy – Haputale, 13 Jun 2010]
Part VII: Trekking to World’s End [Horton’s Plains National Park, 14 Jun 2010]
Part VIII: Retracing the steps of Sir Thomas Lipton [Lipton’s Seat & Tea Factory, 15 Jun 2010]
Part IX: Leopard! Leopard! Leopard! [Haputale – Tissa, 16 Jun 2010]
Part X: Will this journey ever end? [Tissa – Negombo, 17 Jun 2010]
Part XI: Goodbye Serendib [CMB – KUL – Singapore, 18 Jun 2010]
Part XII: Epilogue
Whoever who came up with the idea of placing a country’s main international airport 70km away from the city center of its capital must be a genius and way ahead of his/her time. For most our shuttle bus journey, the scenery alternated between darkness and oil palm plantations. I was pretty sure that an alternative site nearer to KL could be found but as in any mega-projects in this country, plenty of behind-the-scenes shenanigans would ensure all the right palms were greased and anyone with the right connections get his/her fair share of contracts while the public were made to shoulder the costs and bear with the inconveniences.
KLIA has three terminals: Main, Satellite and Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT). No prize for guessing which terminal we would be using. Apparently KUL is the first airport in the world which has separate facilities for normal and low cost carriers; Singapore’s SIN had since came up with a Budget Terminal (BT) as well. Unlike SIN which provided free shuttle service between its T2 and BT, one would need to pay 1.50 MYR for the luxury of being transported from KUL Main Terminal to LCCT and vice versa.
Despite being in operation only since 2006, LCCT was decidedly less attractive compared to KUL’s two other terminals. It felt more like a bus station than a real airport. On the land side, I noticed that there were several fast food chains (McDonald’s, KFC, Marrybrown) and cafes (Coffee Bean) as well as a bank where one could change currencies. Couldn’t comment on whether the rates were competitive as I wasn’t familiar with Malaysian Ringgits’ rates with other currencies.
The early hours didn’t see any decrease in the number of people in the terminal and the place was bustling with travelers catching early flights out of KUL like us.
From the departure board, it was obvious that Air Asia dominates LCCT. Air Asia Malaysia (AK), Thai Air Asia (FD), Indonesia Air Asia (QZ) and their long-haul cousin Air Asia X (D7) all used the terminal. The only other airlines sharing the facilities at LCCT were Tiger Airways (TR) and Cebu Pacific (5J), two of Air Asia’s low cost competitors in the region.
The layout of the terminal wasn’t the best in my opinion but most probably I am spoiled by the various terminals of SIN. Before we could check in, we had to put our bags through the X-ray machines. It wasn’t much of an issue locating Counter R46, the only one used for our 6:15am flight to CMB.
By then, a rather long line had assembled in front of the counter.
Like all low cost carriers, there are no dedicated lines for premium travelers. The only way to beat the queue is to perform self check-in using either web, mobile phone or kiosks located in the airport. We weren’t aware of the option then but unlike Ryan Bingham we didn’t really mind waiting in line for about 20 minutes.
The lady serving us took some time to sort out our boarding passes but she remained smiley and helpful throughout. We had pre-purchased 15kg of checked baggage at 20 MYR per segment and mine was probably half of that. No complaints though as my bag contained liquids which I could not bring on board the aircraft.
*RANT START* I can’t stand those inconsiderate people who left their trolleys at the check-in counters once their bags are checked in. The abandoned trolleys block the paths to the counters and slow the check-in process for subsequent passengers. The trolleys usually keep adding up until the airport staffs clear them away. Is it so difficult for one to push the trolleys to somewhere where they do not pose any obstruction? I just don’t get it! *RANT OVER*
With plenty of time left till boarding, some of the lads wanted to try out Marrybrown, a local fast food chain.
I didn’t partake in that exercise and chose to take picture of my cheap-looking boarding pass instead.
We were stamped out of Malaysia less than eight hours after we were stamped in. I didn’t really take notice of the shops on the air-side as I started to suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation.
We proceeded to Gate 16 and shared the holding area with Yogyakarta-bound passengers of AK594.
We would walk to our aircraft parked roughly 150m away and no photography was allowed on the tarmac. As it was still quite dark during boarding, I didn’t manage to spot the plane’s registration. My seat would be 24A after I convinced Kok Wai to swap places with me.
Route: KUL – CMB
Flight no.: Air Asia AK 255
Dep: KUL 6:15am
Arr: CMB 7:15am
Time taken: 3h30m
Distance traveled: 2470km (1535miles)
Cost: 282 MYR (incl in-flight meal & 15kg checked luggage)
The load was pretty high and I didn’t spot any empty seats. Most of the passengers seemed to be of Indian/Sri Lankan origin and there was a sprinkle of European and Asian travelers as well.
Our plane was a Airbus A320-216, one of the 74 currently in service across the various Air Asia’s brands. With 180 seats cramped onto the aircraft, I expected a tight seat pitch.
I wasn’t to be disappointed.
Shortly after take-off, one of the cabin crews made the announcement that meal service would commence an hour into the flight. We weren’t too pleased to hear that as we wanted it to be over quickly in order for us to get more much-needed rest.
The cabin crew made two runs of meal service. Passengers who pre-booked their meals while purchasing the air tickets were served in the first run; the second run was conducted for those who wished to buy on the spot. There were a choice of eight different meals for pre-booking with each priced between 6 to 8 MYR, a ringgit cheaper than purchasing on board.
We had to get our boarding pass ready and the cabin crew would check against their manifest before serving us the meals.
After seeing the cabin crew made a marking against the code “NLML”, I understood that it meant Nasi Lemak Meal.
I lifted up the cover expectantly…
OK the nasi lemak didn’t taste as bad as it looked. In fact it was decent and the sambal chili was good. If only Air Asia’s caterers could work on the presentation.
Meanwhile outside the window:
From the in-flight magazine:
During the second round of meal service, we bought a bottle of Ice Lemon Tea (10 MYR) to share among ourselves. While the cabin crew were clearing the trash, the island of Sri Lanka came into view in my window.
Our flight landed in Colombo on time. As Sri Lanka is 2h30m behind Singapore/Malaysia, it was only 7:15am when we arrived. After a short taxi, the plane was parked at Gate 7 and we had to wait for the aerobridge to be connected before disembarking the plane.
For around 120 SGD, this flight segment was pretty good value. The aircraft was fairly new with comfortable seats but sitting in the tight 29″ seat pitch for 3h30m wasn’t the most pleasant. The only things which I remembered about the cabin crew were their lovely bright red uniforms and the amount of fake eyelashes that they used. While they did nothing really exceptional, all of them were professional enough. Another downside would be departing from KUL instead of SIN. The added time spent and hassles on transportation was a turn-off and the next cheapest alternative on Emirates cost only 485 SGD return. On hindsight, the trip would probably be a more pleasant one if we flew direct from Singapore instead.
As soon as we disembarked from the plane, we experienced our first instance of cultural shock in Sri Lanka. The friendly cleaners were quick to offer us paper towels in the washroom but we didn’t realize that they expected tips from us. Travelers used to tipping wouldn’t have similar issues though.
First impression of Sri Lanka was a good one though; the airport is modern and smart.
After going through immigration and collecting our checked bags, we got out to an arrival hall equipped with currency exchange bureaus and travel agents. With most of us gotten our Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR) in Singapore, only Kendrick and Lewis needed to get LKR at the rate of 78.09 per SGD. It meant that they were almost two rupees worse off per SGD exchanged. It might not seem much but the 10 SGD worth of rupees could go a long way on the island.
While two of them were checking out the exchange rates, the rest of us were talking to the representatives of the various mobile phone operators in Sri Lanka. We got three Mobitel SIM cards (200 LKR each + any top-up amount) amongst the six of us. The calling rates here were unbelievably affordable; calling Singapore (6 LKR/min) was even cheaper than local calls in Singapore. Their 3G data plan was even more affordable at 75 LKR for 500mb; these prices made us wonder whether we were overcharged by Singapore’s telcos.
Organizing onwards transport was slightly more tricky than buying SIM cards. Tackling Sri Lanka’s public transportation system fresh off the
boat plane was a little bit too much to bear for our weary bodies. Hence we decided to opt for a softer landing through hiring a air-conditioned van to Dambulla.
The initial amount quoted was lower than what I had researched on the internet; Kok Wai utilized his bargaining skill to bring it down further to 7000 LKR. The agent offered us an option: we could keep the vehicle for the entire trip for 55 USD per day for the rest of our trip. The option wasn’t taken up immediately as we wanted to try out trains and buses on the island. However, we used it to our advantage as we promised to consider if a good van and driver were provided.
After agreeing on the price, we walked out to the pick-up point.
Our Sri Lankan adventure officially began!