Kuching Day 1 – the journey there

Do yourselves a favour people. Just once take the late afternoon flight from Melbourne to Singapore in February to see the most amazing sunset over the desert. It seems an inefficient way to get Singapore from Alice Springs – heading South to go North but flight schedules dictate the journey. Make sure you get a seat on the left-hand side of the plane and you’ll be treated to an entire sky-full of sunset over Central Australia. It truly was spectacular last night. Shame I couldn’t reach my camera.

When I looked at my boarding pass seat 43C seemed not such a good spot but I didn’t realize that the numbers on the lower deck of these enormous planes start at row 41 so in reality it was like being up the front. You could see through to the pilots every time the flight attendants open the door to the cockpit. Plenty of legroom, a light load of passengers and an interesting seat neighbour made for a very pleasant flight after a pre-flight drink and meal in the Emirates lounge at Tullamarine airport. It certainly pays to be loyal to an airline for achieving maximum benefits on the ground and in flight.

Mr 43A was a Singapore based Australian engineer who developed power generators to use waste water from the oil palm processing industry in Malaysian and Indonesia. We had a great chat about the ethics of palm oil production but at least his company was making the industry slightly “greener” by extracting the biogas from the waste water to produce electricity to run the plants and feed back into the grid. Water was also then able to be reused after filtration rather than spewing out contaminated waste into the landscape. He was originally from Adelaide so we also chatted about the whole renewable energy program (or lack of) in Australia and the reason behind the recent power cuts.

I’ve been quite lucky with row companions lately and had some very interesting conversations before settling down to binge watch movies with a glass of red.

Changes to flight schedules from KL to Kuching meant a whole rearrangement of plans a few weeks ago. Initially planning to overnight in Melbourne and travel through with my Brother and Sister in Law a cancelled flight made it more sensible for me to overnight in Singapore and fly direct to Kuching from there rather than via KL. Keen to check out the transit hotel rather than a late-night taxi into the city, I booked an 8-hour block at the Areohotel in Terminal 1 at Changi Airport. I booked a single pod but got a huge (by Singapore standards) room with 2 double beds. Everything was spick and span and luxurious, great TV and amenities. Only trouble was my phone didn’t properly update to the local time when I landed and was still on Melbourne time. I jumped out of bed when the alarm went off, had a shower, and while putting my watch back on noticed it was only 5am. Totally confused as it should have been 8am. Checked with reception what the time was and went back to my delightfully comfy bed for another 3 hours!

Keen for a cuppa or 3 I wandered up to the Qantas lounge only to find it closed and not open until 2.30pm. Damn and blast. Oh well I may as well go get my boarding pass for the flight to Kuching over in Terminal 2 and find a café for breakfast. As luck would have it, my Qantas status entitled me to a pass for the SATS lounge in T2 so checked in and passes in hand I moved in for a few hours to indulge in breakfast and get some work done in comfort.

A quick scan of the buffet bar showed plenty of options – Indian veg curry and roti, laksa, a variety of dumplings, congee plus un-appetising western selections and cereal. I felt a bit conspicuous tucking in to roti and curry with hands in this refined dining room but there was no other option than to get messy! Washed down with 3 cups of Earl Grey my appetite was sated (for now) and time to log into HH to send out payslips and clear a few emails … and work up some space for a sweet steamed bun and coffee before boarding my lunchtime flight.

Checking out the departures board in T2 I realize there’s a hundred places out there in our region I haven’t heard of, let alone been too. So much more exploring to do. It’s also interesting to see the code shares between airlines. My flight to Kuching was operated by Malaysian Airlines, who code shared the trip with Tiger, Silk Air and various others who aren’t One World partners so there’s a myriad of possibilities to still earn FF points! The final destination of my flight was Miri which I’ve never heard of. I asked a young lady checking boarding passes at the gate lounge where Miri was and she said she’d never heard of it either until she started working for the airlines. For the record, it’s further up the coast from Kuching just before Brunei.

Observing my fellow passengers in the gate lounge there seemed to be mostly young Asian business men in suits plus a few older Chinese in brand new active wear with large gold watches and carrying Louis Vuitton shopping bags from the Duty-Free outlets. Very few women and I was the only westerner. The flight was by no means full but everyone was crammed up the front –  a show of status perhaps?

Given this was essentially an island-hopping flight I chose a window seat for the view. I’ve rarely flown out of Singapore in daylight hours so it was fascinating to see the shipping channels and land reclamation activities from above. The rows of heavily laden container ships making their way out to sea highlights the importance of this industry to Singapore – the transport hub and gateway to Asia and the rest of the world. Once in the air the monsoon cloud closed in and there was bugger all to see below until we drifted below it approaching Kuching airport. The inflight video screen told me we were heading due east about 7oo kms and the flight would take 1 hour 15 mins – so roughly same as a Sydney to Melbourne flight. Time enough for a veg curry and black coffee.

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Swollen brown rivers and oil palm plantations loomed large as the plane approached Kuching. Small villages on bends in the river gave way to a larger but low-rise city amongst all the greenery. The airport is a decent size –  a little larger than Darwin I would say, and mostly Air Asia planes lined up at the terminal. I didn’t really stop to check it out and after a stamp in the pass port and a quick bag scan I was in a prepaid taxi ($26) to my Airbnb condo on the edge of town to meet my Brother and Sister-in Law.

So now that we’ve all arrived and impressed by the size of our flat, but not by the construction site next door, we can sit on our balcony 10 floors up looking out over the river below and the village houses on the other side. Time to begin exploring the streets of Kuching!

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