Borneo “yesterday”

Here’s something novel: I’m actually writing up the tail end of a trip! Only the best part of 10 days late. Better than never, maybe? We’ll see.

Last time, I wrote about our luxury resort stay that was actually glamping, and finished up saying that our cabbie arrived 45 minutes early. Right. Yes. OK, so let’s see what else I can recall about that day.

It were a sunny Thursday. Very sunny. While waiting for Mr Hoo we hoped for another interaction with the two delightful kittens we’d briefly encountered on Tuesday - just 3 or 4 weeks old - but, alas, no dice. So it was that our last cat-related activity in Kuching, cat city, was to drive past a different load of cat topiary than we had two days previous.

Not much conversation in the cab, to my recollection. The driver was concentrating on the busy traffic, taking us on a weirdly snaked route including round the back of an industrial estate. Having picked us up so early we were at the airport with masses of time to spare. Good job we can both see, since there’s a sign on the door saying NO PETS AND GUIDE DOGS. Bit harsh! Anyway, look, the holiday is over, we’re ready to depart from Borneo to the world.

The airport arrangements were a bit confusing. There were three different ways to reach the gates: international, domestic (staying within Sarawak) and domestic (excluding Sarawak). That last one was us, but we had to check our bags in first.

Check-in is in a separate cordoned-off area where all bags have to go through x-ray first, which is a bit of a pain especially when numerous people get shouted at for just trying to waltz through with a backpack over their shoulder. At the Malaysian Airlines counters we went to the business class counter and caused havoc. Unlike many airlines these days, Malaysian are happy to check a bag through from one ticket to another, so we asked them to do so: rather than have to collect our suitcase at Kuala Lumpur, then sit around until the BA check-in desks opened etc, they were able to sort it so the next time we’d see the case would be London.

That was excellent, but unfortunately it took bloody ages for them to do. When we’d arrived the place was deserted, and by the time we left the desk there was a 4 or 5 strong queue behind us. D’oh! No-one seemed particularly angry, but I was embarrassed nonetheless.

Exiting the check-in bit, we went through security and walked up and down the terminal looking for the smoking room that had been shown on the map. Couldn’t find it. Oh well. Helen popped her head in a few of the souvenir-y shops but found nothing of particular interest. We each expressed an interest in JOHN’S PIE, but opted instead for free stuff in the lounges.

Yes! Lounges, plural. I thought it was pretty remarkable that there were two to which we had access, but it was true. The first one was a dark, small, dingy “Premium” lounge accessible via a Priority Pass. I sat down and had a Carlsberg while Helen did a bit more exploring. There was food to order but neither of us were that bothered.

The other lounge is the Malaysian Airlines Golden Lounge. Multiple signs say it’s next to gate 6, yet we walked past gate 6 in both directions a couple of times and couldn’t for the life of us see where it was. Eventually we ask a member of airport staff who point us to the very obvious staircase. Oh yeah.

It’s a much nicer, bigger, airier lounge - but no booze. Not surprised really. In fact, the only booze in the whole airport looks to have been in the previous lounge. But hey, by now it’s, what, 1.30pm or something, which is still early in the day. The food here was a nice local food buffet and the cakes were much nicer than in the domestic lounge at Kuala Lumpur.

We stayed in the lounge until, what, 5 minutes or so before boarding was due to start for our flight. Announcements were being made but a mixture of boredom and our usual jumpiness got us on our feet. I was all excited, because a couple of days ago I’d paid £50-odd quid to upgrade us to business class. Yes, it’s a dry sub-2hr flight but the seats looked very comfy on the way out, much wider than in economy, and given how good service was I was thinking it would make a very worthwhile upgrade.

Turns out little ol’ Kuching is equipped to take Boeing 747s, according to the guide lines on the tarmac. Who knew?

We board and sit down in row 1. The seats are comfortable and wide, but the plane seemed to be a bit older, they were like a previous generation or something. Still worth the cash though. We had a welcome soft drink, and a hot towel, and there are high definition video screens. Video screens on short haul! I’m always impressed by that in Australia too. Man, European short haul flying kinda sucks.

Anyway. Another screen descends from the ceiling for the purpose of the safety video and stuff. Something I’d never seen before here was a prayer to Allah after everything else was said and done. In both Arabic and English, it said (I am paraphrasing) “Thanks Allah, without you we’d never have figured out how to build planes and stuff”. Interesting. Never seen similar on, say, Qatar Airways, nor a Christian equivalent for that matter.

Up, up and away, we’re leaving at pretty much the precise moment Kuching’s weather changes from hot sunshine to torrential rain. It’s a bumpy and grey ascent, and what’s beneath us doesn’t really look all that. Except for this cool hill once we’re cruising.

I spent the flight watching episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia which, much to my delight, seems to have got funny again. I gave up a couple of years ago because they seemed to lose it. Anyway, I found it intriguing that the only stuff deemed offensive enough to censor in some way (silence, bleeping, dubbing, whatever) was references to homosexuality. Even the pejorative references.

Landing at KL just as it’s getting dark, we belatedly realise the folly of something we’d seriously considered: going into the city, since we had 6 hours to kill. What, in the dark, and in a hot sweaty country with another 13 hour flight ahead of us? Nah. Without needing to collect our bag, we could afford to be very leisurely.

Firstly, this meant Helen got to go to the smoking room in the domestic terminal while I loitered suspiciously. Then we asked at the transfer desks if there was anything we needed to do except go through immigration. Nope, nothing. Passports takes a little bit of time ‘cos there’s a queue and things are being slow for no obvious reason, but once we’re done we’re there in the main terminal.

I nip to the loo, and am highly suspicious of the instructions on how to wash your arse. The guy hasn’t dropped his trousers, and looks startled. Also the seat reaches right up to his head! Perhaps I should use WhatsApp to report the inaccuracies.

Er, yes. Anyway. A quick look around the shops fails to interest us, so we get the long monorail ride out to the satellite where the good lounges are. We have a bunch of local currency and still 5 hours to occupy, so slowly wander around, continuing to buy nothing. I jump on my work Slack to ask the team if they want me to bring back any durian-based goodies for the office.

They do not.

Well fine. Since we don’t have enough currency to bother exchanging, we want to find something to buy and eventually do: some toiletries, for almost the exact amount of notes in our possession.

In tandem with all the non-shopping, we also get our bearings such as: locating the Cathay Pacific lounge, the two smoking rooms, and our gate (which is known well, well in advance). Oh and we go for a walk in the rain forest, because we’re in Malaysia so of course they have some rain forest actually inside the airport.

I think there may have been 4 lounges there to which we had access, two of them being non-airline-affiliated and allowing for paid guests. They looked really busy and fairly dismal, whereas Cathay and Malaysian should, by rights, be very good. First we hit the Cathay lounge, just as a Cathay Pacific flight is leaving. This means the place is basically empty. It’s not very big, and there’s no obvious reason why it exists at all. They’re in the same alliance as Malaysian and BA and Qantas (hence us being allowed in), so why everyone doesn’t just use the Malaysian Airlines lounge I dunno.

Anyway. A beer, a vodka and coke, a cake, some Brexit news on TV. It was a comfortable place to spend half an hour, but nothing spectacular. So, on to the Malaysian Airlines lounge.

Welcome Sir, Madam, I see you are Emerald, please go to the right into the first class lounge.

Holy shit. I mean, holy shit. I’m blown away by this lounge. It’s so classy. There’s art on the wall, a variety of seating areas, it’s quiet, lots of wooden panels, not too light and not too dark, and the GORGE YOURSELF FREE FOR ALL aspect is tastefully kinda hidden. There are lots of staff welcoming us, first asking if we want to eat in the dining room. Not yet, we say, we’ve got 4 hours anyway. Are there showers? Yes. OK good. So, we grab a couple of very comfortable seats, looking out of the large windows, and take turns to go use the showers.

The showers are wonderful. Invigorating, easy to control temperature and power and etc, and changing clothes for the second half of the journey is very welcome. Best of all, while one of us showers, the other of us gets offered repeated glasses of champagne poured from the bottle at our seats. It’s very very civilised.

We also have the place to ourselves for the first hour or so. But soon enough, with numerous flights coming up which people who have access to this lounge will be on, people start to arrive. Loud, uncouth people. Like, more uncouth than me. They sit at seats 6ft apart and have shouty conversations with one another. Bah! So we ask one of the staff to let us into the adjacent business class lounge so Helen can use the smoking room.

While she vaped, I popped into the lounge proper. It’s a large, cavernous place, with a feeling like a food hall in a big shopping mall. Except everything is free, obviously. In the centre there are two or three open kitchens where different kinds of food are prepared in full view of everyone, and there is TONS of seating all over the show. I definitely wouldn’t be unhappy using this lounge, but that said I’m still glad they’ll happily let us back into the first class bit.

This time, we go straight to the dining room. It’s busy but we don’t have to wait to be seated. Champagne arrives, and a menu, and it all looks lovely. I’ll have the sea bass please.

I think we had another champagne or two in the main bit of the lounge, but way before I was ready to leave, it were time to go get on the plane home.

Security at Kuala Lumpur is at the gate, so it’s sensible to get there fairly early. I’d not wanted to leave the lounge, but also hadn’t wanted to chance anything, so we get to C22 a few minutes before boarding is announced.

On the plane, we’re in the same seats as on the way out except this time I’m in the window seat. Leg room is epic.

Take off is just gone 11pm, and we’re going to land at 5.25am - flying west, this 6 hours of local time takes 13 hours, so it’s just one long night. There’s nothing to see out of the window, therefore, apart from the odd flash of lightning. A storm had descended, and in fact one of the runways has been closed so we end up waiting AGES to take off.

Unlike on the way out, we’re given amenity kits. Hurrah! The crew serving us are friendly enough, happy to keep me occupied with champagne. I’m eager to eat again but because it’s a night flight, the routine really is “get this done ASAP then turn all the lights off so people can sleep”. I had soup to start and pasta main. Pretty sure I had cheese and port to finish. Didn’t I? Hmm, I’ve no photo of it. Maybe I didn’t.

Helen successfully convinced me to play multiplayer trivia on the entertainment system. If memory serves, she beat me 2 games to 1. After that, my memory gets hazy. I know I didn’t set my seat into a full bed, but I at least reclined and grabbed some moderately refreshing kip.

We’d been asked to fill out a breakfast request form. Helen opted for “let me sleep as long as possible”, whereas I wanted to eat. Since I was already awake by the time they were considering starting service, I had a nice fruit salad and pastry and then.. another fruit salad, since Helen woke up, asked for some, and didn’t like it. Eventually I had the hot stuff too, a mixed grill with some tasty meat for which the cutlery was nothing like strong enough.

Because of the late departure we arrived late, but boy, what an arrival it was. We came in on the B satellite at Heathrow T5 and missed the first monorail by seconds, so were a bit frustrated by the delay - especially as we were on tenterhooks about whether the cab we’d booked would still be waiting for us. But once the next monorail arrived, we stepped off it and were the first two people at an entirely empty set of automatic immigration gates. Through those without delay, we went downstairs to find the baggage carousel had just started, and our bag was one of the first to come out. Through customs and we’re at the meeting point with a bloke holding a sign with my name on it. The whole thing from landing until getting in a taxi took, I dunno, just 20 minutes or so. Remarkable.

Back home at about 7am on a grim, grey Friday morning, I am DELIGHTED to find my Parkrun 250 shirt has arrived. Woohoo! Elsewhere, the cat gave us a right ol’ look – Where the fuck have you been?, he seemed to express. Then he spent the next hour failing to decide which lap to sit on, while purring loudly and dribbling. It’s nice to have been missed.

Created By
Darren Foreman