Saturday, November 12, 2011

Indonesia -- Day 3 Yeah! Medan, here I am !!

I checked in for my Valuair (VF)  flight at the Jetstar (JQ) counter.  Jetstar, the low-cost carrier which is owned by Qantas, is the owner of Valuair too.  Once I found that out I was much more comfortable using Valuair.  The flight from Singapore (SIN) to Medan (MES) is one hour, flying due west.

Valuair (For Purchase)  Menu -- specifically the top left offering

The flight was uneventful but the VF plane was old with very tight seating.  There was a quick drink service followed by a snack, a red bean paste stuffed bun, which wasn't that bad.  They also had a menu in the seat pocket for longer flights.  Judging by the items offered I don't think they have to worry about it being used often.

Medan's Polonia Airport

Upon landing at Medan's Polonia Airport we stopped on the airport tarmac. We all disembarked onto the tarmac through the front and back doors.  Then we were directed to board what I am sure was the oldest bus in Indonesia, to take us the 400 metres to the international airport entrance.  Yes, that is correct, approx 400 meters to the airport entrance.

FYI: For a Muslim country, I find it ironic the airport is named after a country associated with Judaism.  Medan's Polonia airport's name is taken from the plantation area owned by a Pole, Baron Michalski in which it is situated. Polonia originates from the Latin name of the country of Poland.

Arriving in Medan

In the air coming into Medan Polonia Airport

Entering the "terminal" is like stepping back in time. Honestly, my first thought was that I was now starring in a Hollywood movie.  The room is painted two-tone brown, is showing its age,  and has military guards standing around.  Since I was a foreigner, I was pointed too and told "Over There" and the guard pointed me to the left corner of the room.  It was then that I remembered that you need to obtain a Visa-On-Arrival (VOA) for Indonesia.  

I walked over to the left corner where there were two offices which were separated by a 6 inch wall with a pass through.  The VOA fee is  $250,000 rupiah (rp) or $25 USD.  This is cash only, in the exact amount as there is no change given. I gave the woman the required Rupiah and my passport.  She looked at my passport and accepted my money, then gave me my passport and a slip of paper back. I was then motioned to turn around and walk two feet to the left. In this second office I passed my passport and the slip of paper over and a guard added the full page visa and stamp to my passport. 

You come in right over the city, so low you can see the people in the local market. Medan, Indonesia

Once you have received the visa you then walk over to the foreigner lineup to pass customs. Your passport and visa are stamped again and then you can proceed to collect your luggage. You can't get lost as there is only 1 large room and 1 baggage belt.  You then pass another screening before leaving the airport. Outside the airport is like arriving in the Shark-tanks of Mexican airports. Instead of a bunch of timeshare sellers there are a ton of Taxi driver/hacks trying to bring you to your destination/hotel via their cousins house/store etc. If you do not have a pre-arranged transfer then you are much better to haggle first. I would also recommend that you get an approximate idea of where your hotel is and the cost to get there before you arrive.

I had a prearranged transfer so I walked directly outside looking for my name or Adventures Abroad written on a sign.  I didn't see anyone right away so I pulled my luggage and myself out of the way and up against a pillar.  A few minutes later a lovely gentleman came over and asked if I was with Adventures Abroad.  This was Morris, our local guide.  He explained that the flight had just showed "Arrived" now, and that he and his driver were in the local cafe having a coffee and asked would I like to join them.  So off to the coffee shop we went. 

Medan, is at the northern end of the island of Sumatra. It is the fourth largest city in Indonesia and the largest Indonesian city outside the island of Java The island is predominantly Muslim, especially the northern province of Aceh, which even has levels Shariah Law enacted. Aceh and Sumatra itself were the hardest hit in the 2004 Earthquake and ensuing Tsunami.  It is figured that approximately 170,000 Indonesians were killed or went missing in the disaster, and approximately 500,000 were left homeless. 

Now I have been to Indonesia before, specifically Bali, about 10 years ago.  That trip, and specifically Bali, in no way prepared me for the "reception" that I received from most Indonesian men throughout this journey.  I'm not a supermodel, nor do I have to wear a paper bag when I go out but in those 10 years I have gotten married, had 2 children, and again a "bit" if weight.  I wasn't expecting to be noticed in anyway.  
Instead I did get quite a few looks.  This may have been because I had a tank top on, or because I am milk bottle white in my regular life, or the fact that I am taller and wider than most Indonesians.  I wasn't sure why just yet.

After Morris, the driver and myself finished our coffee we left for the hotel.  Today was the tour arrival day and everyone was to meet at the Tiara Hotel and Convention Center in Medan.  The Central Business District (CBD) where the hotel is located  is about 5km from Polonia airport.   The Tiara Hotel was lovely. Very nice rooms, very large, comfortable beds. I had a view to the back of the hotel. 

Tiara Medan Hotel

After I was checked in and dropped my stuff in the room I went back downstairs to meet Morris.  Earlier I had asked Morris to show me where the local liquor store was so that I could pick up some local Bintang Beer.  He said that he would bring me to the local store before he went back to the airport to pick up the other traveler's who would be joining me.  A one litre of Bintang Beer ranges from 22,000-30,000 RP ($2.50-3.50 CAD) depending on where you buy it.  It is a light colored lager with no harsh aftertaste.

Bintang Beer ... YUMMY !!!

I relaxed in the room for a while and had a few Bintang before getting ready for dinner and meeting the rest of the group.  I met my fellow travelers over a buffet dinner in the hotel.  Dinner was good but nothing to write home about. At 830pm I was exhausted and went back to my room to get ready for the next morning and the start of our tour of Sumatra.

The view from my room watching the tremendous thunderstorm.  Tiara Hotel Medan.

The poor man who spent most of the VERY EARLY morning cleaning up the rain.
 The view from my room at the Tiara Hotel Medan.

If you would like to visit Medan and/or Indonesia then
please contact me at Adventures Abroad or by phone 1 800 665 3998

Quote code AANK for a special discount.

Indonesia -- Day 2 Changi Nightmare !!

The last time I was in Singapore was 1993. I don't really have a lot of memories of the time.  It was a quick 2 day stopover with a whirlwind of tours to see the most I could.  The Blue Mosque and Little India stands out as well as the strict laws that govern the island.  This time around though, it will be the Nightmare known as Changi Airport that stays inprinted on my brain.

Little India, Singapore

I am not a novice traveler but somehow this airport just confounds me.  A complete lack of prominent signage, perpertual upgrades and construction, lack of knowledge by any airport personal and multiple tickets on different airlines conspired to make this the worst transit point EVER!!!

A 10 hour layover is never great, but 10 hours lasting from midnight to 10am is probably the worst that I could do.  I had tried to get a room at the transit hotel in Terminal 2 (where I arrived) but it was under renovation.  I had tried the hotels in the other terminals but was advised there was no room.  I explained the problem to friend and colleague Christine (who is fantastic) and she contacted her friend in Singapore and he was able to somehow get me a room at a transit hotel. YEAH !! I got the text message the night before with all the details. 

Text Message: "I got a room at the Terminal 1 Ambassador Hotel. There is some renovation works for T1 as well so it's gonna be a bit noisy but better than stranded. So when you arrive in T2, take the skytrain to T1 and do not check out of Customs."

When I arrived I had the message handy and re-read it to make sure. No passing through Customs, GOT IT. I followed the other passengers to claim my baggage, all the while looking for signs to Skytrain or Terminal 1 (T1). Nothing !! I did end up at the Immigrations Counter and wondered if I should pass through but my text hadn't mentioned not going through Immigration and it was the only way to the baggage claim.  I followed the other passengers to claim my baggage, all the while looking for signs to Skytrain or Terminal 1 (T1). Nothing !! I passed through fine and went to get my luggage.  I looked all around the baggage claim and there was NOWAY to get to Terminal 1 or the Skytrain from there.  I could only go back through Immigration (but wasn't allowed) or go through, (you got it), Customs to the outside world.  I asked the Customs Officer what to do, I showed him the text and advised that I had a hotel room in Terminal 1.  He advised that I had to go through Customs and into the arrivals level of the airport.  That was the only way to the Skytrain and Terminal 1.  (FYI -- At the luggage belt there is a money changer )

I had a bad feeling but there was nothing else that I could do.  It was 12:30am, I had been up for 30 hours and traveling for 19 of them.  I was tired and edging towards crankiness.  I pulled my luggage, laptop bag and backpack through Terminal 2 toward the Skytrain. It seemed to take forever. It was a long walk to the skytrain for T1 or T3.  You have to go upstairs and then follow the signs. You pass a lot of coffee shops and even a Burger King.  At midnight the airport is not busy but its not empty either. The skytrain runs from 5am to 230am.
Little India, Singapore
I finally got to Terminal 1 but guess what? I was not allowed to enter the secured area to get the Ambassador Transit Hotel. Why you ask?  Well that's because I did not have a boarding pass to enter security. Easy fix right? I will just get a boarding pass for the next flight. But alas, that was not to be. I couldn't get a boarding pass to enter because I couldn't check in for my next flight yet.  WHAT A NIGHTMARE !! Check in wouldn't open till 7 am and because I had luggage to check I was unable to get a boarding pass any other way.  I explained my situation to the Security Officer (calmly) and he advised that I had to go the Information/Help desk.  That of course was on a different floor, so off I went carrying all my stuff.  By this time I had passed cranky and was heading full steam ahead to the twin towns of Angry and Bitchy.

I got to the Help/Information desk and advised the situation.  The lady there said there was nothing she could do (completely unhelpful woman).  So off I trotted again to security via the Valuair Counter to make sure I couldn't get a boarding pass.  They (Valuair) said no.  This time when I got to Security I was not so calm.  It was after 1am and I was tired and beyond frustrated. I explained the ENTIRE situation again to another Security Officer.  This gentleman said he could see what he could do.  (I had offered to leave my bags somewhere and be personally escorted to the hotel and escorted back out in the morning).  A little while later the security officer came back and said that someone would be up to help me.  Shortly after a new "Help Desk" woman arrived, named Anney, and asked me to follow her to the Information Desk.  Once there I explained the entire situation AGAIN !!!! Seriously I was sounding like a broken record at this time. 

Anney said she would see what she could do.  She called the Ambassador Hotel to see the status of my room.  Apparently if you do not check in WITHIN AN HOUR of your flight landing then they give away your room.  Yup thats right, just give away your room.   I was PISSED !!!! Yes my room had been given away.  So now it was 130am and I had 7 1/2 hours before my next flight left and no hotel room.  Beyond Irritated !!  Anney was a nice woman who was doing her best to help me.  Every hotel in the airport was sold out. Great.  The next best option was to take a taxi into the city and get a hotel there.  Yeah, that sounded budget friendly. 

So in the end I got a hotel in Little India, The Broadway Hotel.  How lovely !!

Broadway Hotel, Little India, Singapore

So off to Little India, Singapore I go.  The Broadway Hotel had a lovely $100 SGD room awaiting my arrival.  First stop, money changers to get some Singapore Dollars. Done.  Next thing, getting to the hotel.
There was a 45 min wait to get on the $9 shuttle which will take another hour to get to the hotel and it was already 115am. A cab would be $25 each way so I ended up doing that and it should only take 15 each way to get to the hotel.  (Much better than I thought it would be) and arrived at the hotel coming up to 2am.  I checked in with no problems and got my room on the 5th floor. 

Broadway Hotel Bathroom

What an experience.  The Broadway Hotel was a decent 2 star hotel in its day. Not very great, the cleaning staff could do with a refresher lesson.  I am pretty sure that 300 chain smokers had just left my room moments before I arrived.  There were 2 twin beds and a TV and a full bathroom with shower.  Upon closer inspection there was a lovely trail of bugs walking up the wall to God-knows-where.  UGGHH !!  I decided not to open my luggage in case something crawled in and hitched a ride. 

Guinness in the 7-11.  New version for me.

I had noticed when the cab dropped me of that there was a 7-11 across the street. I had to go downstairs to buy WIFI services anyway so I ran over and grabbed a few cans of beer.  I watched some Asia CNN, drank some beer and relaxed a little.  I managed to grab a couple of hours sleep (on top of the bed) and showered before catching a 6am cab back to the airport. 

I love this.  Who wouldn't love this?  Instant Mashed Potato Machine in the 7-11

So back to Changi Airport I go.  I went outside and flagged down a taxi.  I didn't have any Singapore Dollars left so I made sure to ask the driver if he took credit cards. My driver said " Yes".  I got in and noticed this cover on the passenger headrest.

Imagine my surprise when I got to the airport and the cab driver couldn't operate the credit card chip machine.  I even took a turn trying to figure it out but hopeless.  I ended up having to pay him in USD $$.  At this point I couldn't get out of Singapore soon enough. Thank God I was able to check in for my 10am flight with Valuair to Medan, Indonesia.
INDONESIA ... here I come !!

If you are interested in going to Indonesia (or giving Singapore the benefit of the doubt)
contact Adventures Abroad   at 1 800 665 3998 
Quote code AANK for a special discount.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Indonesia -- Day 1 Fantastic KOREAN AIR

Hi ho hi ho, its off to Indonesia I go ...

The routing I got for Vancouver to Medan, Indonesia was Vancouver - Seoul (Incheon) - Singapore (Changi)  with Korean Air.  In Singapore I had a 10 hour layover and then a Valuair flight from Singapore to Medan.

Somewhere over the Atlantic on Korean Air

Well the only great thing about getting to Changi Airport, Singapore was that I got to fly Korean Air. What a bloody FANTASTIC AIRLINE !!! Seriously, I can't recommend them enough. Korean Air has the largest seating of any economy plane cabin I have been on in a long time.  I am 5' 9'' and I had a ton of leg room.  So much in fact, I kept my backpack with me and at my feet.  Even with the seat in front on me on full recline my knees still didn't touch the seat.  So happy !!!! Totally makes up for the fact I couldn't get an upgrade to premium class ;)

The flight from Vancouver to Incheon is 11 hours and 40 minutes and covers 5092 miles. The plane was new and had in seat entertainment.  I also had a USB plugin to charge my iPhone. The entertainment selection was great, as was the Duty Free selection. In Vancouver I was able to check my luggage all the way to Singapore and received the boarding passes for both of my flights (thankfully).

Sunset arriving into Incheon Airport, Seoul
NOTE:  I was advised in Vancouver at the Duty Free shop that I was not allowed to buy Duty Free liquor as it would be confiscated in Seoul.  I don't understand why that would be but decided not to risk it.

Once in Seoul I had 45 minutes to make my connection for the Seoul to Singapore flight. Transiting through Incheon Airport is easy and the signage is great but this is a TIGHT but legal connection.  I only barely made it to the next flight and that was because I asked everyone in the security lineup if I could go ahead of them and showed them my boarding pass with boarding time. Off course I didn't have time for Duty Free here either.

Sunset arriving into Incheon Airport, Seoul

Sunset arriving into Incheon Airport, Seoul

My flight from Seoul to Singapore was a great flight as well.  Same type of plane with lots of legroom.  The entertainment and duty free options were the same.   This flight was 6 and a 1/2 hours and covered 2880 miles in a Boeing 777-300 to arrive in Singapore Changi Airport at 11:59pm. 

If you would like to book a Korean Air flight to Korea and/or Indonesia
contact Adventures Abroad at 1 800 665 3998 
Quote AANK for a special discount.

Its October .. and that means time to TRAVEL !!!

Wow, I just can't believe how fast time flies. 
It's October again and that means I have a chance to travel.  YEAH !!!! 

In mid-October I got the chance to travel to Indonesia.
It would be a two week trip through Indonesia: visiting the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali.
Stay tuned for updates on all my travels !!

Vintage Bali Travel Poster

Vintage Bali Travel Poster

Cheers Vancouver Banshee