Thursday, February 08, 2007

Manila Trip '07 - Day 1 (Part 1)

Dateline : 2nd Feb 2007.

Day 1 of my Manila Trip ’07 actually started the night before. Since we all had to catch the 4:30am Skybus from KL Sentral to LCCT, I decided that I would spend the night somewhere near KL Sentral so I didn’t need to bother about trying to get a cab at 3 am in the morning to go to KL Sentral from Sunway. Two of my traveling companions on this trip had the same idea and would be joining me as well for my overnight stay. I had not made any bookings for the night since I don’t really know what’s available in the area.

Taking the 10:20pm Komuter train from Sunway, I arrived in KL Sentral at around 11 pm to find only one of the person’s I will be traveling with there. It seems that the other one will be joining us much later in the night. Since KL Sentral was shutting down for the night, we decided to walk across to the KL Sentral Monorail station and have a drink at the mamak shop there. It was there that we noticed that there was a budget hotel operating on the 2nd floor of the shop and we decided to try our luck at getting a room there for the night.
(Budget hotel on 2nd floor of this mamak shop next to the KL Sentral Monorail Station)

As luck may have it, they had a room with 3 beds available for the night which was just nice since there was going to be 3 of us departing to LCCT from KL Sentral. At RM90 for the 3 beds, it was a fair deal considering we would only be using the rooms for about 4 hours or so for some shut eye. The furnishing in the room were spartan but it was adequate for our needs and was better than the alternative of sleeping on the cold pavement outside of KL Sentral. Given the choice, I would prefer to have a proper bed to sleep in.

We woke up at 3:30am to prepare to leave KL and begin our journey proper. We had our last roti canai breakfast, at least until we came back to KL, and boarded the 4:30am Skybus to LCCT in KLIA Sepang. The journey to LCCT took about 45 minutes through the nearly empty Sg. Besi highway. I was feeling a bit melancholy as the bus made its way out of KL under the light of the full moon. I was excited at being able to make this trip but at the same time I was already missing the KL that I was leaving behind. I guess the city was too much in my blood for me to ignore her tugs as I neared LCCT.

(At RM9 per trip, the Skybus was a hard to beat way to get ourselves to LCCT)
(Arrival/Departure board at LCCT. Note the time gap between the departure times)
LCCT was already busy and full of people even at that early hour. It seems that most of the Air Asia flights out of Malaysia depart very early in the morning followed closely later by domestic flights. Looking it the arrival/departure board, it seems that there is a flight taking off almost every 15 minutes that morning. I don’t think that even KLIA has flights that close together. After meeting up with the last member of out traveling troupe and checking in at the Air Asia ticket counter, we still had about 1 hour to kill before we can board our flight. Since the last arrival of our group had not had his breakfast yet, we ended up spending that time at the McDonalds that they have inside the LCCT which was not so bad although they could have spaced the tables further apart considering that people will be there lugging their hand carry luggage around.

We still had to wait a bit after clearing immigration on 6:30am before they allowed us to walk out of the terminal towards the plane on the airport tarmac. I had hoped that we would get one of those MU festooned planes but it turned out that we got one with the standard Air Asia colors. From what I could tell, our flight that morning was fairly near capacity as I could only see a scattering of empty seats on boards by the time the plane took off at 7:40am
The flight itself was mostly uneventful until we reached somewhere above the South China Sea at around 10:15am. Our flight suddenly ran into some turbulence which tossed the plane about for a bit. I don’t mind it so much when the plane was shaken by the strong winds but when it started to bounce up and down that was when I wished that I had skipped breakfast that morning. I was trying my hardest to keep everything inside me from spewing outside and thankfully no one else lost that battle as well. I think that I would have lost it had anyone else on the plane puked. Fortunately I didn’t have to struggle not to showing every one what I had for breakfast as the plane landed safely at Manila - Clark Air Field at 10:25am which was actually 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

(Somewhere above Luzon Island and still rocked by turbulance)

Another walk through the runway before we were ushered into the immigration control area. At this point every one in the group was turning their mobiles on to check if they could get roaming reception in Manila. When I reached over to where my mobile phone was clipped on my belt, I realized that it was missing. A few frantic moments later, I realized that I must have left it on the plane as I disembarked. I looked in vain around of an Air Asia ground staff to get help getting back on the plane bit none were in sight and the doors going to the tarmac where the planes were was already closed. One of my traveling companions helped to convinced the immigration officer to let me cut the immigration line, much to the consternation of others ahead of me, so I could get processed through as quickly as possible in the hopes that I could get a hold of an Air Asia staff to help me get my phone back.

After rushing through immigration and almost knocking over a Customs officer who was trying to get me to stop and let them check my bags, I was still unable to find an Air Asia staff. It turned out that their only counter was at the other side of the building where the departure gate was. Moving as fast as I could with the bags that I had to carry, I reached the departure area only to find that you need to have a ticket to pass through to the Air Asia counter. I was practically begging the security officers to let me come through so I could talk to someone there before the plane that I just got off taxied down the runway on it’s journey back to KL. Since I can’t leave my bags behind, I had to put them through security checks again before I’m allowed through.

By the time I reached the Air Asia counter, they had already boarded the plane with outbound passengers. The staff at the counter was kind enough to entertain my request that they try to contact someone on the plane to check if they found my phone. Unfortunately no one had turned it in and they could not hold the plane any longer so I was out of luck. I walked out of the terminal feeling more than a little down since I really liked that phone and what was more important was that I had lost all my contact numbers that I stored on my SIM card. I’ve always been careful about my phone but somehow this time it was my own carelessness that caused me to lose that phone.

(Manila - Clark Air Field Terminal)

After such a downer for a starter on this trip, I hoped that things would only be for the better from that point on. We just started our journey as Manila – Clark Air Field was about 2 hours journey from Manila proper. We boarded the Philtranco shuttle bus that serviced the route between the terminal to Manila at the cost of 350 pesos (RM 28) per trip per person. As the bus steadily made its way through scenic Luzon countryside, my mind kept on obsessing about my lost handphone. In the end I accepted it as a way that nature balances itself. I had actually gotten a financial windfall both in the form of a 10% monthly paycheck raise and my stocks sale checks getting cleared just days before the trip. My lost was just nature’s way of making sure that I remained grounded and not get too carried off by my good fortune. Once I accepted that, the trip started to get better for me.

Unlike the route between Sepang to KL, the countryside on the journey from the terminal to Manila was covered by beautiful emerald green paddy fields as far as the eye can see. It reminded me of the stretch of road between Kedah to Perlis during paddy planting time. We could also see how the local in the area lived as we passed houses, makeshift stores, small duck ponds and chicken coops under the bridges that we passed on. It was clearly a poor area of the countryside and you can see how hard their lives are like. Regardless how poor they seemed, there were always smiles on their faces as our bus made its way through their neighborhood. As we came closer to Manila, we began to notice the difference of how the locals lived between the country and the city. There was definitely more cars on the road as we got introduced to the hectic pace of Manila’s notorious traffic.

(Road from terminal to Manila. Paddy fields as far as the eyes can see)

The first stop for our bus was to let some of the passages at SM Megamall in Ortigas. It was there that I saw my first real life jeepney that would be a very familiar sight in the next few days. It was also there where for the first time I saw how much more serious they take security here. There were heavily armed security guards everywhere guarding the banks, ATM machines and even the entrance into the shopping malls. These security guards were not old men like the ones we find in Malaysia but tall strapping men that you know you would not want to mess with.

From Ortigas, we had another half hour journey through Manila’s chaotic traffic towards the bus terminal at Pasay where we would get off. More than once I thought that the cars would hit the bus by the way traffic was weaving in and out around us but some how we managed to make it thorough without any incident. From the bus terminal at Pasay, we took a taxi for 200 pesos (RM 16) to get to our hotel. Being lower to the ground, the organized chaos that is Manila’s traffic seemed so overwhelming and I’m completely stunned how Manila drivers manage to negotiate their way every day without killing someone or themselves. I have no idea how they do it day after day but somehow they do as evidenced by out taxi driver safely delivering us at the doorstep of the Palm Plaza Hotel in one piece.

We were now officially on our way.

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