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Old Oct 6, 05, 10:08 am   #1
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Fly is Cheap: Low-Cost Adventures in Indonesia

Prologue

Indonesia: seventeen thousand islands, 230 million people, and a GDP per capita of around $3000. What does add up to? A whole lot of airlines that nobody else has ever heard of. The state carrier, and the only one with any (mostly unfulfilled) pretensions of Western standards is Garuda, which I've sampled a few times (one experience here), but as Garuda's fares are usually 100% higher than the competition I've generally tried to search out alternatives. Alas, Indonesia being Indonesia, this isn't exactly easy: many airlines don't have websites, those that do are rarely up and functional, and if they're up you certainly can't rely on any schedules (if posted) to be up to date. At time of writing, there is one (1) airline that I know of in the entire country that has online booking!

So what follows is not a trip report as such, just a compendium of weekend trips all over the place, and some tips on how you can find your own way on board. Readers interested in similar stories outside Indonesia might wish to take a look at my earlier South-East Asian LCC Extravaganza.

Airlines tested to date:
  • Adam Air (SIN-CGK-SIN)
  • AWAIR (CGK-DPS-CGK), now rebranded as Indonesia AirAsia
  • Lion Air (CGK-MDC)
  • Wings Air (CGK-SUB)
Non-LCCs reviewed for comparison:
  • Garuda (SUB-CGK)
  • SilkAir (MDC-SIN)
On the to-do list:
  • Air Efata
  • Batavia Air
  • Merpati

Last edited by jpatokal; Feb 28, 06 at 9:33 am Reason: +adam air
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Old Oct 6, 05, 10:15 am   #2
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AWAIR: Now Everyone Can Fly

The Jakarta-Denpasar (Bali) sector connects the country's two largest airports, and as you might expect the competition is fierce. AWAIR is one of the newer entrants on the scene, having only started up in 2004, but they've quickly distinguished themselves from pack with two features: they're an affiliate of Asia's largest LCC, Malaysia's Air Asia, and as they piggyback on Air Asia's website they're the only one with a functional online booking engine. Add well-timed flights (Friday evening in, Sunday evening out) and a few seats left at short notice, and with a visiting colleague in tow I punched in my Mastercard and booked seats. The return trip came to about a million rupes (US$100), close to Air Asia's maximum prices, but not much more than what GA charges for a one-way.

QZ7518 CGK-DPS B737-300 free seating

I arrived from SIN on SQ, made it through immigration and customs in just over 30 minutes (very fast by CGK standards), and having been advised that the shuttle bus was useless I headed straight to the taxi stands for the hop over to Terminal 1A. It was pouring rain and there was a huge queue for Silver Bird cabs; what with a 40% hike in fuel prices scheduled for the next day, most cabs were queueing up to fill up on the last day of cheap fuel, and the lines into the petrol stations outside the airport snarled up traffic all the way to the arrivals hall. I did a round of the normal taxi queues, with lots of mercenary cabbies lounging around, all replying "50", "50", "50" to my queries; 50,000 rupiah (US$5), a normal fare to central Jakarta (30 km away), but not for Terminal 1A (500m). A tout with an airport ID tag pulled out the string towards me -- "Terminal 2, you! Terminal 1, me!" -- and, with this winning spiel and a discount to 40, I caved in and hopped on board. He was a friendly guy, complementing me on my pathetic Indonesian and asking me why I'm not married yet, and even gave me my change from a 50.

Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, being built by the same company at the same time, are identical in structure; however, it's fairly obvious which one gets the upkeep money. I met my colleague, checked in without problems (as in Air Asia's non-hub airports, boarding cards are paper slips with a stamped flight number and a hand-scribbled sequence number), and headed up towards the gates. The air-con was broken, half the lighting fixtures were broken, the gate displays were blank or showing static, and locals squatted on the "Do Not Sit" air-con vents and smoked kretek clove cigarettes under the "No Smoking" signs. Time moved as slowly as the stagnant air in the hall. Flight announcements were sporadic but incomprehensibly distorted in both Bahasa Indonesia and English; eventually, as the time approached we headed towards gate 4 to wait.

The gate area was, fortunately, equipped with air-con and seating too. Another burst of garble and a queue formed at the door, so we joined in -- until I noticed that our tickets looked distinctly different from the rest. "Pak, ke Denpasar?" "Tidak, ke Banjarmasin!". I have always wanted to visit Borneo, but maybe not today. This repeated two more times with a flight to Palembang (Sumatra) and the even more deviously named Balikpapan (also Borneo), but we dodged the traps. The scheduled time of departure approached and passed, but still no boarding call for us, or even a plane at the gate. Ladies in Air Asia's shade of screaming red were standing around at the desk, so I asked how much delay and was told 15-20 minutes. Lo and behold, 15 minutes later the plane did show up, and a mere 10 minutes later we were walking across the tarmac into a familiar-looking 737.

As I'd hoped, AWAIR (which, incidentally, is pronounced either "ah-wear" or "A-W-ayer" depending on who you ask) proved a carbon copy of Air Asia in all but name. Slighty old but impeccable clean 737-300s with leather seats, tight but not impossible seat pitch, more pretty ladies in eyeball-searing red hawking drinks and snacks (10k for a Coke), and that was about it. The flight was packed to the gills. We left half an hour behind schedule, made up around 10 minutes during the 1:30 flight, and landed at a wet and humid DPS just before midnight local time.




Bali was beautiful. We lazed around on Seminyak's gorgeous beach, poked around local restaurants and clubs, checked out neighborhood temples, had a pair of eyeglasses stolen by a mercenary monkey who blackmailed us for a piece of fruit, and were shopping in Kuta Square when Jemaah Islamiyah attempted to assassinate us. This being Indonesia, nobody had the slightest clue what was going on, so after hearing that the shopping center was evacuated because a restaurant's gas cylinder exploded, we shrugged and headed back to our villa. What had actually happened was unveiled to us only later, when my phone started beeping with voicemail and text messages containing variations of "OMG!!!1!1".

Life the next day went on as normal, although both tourists and Balinese did seem to be a little subdued compared to the previous day. I never did, and I still don't, understand why people spaz out so much about terrorism, with every single Western country hysterically bleating travel advisories about Indonesia ever since 9/11. Bali has 3.4 million people (plus tens if not hundreds of thousands of tourists at any given time) and 5600 sq.km. of land, 1.4% and 0.5% of the Indonesian total respectively. The island has had two (2) incidents in the past 40 years. Do the math; I'm far more worried about, say, the lunatic cabbies overtaking on blind corners.




QZ7519 DPS-CGK B737-300 free seating

In proper scaremongering style, BBC showed scenes of what were described as airport chaos, so the next day we headed to the airport a good two hours before our scheduled flight... only to find a near-deserted domestic terminal. DPS is built from the same rather unexciting mold as CGK, but better maintained; the gate displays still don't work -- or, to be more specific, they all display '9600 Baud Cybercom Ltd' as the next flight -- but at least there was one functional big LED display, and air-con and lighting were also sufficient. DPS also gets bonus points for the aquaria with googly-eyed fish above the men's urinals.

Tonight's flight, the last out of DPS, was on time. A few JAL jumbos were sitting on the tarmac, evidently evacuating the ever-panicky Japanese who make even American risk assessment look sensible, although at least they got rid of that pesky country-invading habit after the 1940s. BBC's implications to the contrary, there were even a few couple of seats left, and the flight itself was even less eventful as drink service was dropped in favor of letting everyone sleep,

Verdict: Lived up to my expectations, and thanks to Air Asia's backing easily the most competent of Indonesia's LCCs. I would not hesitate to fly them again, although I would never use them (or any other LCC) if I had a remotely tight onward connection.
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Old Oct 10, 05, 8:49 am   #3
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Wings Air: Fly is Cheap

Next on my agenda was a trip to gaze into the gaping maw of Mount Bromo, an active volcano in East Java. The nearest major city is Surabaya, the second-largest city in all Indonesia, so my route of choice was CGK-SUB, quite possibly the busiest domestic leg in the country. This also meant plenty of choice for my flights, but as my friend had a connecting international flight to catch on the way back, one way had to be Garuda, who had the effrontery to charge 640k for a one-way. Out of principle I had to pick another carrier for the way in, and after some detective work I booked Lion Air, only to find that the flight in question was actually operated by their LCC wing Wings Air. Then again, at a price of 229k (~US$20), I couldn't really complain... or could I?

IW8974 CGK-SUB MD82 seat 11F

Jakarta's domestic terminal, much maligned in my previous installent, looked pretty decent by day the second time around, even if I did have to make a grand detour from inside 1A departures to outside 1B arrivals to find a functional ATM. Passengers at the gate were sorted neatly onto both sides and our flight was the first and apparently only one to depart from the left, and this time we walked straight on board via jetway instead of crossing the tarmac on foot.

On boarding, I first thought that the plane and seat pitch looked somehow awfully narrow, but the puzzle pieces only fell together when I realized that this wasn't the 737 I was expected, but an MD-82, a plane I haven't flown in a long, long time. It's a long and narrow dart of a plane, with seating in a lopsided 2-3 configuration, and when sitting near the nose it was surprisingly quiet in flight.

Alas, that's about it as far as the superlatives go, as Wings had evidently decided to economize by turning off air con, not necessarily the best of ideas on a tropical noon on Java. Seat pitch was cramped if not entirely untolerable, but the windows were pretty scratched up and there appeared to be insulation squirting out the edges. In-flight entertainment was provided by an "Invocation Card" with prayers for five religions, and after the plane was loaded with sweating pax, full to the last seat, we taxied through the safety demo in Bahasa and utterly inaudible English and bounced to the sky.

The first half of the hour-long hop was uneventful, and we spent our time volcano-spotting and trying the match the cones to my rudimentary travel guide map. In-flight service consisted of free sealed cups of water and nothing more, even at a price, although most pax were fasting for Ramadan and didn't touch even the water. (Tip: the Quran permits breaking fast if you're travelling, although whether you equate even the discomforts of even dodgiest LCC with crossing the Sahara on a camel is left to you.)

We soon noticed, though, that the previously torrid cabin temperatures were quickly dropping, and a few seats ahead some resourceful passengers were stuffing the safety cards up above the window in an attempt to stop the rush of cold air through the vents. Fortunately, before hypothermia could set in we had started out descent to Surabaya's Juanda International Airport. Landing was in one piece and we were bussed out to the baggage claims, where I pondered the mysteries of an office labeled "BAG BREAK DOWN" and haggled for a car to take us to Bromo.




The sun sets early in East Java, but it also rises early, so we set our alarm clocks to ring at 3:30 AM and, bundling on every layer of clothing we had, set off on foot from Cemoro Lawang (c. 2300m) up towards the viewpoints of Mt. Penanjakan (2770m). As the area lives on tourism and everybody wants to see Bromo at dawn, the village was positively bustling at this unearthly hour and we were hailed with the traditional greetings of "By jeep? By pony? 100! Boss!" as we walked through. Nobody else was going our way though, and after we shook off one more local who quite popped out of the bushes and offered to guide the way (I'll take the pavement and signposted trail over your jungle path, thank ye very much), we hit Viewpoint 1 at 5 AM just in time for the sun to peep over the horizon.

I'd previously dubbed Svalbard as "Mordor", but while the epithet still applies as far as entire gigantic lands of vast desolation go, I think Mt Bromo and the entire Tengger Caldera, while a mere 20 km in diameter, pip it for sheer cinematographic visuals. Picture this (or click the thumbnails above): in the middle of lush green valleys full of farms and ponchoed Tenggerese on ponies, there's a gigantic gaping pit filled with nothing but gray volcanic ash (the aptly named Pasir Laut, "Sand Sea"). Mt Batok, solid brown and stately, stands guard up front; Mt Bromo, edges tinged with white and green sulphur, constantly belches plumes of white smoke; and Mt Semeru, standing tall at 3600m behind them all, does honest-to-Brahma volcanic eruption with little gray mushroom clouds bursting out every 15 minutes or so.




The return was uneventful, except the little bit where our jeep turned out to have a broken gas gauge and thus stalled conveniently in the middle of a steep incline. I know nothing about cars, so this was a good moment to learn that while normal brakes don't work without fuel, the handbrake does. The driver hopped on a moto and came back a few minutes later with a jerrycan of golden liquid to save the day.

SUB was surprisingly busy on this Sunday afternoon, with jostling queues at security and check-in, and the interior bore distinct resemblance to a shopping mall with every other store hawking the local speciality, whole smoked fish. There were half a dozen lounges for various gold credit card holders, but none of them for banks I use, so we sat in the cavernous departures hall and watched strange planes on strange airlines zoom off to strange places. For the first time in Indonesia, even the LED departure boards worked!

GA323 SUB-CGK B737-300 seat 8E

After the previous day I appreciated Garuda a little more: it was the same 737-300 as always, but the aircon worked, announcements were mostly comprehensible and the food pack provided was rather edible (although I'm still wondering how they can pack so much sugar, syrup and glaze into a single miniature donut). Row 8 proved lucky indeed: it's the emergency exit row and seat F was missing, so there was plenty of space. (9F, right behind the empty space, would be even better!) Arrival was on time and I was back in Jakarta for another week of work.
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Old Oct 25, 05, 12:17 am   #4
  
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First-rate story

Great information, well told. Thanks.
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Old Feb 4, 06, 4:08 am   #5
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Adam Air: The Boutique Airlines

In a country of strange airlines Adam Air is among the strangest. Owned and run by the eponymous Adam Adhitya Suherman, playboy scion of a wealthy family, in barely over two years the company has bought or leased 19 737s and now flies on 22 routes around the country, as well as to Penang and Singapore. Their trademark screaming orange and flourescent yellow make even Air Asia's crimson red seem subdued, and every month the company seems to announce expansion plans and is even planning to list in Singapore's stock market in 2006. And they certainly present an enticing image, to quote some of the charmingly fractured English from their website:

Discover New Flying Experience
modern jet airplanes with sophisticated interiors
full of fun with our friendly angels


The only problem, though, is getting your way into the sophisticated interior of their modern jet airplanes. The website doesn't offer online booking (it's been "Coming Soon" for half a year now), in fact it can't even offer accurate schedules, and Singapore's Adam Air office first refused to answer any calls. When I finally got through, they did condescend to make a booking -- but I would have to show up at the office, in person and within 24 hours, to pay for it. Cash only, no credit cards, and of course the office is only open 9-5 weekdays, 9-12 Saturday, closed Sundays and public holidays. But against the odds I did manage to nip in on a Saturday, interrupting the beauty sleep of a genuinely astonished ticketing agent, who then painstakingly wrote out both my ticket and receipt entirely by hand, and at S$177 return (taxes included) the cost came out to under half of what SQ charges. But what would this discounted boutiquosity get me?

KI989 SIN-CGK B737-500 seat 1B

Finding the check-in desk at Changi was easy: it was the one with no queue. For boarding passes Adam had invested in a printer, although it was an antique dot-matrix model fed by hand and only the second try printed out more or less straight. Cowed by an adminition that "you may not be acceptable for travel" unless you show up at the gate 30 minutes before departure, I mosied my way over 10 min before the gate closed, only to find it near empty as everybody was already jammed up in the tube.

The paint job may be spiffy, but the plane was obviously an old workhorse that has been around the block a few times. Against my expectations loads inside were decent (80%-ish) but I had the best seat in the house, with seat 1A missing, seat 1C empty and two miniskirted friendly angels in yellow and orange sitting opposite me, one of them very cute indeed. Rollback was delayed by some 10 minutes, as some checked-in passengers decided to no-show, but they were eventually deemed unacceptable and the plane set off. Announcements were both in Indonesian and English, and the crew noted that they were "required" to hold the safety demo and did so with a suitable lack of enthusiasm. With seat 1A unceremoniously ripped out, I had neither seat pocket nor safety card, but with the main entrance door around half a meter away I can perhaps forgive this lapse of safety regulations.

Soon enough we were airborne, the seatbelt sign blinked off, the cart set off down the aisle and a lunch box in blazing orange landed inside my lap. Inside was one of the more innovative in-flights meals I've seen to date: a cup of water, a piece of colorful but entirely tasteless cake and, the piece de resistance, an original boutique hamburger from famed boutique restaurant McDonalds. Let's just I was glad I'd had the foresight to wolf down some noodles at the airport. As expected, there was no in-flight entertainment of any kind, but that's what laptops are for innit?

After a vista of Tanjung Priok by night, touchdown was smooth and we rolled up the gate, where I had the rare pleasure of being the very first off the plane. With no other flights touching down at the time I felt like I was alone in the terminal: escalators rolled to life as I stepped on and I was the first at immigration, the first at customs and the first in the taxi queue -- 5 minutes from the gate to the cab. SQ may lick Adam in everything else, but this feeling ain't ever going to happen unless you're willing to fork out for F.

Some gratuitous Jakarta pictures:



KI988 CGK-SIN B737-500 seat 1D

The fickle gods of macet (Indonesian for "traffic jam", a very useful word indeed) were in my favor and I arrived at Soekarno-Hatta two hours before my flight. Not being able to find my flight on the departure board occasioned mild alarm, but eyeball-blistering orange signs pointed the way to check-in and for some unaccountable reason I again scored a seat in the first row, this time 1D. The mystery of the missing flight was also solved when I realized that Adam Air's rather unintuitive three-letter code is "DHI" (not that "KI" makes much more sense) and the flight was listed as 17:30, not the correct 17:35. With no lounge access to look forward to I settled down in Starbucks with a comfy sofa, tarmac views, a mocha frappucino, a broken-as-usual wifi connection and an air conditioning unit that seems to incorporate a jet engine (for volumes of sound, that is, not cold air).

A few days in Jakarta always helps to lower your expectations. The plane was, most probably, exactly the same as before but now I noted all sorts of little signs of professionalism and dedicated branding: Adam Air logos emblazoned on bits of airport gear, Adam Air guys with clipboards doing the mysterious things that guys with clipboards do, Adam Air stewardesses going around passing around candy. Seat 1D isn't quite as nice as 1B but the pitch was still great, loads today were a little lower (60%-ish) and pushback was exactly on time. The classical muzak of last time, however, was replaced by a four-letter peppered heavy metal rendition of "I Will Survive", both a comforting and somewhat disturbing choice at the same time -- I mean, it's nice to survive, but it's nicer not to end up in situations where "survival" is a top priority in the first place.

Meal service was precisely the same McD's hamburger, although this time I discovered that a generous dollop of chilli sauce makes it slightly less dry. Adam doesn't seem to have an in-flight magazine, but this time they did have the safety cars and a short duty-free catalog to browse, although the stewardesses never made any announcements about anything being available. After an entirely unremarkable 90 minute flight we touched down at SIN, again on schedule, and that was the end of this boutique experience.

Overall, I doubt I'll be flying Adam from Singapore again, the ticketing is just too much of a hassle and Valuair is still a notch or two better servicewise in the same price bracket. However, I would be happy to fly them again domestically from Jakarta and I wish the company luck in their future endeavours.
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Old Feb 4, 06, 3:36 pm   #6
  
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Old Feb 4, 06, 4:58 pm   #7
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jpatokal
The website doesn't offer online booking (it's been "Coming Soon" for half a year now), in fact it can't even offer accurate schedules, and Singapore's Adam Air office first refused to answer any calls. When I finally got through, they did condescend to make a booking -- but I would have to show up at the office, in person and within 24 hours, to pay for it. Cash only, no credit cards, and of course the office is only open 9-5 weekdays, 9-12 Saturday, closed Sundays and public holidays. But against the odds I did manage to nip in on a Saturday, interrupting the beauty sleep of a genuinely astonished ticketing agent, who then painstakingly wrote out both my ticket and receipt entirely by hand, and at S$177 return (taxes included) the cost came out to under half of what SQ charges.
Well I'm glad to see you had the persistance to finalise a booking with Adam Air - I had been interested in booking with them on the SIN-CGK leg before, and it really seemed like they didn't want to take your money. Valuair's remained my choice as well - lets hope JetstarAsia doesn't butcher Valuair's legroom down to what they have on the rest of their fleet!
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Old Feb 28, 06, 9:31 am   #8
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Lion Air: We Make You Fly

Lion Air is the largest private airline in Indonesia, second in size only to state-run behemoth Garuda. Despite their vaguely threatening slogan, which invokes images of being marched at gunpoint onto the all-catapult fleet of Dilbert's Elbonian Airways, Lion has a fairly solid reputation for getting its passengers to their destination in one piece (although not necessarily on time, and they had a fatal crash in 2004). They've also got two major advantages over Garuda: cheaper tickets (on average half the full GA fare) and cuter stewardesses. I've flown Lion Air's LCC affiliate Wings Air before, and while less then impressed, I was still ready to give them a shot for a trip to Manado, three hours and then some away from Jakarta at the northeastern tip of Sulawesi, at a price of some Rp 550k (~US$55) one-way including taxes and all.

I left the office a little under three hours before my flight, and spent the first hour and a half of that studying that lovely Jakartan phenomenon known as macet (traffic jam). On radio the DJs were joking about the traffic report -- "it's Friday afternoon, so why even bother, because the entire city is jammed as always!" -- and I got to further my studies of macetology a little. One step above the ordinary macet is the macet banget, flippant Javanese slang for "very jammed"; more staid is the formal-sounding macet terus, or "straight jam" all along a road; an even more thorough clusterf*** of cars is macet komplit (as in "complete"), and worst of all is the inescapable soul-sucking quagmire known simply as macet total. Today the situation was merely komplitly messed up and I got to the airport 15 min before the check-in closed.

Not that I need have rushed, as just as there was no sign of my flight in the monitors, there was no sign of the plane at gate A6. There was a crowd though, and a fairly interesting one too, as in addition to the Filipinoesque Minahasa faces I'd been expecting there were a couple of dark-skinned, curly-haired Papuan types around. Indeed, it turned out the flight was continuing on from Manado to Sorong, a place I have to admit I'd never heard of before (hint: it's at westernmost tip of Irian Jaya, a few hundred klicks north of the delightfully named metropolis of Fak Fak). Also contrary to my expectations there were a couple of other bule waiting around, including a couple consisting of a Western guy in his twenties and a pretty Muslim lady wearing a jilbab headscarf -- a triply unusual sight, as the former Dutch colony of Manado is heavily Christian Protestant (there wasn't a single other scarf in sight), even most Muslim women in Indonesia don't wear scarves, and those that do rarely consort with Western guys as unchaperoned proximity (khalwat) to any unrelated member of the opposite sex is a crime in some districts.

Twilight gradually darkened into night and the Central Sulawesi gate lounge (for that's what the sign above the entrance said) gradually deepened into gloom, the ornate bronze chandelier high up in the air occasionally emitting a "pop" as yet another bulb blew. I idly wondered what the FTer who found CGK's international side the scariest airport in his life would make of the domestic side. Five minutes after scheduled departure came an announcement: the Manado flight was moving to gate A3, and everybody uncomplainingly got up and trooped across to the other side of the terminal.

JT770 CGK-MDC MD-90 seat 30F

I'd already resigned myself to a long wait (this being a central component of doing anything in Indonesia) and had started bemoaning the fact that none of the power plugs in either A6 or A3 worked, when lo and behold, boarding was announced and the gate opened. I walked halfway down the tube, exited down concrete stairs onto the tarmac, detoured around some luggage carts and, picking the closest plane, clambered on board an MD-90 very much like Wings' earlier MD-82. This proved to be in slightly better shape though -- for example, I could actually see out the windows, which still had their insulation solidly in place -- and they were kind enough to turn on the air-con after the doors were closed, instead of waiting until we were airborne.

The seat pitch was tight, but not excruciating, and I wasn't too sad to walk past the 8 plush leather business seats up front to the back of cargo class. The stewardesses were indeed cute, although despite a lengthy thigh slit, neither the flowery red print dresses nor level of smiley service was quite up to SQ standards. On the upside, I was surprised to find Lion Air's inflight magazine "Nationwide" in the seat pocket, although the only things in English were a rather vapid article on the healing powers of yoga and the route map, always a useful source of inspiration. Up next, Mataram-Bima, Ambon-Kaimana, or perhaps the ever-popular Luwuk-Soroako? The magazine also hyped Lion's new Click'n'Fly service, but closer inspection revealed that this just lets you book online, you still have to mosy over to a travel agent to pay and get the ticket issued.

On the downside, my seatbelt seemed to have been wired the wrong way around: it loosened up at the gentlest tug, but was impossible to tighten without opening it up and working the mechanism, and I had to hack it with an additional knot to make it even stay in place. Load was heavy but the plane wasn't quite full (80% or so), as perhaps the landslides of the previous week with 700 mm of rain in one day and 40 people dying in landslides had put off some people's plans.

Take-off was uneventful and we were treated to a flyby of Jakarta from the coast, the vast capital sprawling over Java like a species of phosphorescent orange and gray mold. Meal service came in a box containing a flaky pastry stuffed with adom (one of a multitude of varieties of the sweet dried meat floss that all South-East Asians seem to be inordinately fond of), a slice of sponge cake labeled "Black & White Muffin", a cup of tea (hot) and a cup of water (tepid).

Three hours of solid darkness followed, with the wingtip light blinking forlornly outside my window and almost all passengers dozing. The seatbelt sign, too, stayed on although there was nary a bump during the entire voyage, until the very end, when a brief burst of turbulence announced that we were approaching the north coast of Sulawesi and soon descended for landing, almost one hour behind schedule.

Verdict: I'd fly them again in a pinch, but would look for other options first. And if I do fly then again, it'll be business class next time!

* * *

Manado's new-ish Sam Ratulangi Airport proved to be quite decent by Indonesian standards, sufficiently clean, airy and signposted that I might have taken it for an older provincial Malaysian or Thai airport. The bags showed up almost instantaneously, and my yellow Flyertalk luggage tag saved the day as I spotted somebody across the carousel attempting to haul away my bag -- almost certainly an honest accident though (cursed black Samsonites). The dive shop staff were waiting outside and bundled me into an old beat-up Kijang, which took me away to the entirely nondescript Central Hotel to swipe at mosquitoes and sleep fitfully until 7 AM.

After a breakfast of nasi kuning, featuring half a boiled egg with a tiny dab of what was quite possibly the fieriest chili sauce I've ever tried, we clambered onto a perahu fishing boat and made for Bunaken, just 30 minutes away. A tiny gap in the dense mangroves revealed the entrance to the Living Colours dive resort, and one hour later I was suited up and ready to plunge into the turquoise waters off Manado Tua.




MI273 MDC-SIN A319 seat 16A

Two busy days of catching up with long-lost friends, diving and gluttony later, culminating in a bottle of wine I'd brought along from Singapore and the Finnish men's ice hockey team's inevitable defeat to arch-rival Sweden in the Olympic final (as reported live on satellite broadband to North Sulawesi), it was time to say goodbye. In the morning it was low tide and the boat couldn't dock, so we had to clamber down the beach to the next resort, through a trail cut in the mangroves and then across squishy and thigh-deep but, in a holistic Ayurveda expensive spa treatment way, kinda pleasant mud onto the boat. (Fortunately I'd had the foresight to lug my diving gear to the boat at high tide the previous day.) We skipped through azure seas to Manado's port, full of boats of every size and shape sporting names like "Terra Sanctus" and "Ratu Maria", visited a recently-mudslided alleyway to settle our credit card bills, and then clambered onto a baby blue bemo for the ride to the airport.



Manado's most famous dishes, namely steamed bat, grilled dog and field rat satay, were regrettably absent at the airport cafe, so I settled for fourth-best and sampled a bowl of tinutuan, the Manadonese porridge of rice, pumpkin, noodles, veggies, tofu and anything else they can get their hands on. It looked like a bowl of vomit, but the taste, while somewhat bland, was rather inoffensive and at Rp. 10,000 (US$1) this was quite possibly the cheapest airport meal I've ever paid for. Alas, the sharp metal edge of restaurant's chair took offense at my opinion and ripped a butt-exposing gash into the seat of my pants, setting me back approx. 100x the cost of the meal and forcing me to improvise a wraparound from my sweater so as not to get arrested for indecent exposure.

My connection back was on Silkair's direct service to Singapore. I've flown MI just once before, as usually they're quite pricy, but for Manado they're pretty much the only international option (unless you want to risk Merpati via Davao in the Philippines). At the airport, they had "Regional Wing of Singapore Airlines" plastered on every available surface, and indeed the SQ touch was visible on everything from check-in procedures to the modern plane, the tasty in-flight meal, the comparatively generous seat pitch and, unavoidably, the fact that my flight cost almost 5x as much as my Lion Air jaunt. Such is the price of predictability -- the flight landed precisely on time, and on that note this installment ends.
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Old Mar 1, 06, 9:01 pm   #9
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Originally Posted by jpatokal
macetology
This is hilarious!

Great report, btw!
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Old Mar 3, 06, 7:49 am   #10
  
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I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I have found the information extremly useful as I am planning a SE Asian adventure for this summer. Thanks!
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Old Mar 5, 06, 2:20 am   #11
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Alas, the sharp metal edge of restaurant's chair took offense at my opinion and ripped a butt-exposing gash into the seat of my pants, setting me back approx. 100x the cost of the meal and forcing me to improvise a wraparound from my sweater so as not to get arrested for indecent exposure.
Love it... Very interesting report on Asian LCCs
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Old Mar 5, 06, 10:56 am   #12
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Great report!
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Old Mar 24, 06, 9:01 am   #13
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Just a small update: very much to my surprise Adam Air finally got their online booking up and running (inimitable tagline: the one and only Indonesia's e-commerce!) Bookings are only possible for SIN-CGK now, but it's a start, and promo fares are from US$35 return.
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Old Mar 24, 06, 9:03 am   #14
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This has been one of the most informative trip reports I've seen. Thanks.
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Old May 9, 06, 5:40 pm   #15
  
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The classical muzak of last time, however, was replaced by a four-letter peppered heavy metal rendition of "I Will Survive", both a comforting and somewhat disturbing choice at the same time -- I mean, it's nice to survive, but it's nicer not to end up in situations where "survival" is a top priority in the first place.
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Originally Posted by jpatokal
I left the office a little under three hours before my flight, and spent the first hour and a half of that studying that lovely Jakartan phenomenon known as macet (traffic jam). On radio the DJs were joking about the traffic report -- "it's Friday afternoon, so why even bother, because the entire city is jammed as always!" -- and I got to further my studies of macetology a little. One step above the ordinary macet is the macet banget, flippant Javanese slang for "very jammed"; more staid is the formal-sounding macet terus, or "straight jam" all along a road; an even more thorough clusterf*** of cars is macet komplit (as in "complete"), and worst of all is the inescapable soul-sucking quagmire known simply as macet total. Today the situation was merely komplitly messed up and I got to the airport 15 min before the check-in closed.
These had me LOL'd

Anyway ... well written journal and being an Indonesian myself, I definitely can relate to many of them
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