Phuket to Kuala Lumpur for an extended stopover
Leaving Marriot’s Phuket Beach Club for Phuket Airport
After a week at the Marriot’s Phuket Beach Club, it was time to head to Kuala Lumpur for a few days before returning to Perth.
After reading about expensive transfers by the hotel and slightly cheaper, but still expensive transfers by taxi, I decided to download the Grab app to my smartphone. Grab is like Uber (which doesn’t operate in Phuket). Unlike Uber, we had the option to pay for the ride in cash, so no need to give the Grab app your credit card details. Grab was easy to use, and for the weekend we were leaving, they had a special on offering half price fares. Just like Uber, once you place your request to be picked up, you can see when the driver has accepted the job, how long before he’ll arrive, a little pictogram of his approach to you on the map, and his license plate number. A nicely air-conditioned van picked us up and the fare was only 235 Thai Baht (approx. $7.50 USD or $9.60 AUD). Bargain! Less than 40% of what we paid to get from the airport to the resort.
Phuket Airport and flight to Kuala Lumpur
The check-in queue for Air Asia wasn’t too bad, but the immigration queue was mayhem. Be prepared for a really, really long line (and we were there in the off-season).
The Phuket airport doesn’t have much to offer to pass the time while you’re waiting for your flight. There are some shops and there are places to eat, but you’d better have on hand something interesting to read.
Upon boarding time, once again, Air Asia staff did a fantastic job with crowd control and minimising the queue jumpers. The plane is boarded by section, starting with the expensive seats, then from the back of the plane to the front.
Once we’ve taken off and we’ve reached cruising altitude, the Air Asia flight attendants hand out food and drinks and collected payments like a well oiled machine.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2 (KLIA2)
Our landing at KLIA2 was fine. We had a long walk to immigration. They really need to update the English signage in the immigration hall because it says an arrivals card must be filled in, but they are no longer required. I wonder how many times a day the staff are asked for blank arrivals cards. Immigration didn’t take too long, but customs had quite a long queue. Everyone’s checked baggage needed to be scanned prior to entering the country. Only one x-ray machine was operating.
Once we we’re land-side, we changed some money to Malaysian ringgit, then made our way down to the public transfers hall. Although taking the shuttle bus would have only been RM12 per person to Pudu Sentral (the nearest drop off point), we elected to take a taxi for RM74.30 for the convenience factor. To take a taxi, you need to purchase a taxi coupon. The taxi coupon queue was short when we got there, but it took forever to process our coupon and payment; I think the girl serving us was a trainee. By the time we received our coupon, the queue was long. There was a second person also selling the coupons, but she had a couple arguing with her the entire time we were there, so that queue wasn’t going to move anytime soon.
We made our way to the taxi queue, handed our coupon to the guy in charge, who then directed us to the next available taxi. There were lots of taxis waiting. Too bad the coupons were taking so long to get issued.
Our taxi was just ok. It was old, dusty and smelly, and so was the driver. In hindsight, we should’ve just gotten an Uber. KLIA is a long way from the city centre, approximately 60 km. It’s freeway most of the trip in, but once you hit town, it’s stop-and-go traffic.
KL Journal Hotel
The KL Journal Hotel is a four star hotel located in Bukit Bintang. It’s in a great spot on a side street, but very close to the shopping malls, the free Go KL bus stop, and within walking distance of some great places to eat. It was definitely value-for-money.
Here is our tour of our room, the breakfast area and the rooftop pool:
We enjoyed the breakfast (a la carte AND buffet combined) that was included in our tariff. The rooftop pool was very refreshing after a day of sightseeing in humid KL.
We arrived in KL around dinner time. The original plan was to head to the Jalan Alor night market, but the humidity had already taken it’s toll on us, so we decided to dine in air-conditioned comfort of the Lot 10 food court. This food court had lots of options and was very popular, but not so popular that we couldn’t find a table. I had chicken with rice and veg. The chicken was more bones than chicken, but the flavour was good.
After a morning of sightseeing, lunch the next day was at the Kopi Club in Plaza Low Yat. We had the beef rendang and fried chicken. The food was alright and they have table service. The mall itself is the place to go for all things IT-related.
In the evening we walked down to TJ’s at 3 Tengkat Tong Shin as recommended by TripAdvisor. It’s not air-conditioned but ceiling fans keep the air moving. We had some delicious mango lassis, tandoori chicken, a paper dosa and a couple of roti chanai. Very happy with our meals.
Our final meal was in the air-conditioned comfort of the Pavilion KL at Grandmama’s. It wasn’t a cheap option, but the service was very good and the portions were huge. I couldn’t leave KL without having one last Malaysian chicken curry.
This was my second time to KL, so we didn’t go very hard core on the sightseeing. We had a look around the Botanical Gardens. A video of our visit is here:
We had taken an Uber from our hotel to the gardens for only RM7.52 (approx. $2 USD or $2.50 AUD). The gardens are beautiful, but the humidity was energy zapping and we sought out a respite at the adjacent National Museum. The museum was cheap to visit (RM5 per adult), 75% interesting (historical sections) and 25% flag-waving propaganda (modern day section), but good air-con. If you’re there at 10 am, they have guided tours. We took the MRT back to Bukit Bintang and it was very easy to use; it cost RM1.80 per person.
Catching the free Go KL bus from near our hotel, we alighted at KLCC to visit the Petronas Towers. Tickets to go up the Towers are relatively pricy at RM85 per non-Malaysian adult (approx. $22 USD or $28 AUD) and are allocated on a timed-basis. We were there on a Tuesday, so we didn’t have long to wait. They are quite organised with getting groups of a given time slot to queue up, then go through security (bags are x-rayed) and then listen to a safety briefing and introduction. Visits to the Skybridge and the Observation Deck are timed. Everyone is given a coloured tag on a lanyard, so the staff can keep track of who’s time is up. A video of our tour can be seen here:
One thing that surprised me the most about Kuala Lumpur is how hugely popular Christmas seemed to be. Christmas decorations were everywhere and Christmas carols were playing at shopping malls. The last time I checked, Malaysia is a Muslim country. I can’t imagine Christian countries embracing Muslim holidays in the same fashion or to the same degree.
Back to KLIA2
After less than 48 hours, it was time to head back to the airport. This time we took an Uber. It cost us RM72.80 (approx. $19 USD or $24 AUD). The car was much cleaner and way better smelling than our previous taxi, and our driver was nice.
For the last leg of our journey, I decided to splash out and bought the Air Asia Flat Bed seats. This was a red eye flight and I was really looking forward to a bit of comfort.
When checking in at KLIA2, note that Air Asia will weigh your carry-on bag prior to going through the security checkpoint before immigration. Anyone with overweight carry-ons are turned back. Interestingly, the carry-on bag weight is supposed to include the weight of your personal item (i.e. handbag), but for us at least, only our main carry-on was weighed.
Minimal queues at immigration meant more time in Air Asia’s Red Lounge, included in our fare. Compared to other lounges, the Red Lounge is below average, but it’s a pleasant oasis away from the rest of the airport. Just being able to avoid the constant boarding calls in this busy terminal is enough. There are plenty of tables and chairs, a lounge area with a TV, a meagre but adequate food selection and a darkened bean bag-filled area upstairs for people wanting a kip. There are hot showers with good water pressure available in the bathrooms, and clean towels are available at the front desk upon request.
At boarding time, we made our way to the gate. It was a long walk and another security screening to get there from the lounge. Flat beds meant we boarding first. The flat bed section wasn’t fancy, but definitely a step up from Economy. Interestingly, once we pushed back from the gate, the flight attendants removed all blankets and pillows from the vacant seats. No sneaking from Economy to a Flat Bed seat without getting caught. The curtain between the two classes was drawn after take-off and it didn’t take long for meals to come out. Then it was time for a sleep. Ahh, flat bed. Unfortunately, the 6 hours to Perth is not long enough to get a good sleep, but it was still really nice to stretch out for those 6 hours.
Arriving in Perth
Immigration is always a breeze these days with the SmartGates. Citizens from sixteen countries are currently eligible to use the SmartGates. To see if you qualify, look here: https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/Trav/Ente/Goin/Arrival/Smartgateor-ePassport.
The hold up in the arrivals process is always the baggage claim. Perth is one of the slowest cities to deliver your bags in the world. Luckily, we were travelling with carry-ons only, so straight through to customs.
Perth customs have improved a lot over the years. This step didn’t take too long at all this time.
Once out of the airport, we walked to the Uber pick-up area and ordered an Uber. We didn’t have to wait too long and were surprised when we were collected by a gorgeous Jaguar. Going home in style!