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This is a continuation of my Narita Airport vs KLIA2 review, where the first part was published in May 2019. And I have also done a comparison article review of KLIA2 vs Bangkok Don Mueang as well. 

My mission in doing these airport reviews is to help raise awareness about the state of our airport services, which many travelers are taking for granted. And by doing so, I hope to provide constructive feedback to the relevant parties - without bias and prejudice. 

Narita Airport

Narita Airport Terminal 2, simple and functionable.
Narita Airport is the main international airport for Japan, and if you are flying in from around the world into Japan, this would probably be the airport that you will arrive in Tokyo.  

Once known as New Tokyo International Airport, it was renamed as Narita International Airport to avoid confusion with Haneda International Airport which is also known as the Tokyo airport. 

If you did not already know, Tokyo Haneda was voted at No 2, was just behind Changi International which won the world’s best airport from Skytrax 2019. View the World’s Top 100 Airports of 2019. 

While both airports are not the same in terms of aircraft handling ie Narita being a full-service carrier airport while KLIA2 is an LCCT, you may be surprised to know that Narita does, in fact, open up slots for long haul budget airlines at its Terminal 3. 

As was reported in Part 1 of my article, Narita T3 was ranked World’s No 2 Best LCCT, which many do not know about.  

The walkway to Terminal 2 and 3 of Narita Airport.
Narita Airport Operating Hours

Narita Airport operates from 6.00 AM till 11.00 PM, with a special allowance of one hour for landing after 11.00 PM for delays and bad weather. 

I am sure you are surprised as I am because it is an international airport, I had assumed it would operate 24 hours for flights landing from all over the world. 

The main reason for banning flights from 11.00 PM to 6.00 AM is due to the noise concerns of aircraft flying in and out around the town of Narita. 

Considerations have been made numerous times, as the countries international airport should be running 24 hours a day. 

The wide check-in counter area of Terminal 2. 
Narita Airport Passenger Flow Convenience 

Built just like any other airport, the passenger flow is just perfect, and easy to navigate, even if it is your first time there. From the time you arrive via train, bus or taxi, the main entrance to the check-in counters are very near. 

For train arrivals to T2 of Narita, you will need to make your way up to level three, where the main departure hall is located, and there are clear and precise signs directing you all the way up. 

Signages are one of the most important things at airports.
Honestly, I could not ask for easier directions as there was no need to look lost and confused here. This is something that the Japanese are very particular about - directions, and they are seen at eye-level anywhere you are in the terminal. 

Once you have checked in at the counter in Narita, your next move would be to do some last minute shopping. 

After you are done eating and shopping, simply head back down and you will arrive at the main international departure entrance. It’s simple math, where you check in, explore, indulge and go for your flight. 

Checking in at the Narita Airport.
Checking-in At Narita Airport

Whenever I check in at airports out of Kuala Lumpur, I always find the counter staff very helpful and always with a smile, and most importantly, professional in what they do. 

Well, on the many times I have flown AirAsia, the counter staff is some of the best around when it comes to checking in. I have heard of complaints but for me so far so good.

Over in Narita, nothing was compromised, as their professional customer service ethics paid in full, where I could not fault them in any way. 

Shopping at Muji to Go at Narita Airport.
Throughout my checking in, the counter staff maintained a pleasant face throughout, and even doing the traditional Japanese bowing after handing me my boarding pass. 

I guess this is something that will always impress me - the immaculate Japanese hospitality that has been around forever. 

I often wonder why this kind of hospitality cannot be emulated by other countries, namely in my own country airports. 

Narita Airport Mall at Terminal 2
Shopping at the Airport Mall in Narita

When you stand in the middle of terminal two, at the main information counter, you are able to see everything in one glance, which is very convenient for foreign travelers. 

And for me, I saw that the shopping and dining were located on the upper level (Level 4) of the airport. 

This made it super easy for me to go up, explore, shop, and have a meal, before heading back down to the departure gates. 

The simple and easy shopping area at terminal two.
On the selection of shops here, I found it kind of interesting, probably due to a simplified layout, and also a special section where it was dedicated to purely Japanese arts and craft, which is something that appeals to most tourists before leaving Japan.

The concept of having smaller stores or kiosks meant that they only needed minimal manpower to manage and operate. 

Unlike KLIA2, there are many larger stores where two or more staff are seen employed. And when things are quiet, staff being staff, tend to talk to each other out of boredom, creating a very laid back and unprofessional image. 

How can one go wrong at any Japanese 7-11 store?
For dining or quick meals at Narita Airport, the concept of having fast food, convenient store and a proper restaurant in one area makes total sense. This means that if you have time, you can simply go straight to the restaurant for a solid sit down meal. 

And if you are on the go, you can either get some fast food or visit the convenient store to grab some bites and drinks. I never did really look deeper at the food and beverage layout, but seeing how the Japanese simplify it, made total sense. 

However, at KLIA2, it is convenient, with just too many choices. And the problem is that because there are too many, they are spaced out everywhere. This means at the main departures terminal, you have about ten restaurants and cafes there. 

An example of a practical pharmacy at Narita Airport. 
And over at KL Gateway Mall, there are another 20 or so restaurants, cafes and fast food spread all over the mall. This kind of makes it difficult and quite a waste of time to walk around. 

If you look at the logistics of this, it actually doesn’t contribute much to the food and beverage retailers inside the airport boarding areas. Why? Because passengers have spent time walking around the mall, leaving only just enough time to rush to the boarding gate. 

Not only that, the fact that some of the gates are located so far away, passengers will not have time to browse around the duty-free areas, leaving these shops with less business. Honestly, how many times have you experienced rushing to your gate, only to bypass all the stores along the way? 

The shops along the boarding gate area of Narita.
Boarding Gate Areas at Narita Airport

One more thing I love about international airports is the journey to the boarding gates area, and this is where you can spend all your last remaining foreign currencies. 

This means that most airports that I have visited, tend to have a nice and wide boarding area walkway.

The journey to the boarding gates is a breeze as you just need to follow the large numbered signs, which are all conveniently placed. 

Every corner you take, you will surely see signages that point you in the right direction. 

The duty-free shops along the way to your boarding gate.
At the start, you will enter the duty-free zone, where stores line both sides of the walkways, which I found not too wide, and just nice for two-way traffic flow. 

Travolators or moving walkways are conveniently placed all the way to the end of the gates and are not too long. 

The stores seem to be found all the way to the gates, making the walk not tiring as the human eye would be glancing to see if there is something of interest along the walk. 

Along my journey to the boarding gate, I found all kinds of shops from souvenirs to apparel, and cafes to coffee shops, which are, of course, all high quality. 

One of the attractive duty-free shops on route to the boarding area.
They usually don’t cost an arm and a leg, hence the concept of this was for the passenger convenience to quickly shop and move along. 

Sadly at KLIA2 in Malaysia, they tried to adapt this concept, but the overall boarding gate area was built just too narrow. 

Meaning, when you get further, there are no more shops, as they are all concentrated at the beginning of the gate areas, with really low-quality stores, which I think makes the airport look really bad. 

Again, over at KLIA2, if you have already walked around the KL Gateway Mall, you would have limited time to explore inside the duty-free area. 

The only thing on your mind is to reach the boarding gate area, so you will not miss your flight. This is a common occurrence among many travelers at KLIA2. 

Just take a look at the KLIA2 walkways. It feels very empty and cold. 
Final thoughts to Part 2 of my Narita Airport vs KLIA2 Review 

As mentioned earlier in this article, what I write here is my own views based on experience over the years of flying in and out of KLIA2. They are without bias and prejudice, and hopefully will be noticed by the respective authorities.

If you are interested in airports and aviation, I have also done many other airport articles and reviews from around Malaysia and also all over Asia.  

In the next and final part of this series, I will discuss in detail about Narita T3, which has been rated the World’s 2nd Best LCCT by Skytrax. If you have any comments or feedback, I would love to hear them below. 
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The Pulau Pangkor Island Airport is to reopen this 1st October 2019 and this comes as a positive move towards tourism on this island off the west coast of Perak, Malaysia. 

This airport is also called Lapangan Terbang Pulau Pangkor, which is a direct translation from the Malay language and has an airport code of PKG. 

Flights to Pangkor Island Airport will be from Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah (Subang Airport), which is scheduled to be a daily direct flight. 

The reopening of the Pangkor Airport comes as huge news for the island, as it has been years since the airport closed. This has got a lot of people excited, hoping to see an increase in tourism on the island. 

Pangkor Island Airport To Reopen in October 2019

The current structure of the Pangkor Island Airport. Photo SKS Airways Facebook.
According to news reports, Pangkor Airport will undergo renovations before opening, and if it all works out well, we should expect the airport to open on schedule. 

However, things can change, due to government issues, finances, planning and so on, therefore we can only hope that things flow smoothly for the targeted opening. 

This news also comes as a bonus to everyone as Pangkor Island will be officially a duty-free island from 1st January 2020. The news was announced by the government in early 2019. 

View of the current Pulau Pangkor Airport in the old design. Photo SKS Airways Facebook.
For the inaugural flights to the island, it is mentioned that there will be direct flights from Subang Airport in Petaling Jaya. 

There are also plans for direct flights from Ipoh’s Sultan Azlan Shah Airport to Pangkor Airport, but currently, the focus is still on the Subang Airport or Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Selangor. 

History of Pangkor Island Airport

The Pangkor STOL Airport Runway from above.
The airport at Pangkor Island officially opened in 1993, as a STOL or short take of and landing airport suitable for only small turboprop planes. 

The airstrip measures 732 meters long, which can only accommodate smaller passenger planes like the DCH-6 Twin Otter aircraft, and the de Havilland Canada Dash 7. 

One of the original airlines that operated this route was Berjaya Air, where the Berjaya Group also operates the famous luxury Pangkor Laut Resort on a separate island here. 

There were three flights a week from Subang Airport which were on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday using the 48 seats de Havilland Canada Dash 7 aircraft. Berjaya Air now operates private charters.

Pangkor Airport closed in February 2014, due to several reasons. One of them was that two large resorts had closed down on the island, and there were fewer travelers heading here. 

When Will Pangkor Island Airport Open? 

The official news states that the Pulau Pangkor Airport will start operations on 1st October 2019. This is what was mentioned in the mainstream news at the end of March 2019. 

There will also be flights starting before the official date, and this is due to testing and familiarization with operations and so on. 

SKS Airways DCH-6 Twin Otter aircraft
Which Airlines Will Fly To Pangkor Island Airport? 

From what I know, it is said that a new airline called SKS Airways will be flying to Pangkor Airport. The airline is part of the SKS Group, which is a Malaysian Australian hotel and property developer group. 

SKS Airways will operate the Pangkor flights with a DCH-6 Twin Otter plane, which is a 19 seater turboprop aircraft. 

Please note that usually, the Twin Otter aircraft can take a maximum of 15 or 16 passengers due to the weight factor. Passengers need to weigh themselves and their luggage when checking in. 

The airline also plans to operate daily return flights from Subang Airport to Pangkor Airport. As for the flight time, there has been no official announcement yet. 

SKS Airways, a Malaysia-Australia group
SKS Airways is also applying for a Subang to Ipoh flight, with two return flights daily, and this is also scheduled to start on the 1st October 2019. 

At the moment, only SKS Airways will be flying to Pangkor from Subang, and there has been no news about any other airline flying there. 

The main reason is because of the STOL runway, which can only cater to small turboprop aircraft like the Twin Otter, Dash 7 and ATR42-500. 

Most of the other airlines in Malaysia that operate turboprop planes have the ATR72-500, which cannot land at a STOL airport. 

The Berjaya Air Dash 7 aircraft that used to fly to Pangkor Island. Photo Wikipedia.
How Long Will It Take To Fly To Pangkor Island? 

From Subang Airport, it takes 40 minutes flight to Pangkor Island one way. This is the normal time when using the Dash 7 aircraft, which was formerly used by Berjaya Air. 

SKS Airways is now using a Twin Otter plane, and it may take 50 to 60 minutes, due to the smaller aircraft size. But I am unsure about the exact time it will take. This is just an estimate. 

Just so you know, I have flown on the Twin Otter plane to various destinations in Sarawak, and one of them is to the Bakelalan Airport in the Sarawak Highlands. 

Where the Pangkor Island Airport is located at.
Where Is Pangkor Island Airport? 

The Pulau Pangkor Airport is located in the north part of the island, and by Teluk Dalam. The main airport building is along Jalan Pasir Bogak, which is the main road that links Teluk Dalam with Teluk Nipah. 

Pangkor Island is small, and from the airport to Pangkor Town in the south, it only takes a 15-minute drive there. 

For those traveling to some of the hotels, resorts, and homestays on Pangkor Island, it will take you from five to 20 minutes drive. 

But if you plan to stay at Pangkor Laut Resort, you can fly in, and then take a boat service to Pangkor Laut Island. 

An aerial view of the Pangkor Island Airport near Teluk Dalam.

Since the news came out in late May 2019, many locals in Pangkor Island are looking forward to the reopening of the island airport.

This comes as a very positive move towards tourism on the island, and locals are hoping that the direct flights to Pangkor Island will bring in more tourists. 

The reopening of the Pangkor Airport also compliments the island becoming a duty-free island from the 1st of January 2020. 

Pangkor Island now joins other duty-free islands in Malaysia that are highly popular among the local travelers, and also the foreigners, and once the Pangkor Island Airport reopens, this should bring in more visitors. 
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This year marks the 14th year that the Borneo Jazz Festival is being held in Miri, Sarawak, and is also the second time that the event is taking place at Coco Cabana by the Esplanade.

The Borneo Jazz Festival is one of Malaysia's pioneer jazz festivals that has seen over hundreds of jazz musicians from all over the world perform here in Miri.

Borneo Jazz 2019 also takes place from 19th to 21st July, which will see numerous local and international artist take stage for the 14th year. 

Borneo Jazz Festival 2019 - All You Need To Know

Zainal Abidin performing at Borneo Jazz 2018
Once known as the Miri International Jazz Festival, the festival brand had evolved to capture the name Borneo Jazz Festival as it provided a more international name and feel to it. 

This festival has and still is the brainchild of the Sarawak Tourism Board, where in 2018, it was outsourced to local Malaysian jazz club called No Black Tie, and this is the second year that they are doing it here at Coco Cabana in Miri. 

2019 also sew the Sarawak Tourism Board launch the "Three Festivals One Destination" campaign, where three notable music festivals will be held back-to-back from 5th to 21st July, and from south to north Sarawak.

The scene at last years Borneo Jazz Festival.
The music festivals involved are the Rainforest Fringe Festival and The Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, and finally the Borneo Jazz Festival here in Miri. 

The plan was to coincide all three festivals to happen around the same time, where visitors into Sarawak can possibly attend all festivals during their visit here.

Previously, the music festivals were held months apart, where Borneo Jazz was in May, and the Rainforest World Music Festival was in July or August.

What is the Objective of the Borneo Jazz Festival?

With any music festival or event, there is always an objective behind it, and you may be wondering what the objective for this jazz festival is.

It is an ongoing mission to continue to promote music tourism for Sarawak and to collaborate with the local communities.

This is to showcase Borneo through its vibrant people, exotic cuisine and wide array of indigenous arts and crafts.

For any first timer to Sarawak, you will be pleased to know that this land is not your typical commercial tourism destination, but something that you would least expect.

One of the performers during the last Borneo Jazz Festival in Miri.
Who is the Organiser or Owner for Borneo Jazz Festival? 

The Sarawak Tourism Board has always been the creator and owner of the jazz festival till this very day. It has been part of their portfolio in promoting Sarawak using music festivals as an avenue for people to visit.

Since 2018, the Sarawak Tourism Board had leased out this project to a well known jazz club in Kuala Lumpur called No Black Tie. They have been successfully been running their jazz shows in the capital for many years.

Therefore, from 2018, No Black Tie has been the organiser for the Borneo Jazz Festival, which is still being held in the resort city of Miri. 

Some of the local and international performers at Borneo Jazz Festival 2019.
Who is Performing at the Borneo Jazz Festival 2019? 

As usual, there will be a creative mix of jazz performers and artist for the Borneo Jazz Festival in Miri, and for this year, the performers list is;

  • Alberto Marsico Trio from Italy
  • Chande Rule from USA
  • Clinton Chua from Sarawak, Malaysia
  • Fox Capture Plan from Japan
  • Ireson from Mexico
  • Jasmine Chen from China
  • Julian Chan Orchestra from Malaysia
  • Kirk Lightsey Trio from USA/Malaysia
  • NJWA from Malaysia
  • Pete Kallang from Sarawak, Malaysia
  • Robo Jupiter from USA
  • Arabyrd from Sarawak, Malaysia
  • Asyraf Hardy from Sarawak, Malaysia
  • Benzooloo from Sabah, Malaysia
  • Zed Peace from Brunei

Coco Cabana, the official venue for Borneo Jazz Festival 2019.
Where is the Borneo Jazz Festival Held? 

The event is being held at Coco Cabana at Marina Bay in Miri City, Sarawak. This is an event space that is by the famous Miri Seahorse Lighthouse, and is home to many other events. 

The venue was chosen last year as a new venue for Borneo Jazz, and this time it is by the seaside with not obstructions.

The structure where the jazz festival is held is a traditional wooden structure, that can house up to 500 people. Majority of the design was hand carved wood, where specialist were brought in to do.

A glimpse inside of Coco Cabana.
Coco Cabana is also minutes from the heart of Miri City, making it easy access for anyone who is visiting for the jazz festival. There are numerous hotels, restaurants, cafes and other shops located in the vicinity of the area. 

Previously from 2006 to 2017, the Borneo Jazz Festival was always held at the ParkCity Everly Hotel, which is about 10 minutes drive from Miri City.

Only in 2018, the official venue was moved to the new place, which is Coco Cabana at Marina Bay Miri.

Ticket prices for Borneo Jazz 2019.
Where To Buy Tickets To Borneo Jazz Festival? 

You can buy tickets from the official Borneo Jazz website, or at the door of the event. However, when you buy early, you will be entitled to an early booking discount. 

Ticket prices vary from one day tickets to the full three day ticket passes. This means that if you are a jazz lover, it is recommended you take the three day ticket pass which is much cheaper.

AirAsia is one of the airlines that have multiple daily flights into Miri City.
How To Go To Borneo Jazz Festival 2019? 

There are a few ways, depending on where you are coming from. For locals or expatriates in the area, you may be coming in via road, and those out of Borneo will have to fly in. 

Flying into Miri - If you are coming into Sarawak, you will have to fly direct into Miri City. There are numerous direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Miri, so if you are from another country, you will connect via Kuala Lumpur. Airlines include AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines. 

Driving to Miri - If you are living in Brunei or Sabah, your best option would be to drive into Miri as it ill only take you no longer than two hours one way. Those from Bandar Seri Begawan or Kota Kinabalu can do so, and best to leave much earlier to avoid the immigration lines.

The location of Coco Cabana in Miri.
Where is Coco Cabana? 

Coco Cabana is located at Miri Marina Bay, and at the end of Jalan Bandaraya. It is a event venue and function space, which caters to many other events in Miri.

The overall structure is a massive wooden architecture building, which is the main venue for the Borneo Jazz Festival. Surrounding the area, there is a night bazaar, restaurants and even a bistro.

The famous Miri Seahorse Lighthouse is located here as well, and is a highly popular location to catch the beautiful Miri sunsets.

One of the split villa units at Eastwood Valley Golf and Country Club in Miri.
Where To Stay In Miri? 

There are many hotels, resorts or even budget accommodations found all over Miri, and this provides many options for visitors coming to attend the Borneo Jazz Festival.

It all depends on how you plan to travel, and as a couple, group or family. Most of the hotels are located in the main city area, making it easy yo get to the venue.

But again, if you are traveling with elderly people, I would recommend you take a taxi or Grab to the venue from the city, as it will cost around RM3 to RM5 one way.

For places to stay in Miri, I am recommending the following places;

Pullman Hotel Miri Waterfront - This is one of the nicer international hotels in Miri and suitable for both business and leisure. Book a room at the Pullman Hotel Miri.

Miri Marriott Resort and Spa - This is a five star resort, which is considered quite close to the venue, and suitable for those who want some luxury. Book a room at the Miri Marriott Resort.

The Roosevelt Studio - A practical and nice budget hotel, which is the closest accommodation to the Borneo Jazz Festival at Coco Cabana. Book a room at The Roosevelt Studio.

Meritz Hotel - Located in a shopping mall, and convenient for just about anyone. Single, couples of family travellers. Book a room at the Meritz Hotel. 

Jinhold Service Apartments - This is suited for those who prefer something like AirBnB, an apartment style stay. Book Jinhold Service Apartments in Miri. 

Amigo Hotel - This one is a budget style hotel in a shop lot area, which is very close to Coco Cabana. If you are not fussy, this would be a great place with convenience. Book a room at Amigo Hotel. 

Eastwood Valley Golf and Country Club - If you love jazz and golf, then this is the place to stay at. It is Miri's best golf resort too. Book a room at Eastwood Valley Golf & Country Club.

Miri City Homestay - This one is super budget friendly, simple, and suitable for the budget travellers. It is located quite near to the venue as well. Book a room at the Miri City Homestay. 

A sit down jazz session during the festival. 
Borneo Jazz Festival 2019
Date: 19th to 21st July, 2019
Venue: Coco Cabana, Marina Bay, Miri, Sarawak
Website: Borneo Jazz Festival

*For full detailed information, I recommend visiting the official website of the Borneo Jazz Festival above, as they have the artist breakdown, and many other valuable information. 

An actual sunset taken at Coco Cabana in Miri. 

If you have heard about the Borneo Jazz Festival, and want to experience this, then you should start planning ahead for your flights, accommodation and tickets. 

This festival is unlike other music festivals, as it showcases a unique side of jazz, and is not your typical concert style event. 

I hope that you make it to the Borneo Jazz Festival 2019, and that this article has come in handy for you. If you have questions, please ask in the comment form below and see you there. 
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One of the few places that has been getting some bird watching attention is no other than the highland village of Bakelalan in Sarawak, Borneo. For the serious bird watchers, this is my Bakelalan bird watching trip report, done in November 2018. 

First of all, Bakelalan or Ba'Kelalan is a Lun Bawang tribe village, located in the northeast highlands of Sarawak, Malaysia. It is also in the district of Lawas, which can be easily accessed from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah or Miri in Sarawak.

Getting here is quite the challenge, but then again, not difficult. However, for bird watchers or photographers, you can take a flight or even drive overland passing the famous Paya Maga Wetlands. 

Bird Watching Trip Report For Bakelalan

Birding in Bakelalan is combined with some adventure and amazing outdoors.
My bird watching expedition here was actually a cross border initiative, one that involved the Sarawak Tourism Board and the Borneo Bird Club from Sandakan Sabah. 

This was more of a bird watching inspection trip in order to initiate cross border bird watching tourism between the two states of Malaysia Borneo. 

Our journey started from the town of Lawas, where the Borneo Bird Club flew in from Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu into Miri, and then caught a MasWings flight into Lawas. 

I was the only one that flew in from Kuala Lumpur into Miri, and then caught the similar flight into Lawas, where we all met up to continue our journey overland using a couple of 4x4 off road vehicles.

Bukit Demaring view point, on the way to Bakelalan. 
From Lawas, it takes around five to six hours overland through old logging roads, which is not that bad, considering we left as early as 7.00 AM, and to reach Bakelalan by 1.00 PM. 

Along the way, we made a couple of stops to admire the majestic view of the Maligan Highland Range, which is highly recommended for anyone using this route.

One particular stop is called the Bukit Demaring view point, where you can see the beautiful highland range stretch as far as your eyes can see. 

One main stop was for lunch, at a small licensed logging camp where there was a local cafe serving coffee, tea, noodles and even rice.

The signboard at the entrance of Paya Maga IBA in Lawas.
Paya Maga IBA in Sarawak

Alone the way, we passed the much talked about bird watching spots called Paya Maga, which is an Important Bird Area or IBA.

Paya Maga was designated as an IBA back in 2010, and it is here where you can spot the endemic Black Oriole, which many birders want to see or photograph. 

For this trip, we did not do any bird watching in Paya Maga, as our mission was purely to explore Bakelalan and its surroundings. Hence, we stopped to take photos of the entrance area only.

Me (the writer) attempting to make some natural salt at the Bakelalan Salt Factory.
Visiting the Bakelalan Salt Factory

As we got closer to Bakelalan village, we made a stop at the Buduk Bui Salt Factory, which is recommended for anyone wanting to see how the local highland salt is processed. 

Bakelalan is home to a number of natural salt wells, and the natural salt water is pumped into a processing hut, where it is boiled over wood fire until the salt is formed. 

This part of the tip was more of an understanding of what the Lun Bawang people do in the highlands.

Again, the locals here are a farming and agriculture society, hence it is good if you can pay a visit to the Bakelalan salt factory when you are here.

The village of Buduk Nur seen from a nearby hill in Bakelalan.
Buduk Nur Village in Bakelalan

We arrived in Buduk Nur around 2.00 PM, the main village in Bakelalan where the small airport is located at. Here, we met our host and bird guide called Cikgu Sang, or Teacher Sang, who is actually a school teacher in Bakelalan. 

After meeting his acquaintance, we adjourned by foot to his beautiful home located smack in the middle of the village. At his home, we were welcomed by his wife - Julia Sang, and were treated to some home cooked food. 

Stories about bird watching filled the air while many questions were being thrown at Cikgu Sang, namely about one elusive bird called the Dulit Frogmouth (Batrachostomus harterti).

This is the one endemic bird that can only be seen around Bakelalan, and many bird watchers and photographers from around the world come here to see this nocturnal bird. 

On our arrival day, we just hung out at Cikgu Sang's lovely home, settled into our simple and comfortable rooms, and just prepared for the following day of bird watching.

Birding from the local roads around Bakelalan, with Andrew Saini, Cede Prudente, CK Leong and David Tseu.
Day One - Birding in Bakelalan

When we started out early in the morning, we took two 4WD's towards a hillside road which was on higher elevation, overlooking Bakelalan. This was a supposedly new road linking Bakelalan to Bario, the sister village.

Reaching our stop, we gradually made our way down on foot and also checking the birds in the canopy tops. A number of spiderhunters, flowerpeckers and mid sized birds were spotted.

The walk was easy as it was downhill, and with the cooling weather, it made it fun and enjoyable. This is one of the plus points of bird watching in the highlands.

In the afternoons, we just chilled out at the Cikgu Sang's beautiful homestay exchanging birding information and casual talks among the group.

A Black and Crimson Oriole perched behind some leaves.
Come 4.00pm, we head out to one of the most common sites where the Dulit Frogmouth is usually spotted. This is about 10 minutes drive from the main village of Buduk Nur.

After the sun sets, our callings start, and we wait with excitement. No response, and we call again. Still no response, and after about 30 minutes, we move to another spot to repeat the call.

Well, Cikgu Sang did mention that the Dulit Frogmouth may be nesting or with a baby, hence it may not show at all. Hence we decided to call it a night and head back.

The trek up and down Pa' Sarui Hill in Bakelalan. Buduk Nur is in the distance. 
Day Two - Birding in Bakelalan

Same as day one, we started early with the trucks, and this time around we went to Pa' Sarui Hill and its vicinity. This is also where the famous Bakelalan Owl House is located at.

The journey here requires you to walk through paddy fields and then cross a small stream which then leads to the beautiful stand-alone wooden house.

Once you reach the Owl House, there is a trail from the back which leads you up to Pa' Sarui Hill, which also doubles as one of Bakelalan's best view point.

Owl House in Bakelalan
There were a number of birds spotted along the trek up, while at the peak, there were less birds there. But as a bonus, the majestic view was incredibly beautiful, especially in the late morning.

The trail up is considered medium, but I would not recommend this trail if you have knee or walking  issues. Please take note of this before going up Pa' Sarui view point.

At the end of the day, the journey up the hill, spotting  some birds and seeing the amazing scenery was good enough for our group.

By lunch, we had gone back down and headed back to Cikgu Sang's home, and after that, we were invited over next door to see the last traditional Lun Bawang Longhouse, which was quite an experience.

Crossing streams to look for the Dulit Frogmouth in Bakelalan.
Day Three - Birding in Bakelalan

Our final day of birding saw us going back to our original spot from day one, to see if we could spot one of the much sought after birds - Hose's Broadbill.

With luck on our side, after some calling, a couple of them did show up, but they landed in the thick bush, hence we managed to spot them through our binoculars.

As for bird photography, luck was not on our side due to the thick bushes. However, we were pleased to know that they are in fact there.

Our night session was the final one where we went out to look for the Dulit Frogmouth. This time, Cikgu Sang took us deep into a secluded area, crossing three streams and quite a bit of trekking.

The journey to seek the Dulit Frogmouth in Bakelalan.
Reaching the spot, we set up gear and waited for dusk, and started calling. Within minutes, a response was heard in the distance. When it got pitch dark, the Frogmouth calls were closer, but high up in the canopy.

Luck was not on our side, as with multiple calls from the Frogmouth, we still could not spot it. But it was just there, about 10 meters up in the canopy.

Well, I can say that the Dulit Frogmouth is found in Bakelalan, and it doesn't mean that you will be guaranteed to spot it. One theory was that it was the breeding season, hence they don't really show themselves.

My next trip to Bakelalan will guarantee that I will be seeking this endemic bird of Borneo, which is apparently spotted in a number of places around Bakelalan.

An Ashy Drongo spotted in Bakelalan.
List of Birds Spotted in Bakelalan

Below is our checklist of birds that we spotted in Bakelalan over the three days of exploring this beautiful highlands of Sarawak.

1) Hose's Broadbill
2) Black and Crimson Oriole
3) Oriental Honey Buzzard
4) Bat Hawk vs Rhinoceros Hornbill
5) Bornean Bulbul
6) Bornean Leafbird
7) Cinereous Bulbul
8) Bornean Barbet
9) Black Thighed Falconet
10) Whitehead's Spiderhunter
11) Boobook
12) Whiskered Treeswift
13) Yellow Vented Bulbul
14) Blue Eared Kingfisher
15) Cattle Egrets
16) Barn Swallows
17) Eurasian Tree Sparrows
18) White Breasted Woodswallow
19) Chestnut Hooded Laughing Thrush
20) Temminck's Sunbird
21) Red Necked Phalarope
22) Little Cuckoo Dove
23) Verditer Flycatcher
24. Mountain Serpent Eagle
25. Mountain Barbet
26. Blue-eared Barbet
27. Little/Malaysian Bronze cuckoo
28. Dusky munia
29. Chestnut Munia
30. Spotted Dove
31. Grey-rumped treeswift

A male Scarlet Minivet with an insect catch.
The female Scarlet Minivet with another insect photographed nearby.
As a bonus, during our birding, we actually did manage to spot some mammals which are listed below;

1) Tufted Ground Squirrel
2) Whitehead's Pygmy Squirrel
3. Bornean black-banded squirrels

The location of Bakelalan in Sarawak.
Where Is Bakelalan? 

Bakelalan is a highland village located in the Maligan Range in northeast of Sarawak, Borneo. The village is also the closest to the border of Kalimantan, Indonesia.

For the locals, Bakelalan is located nearer to Miri, Lawas or even Brunei. From Kota Kinabalu, it will take you about 9 hours to drive there, while from Bandar Seri Begawan, it will take less than seven hours drive.

Spotting birds in Bakelalan, Sarawak.
How Long To Spend In Bakelalan For Bird Watching? 

A common question that bird watchers will be asking, and most think that they can just travel in and out for this part of Sarawak.

In reality, the optimum time to spend in Bakelalan for bird watching would be four days and three nights. This will ensure that you get to spot the birds that you came for.

While many birders will want to also spot the Black Oriole, the trip will be broken up into two sections, one at Paya Maga, and the other at Bakelalan for the Dulit Frogmouth.

Kevin from the Sarawak Tourism Board, and Rona Sultan from Heart of Borneo Tours does a weight check at the Lawas Airport check in counter.
 How To Get To Bakelalan? 

The best way to get to Bakelalan in Sarawak is to fly into Lawas, and then fly from Lawas to Bakelalan. This journey will require you to take two or three planes.

Please note that there are only two or three flights from Lawas to Bakelalan per week, hence you need to time your flights for the trip to Bakelalan.

Flying From Kuala Lumpur: Fly into Miri (Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia), then connect to Lawas with MasWings, and from Lawas, connect to Bakelalan with MasWings.

Flying From Kota Kinabalu, Sabah: Fly into Miri ((Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia), then connect to Lawas with MasWings, and from Lawas, connect to Bakelalan with MasWings.

Driving back to Lawas from Bakelalan, a long journey but worthwhile in many ways.
Driving to Bakelalan

This would be an easier option, but time consuming as you may end up spending around 10 hours from Miri, Brunei or Kota Kinabalu.

However, driving gives you the flexibility to stop and enjoy the local lifestyle along the way and even do some adhoc bird watching.

Some bird watchers may prefer to do it this way as you can also make a stopover at the famous Paya Maga IBA, spending the night at the Merarap Hot Spring Resort.

Driving From Kota Kinabalu: From KK, you drive all the way south, pass Sipitang to the Sindumin Checkpoint. From there, drive to Lawas town, and is around four or five hours drive to Bakelalan using the old timber roads from Lawas.

The total time without checkpoint and stops from Kota Kinabalu: 7 Hours, but with checkpoint and stops, we are looking at around nine hours drive.

Driving From Brunei: From Bandar Seri Begawan, you drive to the Tedungan Immigration Post, then head to Limbang town, and to Ujung Jalan, then to the Mengkalap ICQ, and then to Lawas. From Lawas, its a 4 to 5 hour drive to Bakelalan.

The total time without checkpoint and stops from Bandar: 6.5 hours, but with stops and so on, it will..
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Following my previous airport review between KLIA2 and Don Mueang Bangkok, many have asked for my reviews of other airports in the region. 

Here is my first part of the Narita Airport vs KLIA2 review, which is a three part series, and also a congratulatory to KLIA2 for winning some awards. 

My mission in doing these airport reviews is to help raise awareness about the state of airport services, which many travellers are taking for granted, and by doing so provide constructive feedback to the relevant parties - without bias and prejudice.

Narita Airport vs KLIA2 Review

The systematic planning at Narita Airport.
In March of 2019, I had the pleasure of visiting Narita International Airport in Tokyo, and acquainted myself with its Terminal 3, which is dedicated for low cost carriers.

The timing was so good that it was around this time that Skytrax announced its world’s best airports awards, including for low cost carrier terminals - LCCTs. 

What I found very interesting was both Narita T3 and and KLIA2 were rated Top 3 best LCCTs in the world, which is quite an achievement if you ask me. 

Two other very popular Japanese airports took the top spots, and the Top 3 Best LCCT for 2019 are;

No. 1 - Osaka Kansai T2
No. 2 - Narita Airport T3
No. 3 - KLIA2 

With KLIA2 coming Top 3 among the world’s best LCCT indeed came as a big saving grace for Malaysia. 

Why do I say this? Well, KLIA as our main international airport could only afford the 54th spot among world’s best airports. Obviously, something wrong is being done to reach that position. 

For the record, Narita International was at No 9, and our closest neighbor Singapore Changi was again at No 1, and I do not blame the latter as they really go all out to woo passengers into Singapore. 

World's Best Airport By Passenger Numbers

A view of KLIA Airport in Malaysia.
However, if we go by passenger numbers, KLIA is not too bad after all, where we ranked at No 4 for the 50-60 million passengers category.  

That sounds like a lot of passengers going through KLIA in the last year alone, and I believe they are trying to up that number to move one more tier up to the 60-70 million passengers category.

And over on the AirHelp Airport Ranking 2019 site, KLIA comes in at a whopping number 120 with a score of 6.75 out of 10.

AirHelp focuses on passenger experiences, where the site ranks on-time performance, service quality and facilities as the main criteria.

On another airport ranking site called World Airport Codes, KLIA again comes in at Number 24, out of the Top 30 Airports in the World

KLIA Ranks No.54 in the Top 100 Airports in the World for 2019.
Top 10 Airports in Asia

This is one category that all airports want to be ranked in, which is the Top 10 Airports in the region, and just so you know, KLIA never did make the list. I wonder what happened here.

Notice how Japan has four airports listed in the list of Top 10 Airport in Asia? 
  1. Singapore Changi
  2. Tokyo Haneda
  3. Seoul Incheon
  4. Hong Kong
  5. Centrair Nagoya
  6. Tokyo Narita
  7. Kansai
  8. Taiwan Taoyuan
  9. Shanghai Hongqiao
  10. Seoul Gimpo
The 2019 Skytrax Awards.
Back to KLIA2, for some strange reason, Malaysia Airports, who operates the airport, had on several occasions (and in media interviews) earlier claimed that KLIA2 was not an LCCT.

But when the news was out that they had won the 3rd place in Skytrax's awards, they were congratulating themselves, and even took to social media on this. 

The conflicting statements aside, yes as Malaysians I have to say that we are very proud of the KLIA2 achievements.

Narita's Terminal 2 exterior. Photo Wikipedia
Carried Away....

Seems like I wrote a little too much about the Skytrax Awards, and because of the timing, I guess I wanted to share how the Japanese have made it their mission to rank their airports to be in the Top 10 of any airport ranking. 

You should also know that the Japanese airports are all run independently, and not by a monopoly, hence for them, they really are going all out to improve the airport facilities, especially with Tokyo 2020 around the corner. 


I would love to continued, but the article is getting a little long, so I will continue to focus on Narita Airport in part two. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 and also Part 3 of the Narita Airport vs KLIA2 review, which I will publish from week to week here. 
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In a significant recognition of the economic contributions and future potentials of low cost carriers (LCCs) in the vast archipelago, the Indonesian Government has designated Terminal 2F of Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (SHIA) as dedicated LCC Terminal for international flights.

I am sure this is indeed a very proud moment for Indonesians, that they finally have a dedicated LCCT in their pursuit to be a regional LCC powerhouse. 

Soekarno-Hatta Terminal 2F LCCT

Effective 1st May 2019, most of the budget airlines in the region will start to operate from Terminal 2F at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. 

Passengers must also take note of the following airlines that will be operating from SHIA T2F as below:

  • AirAsia international flights (previously T2D) - from 1 May 2019 [Note that AirAsia Indonesia domestic flights that were previously at Terminal 2F will now move to Terminal 2D and 2E]
  • Cebu Pacific (previously T2D) - from 1 May 2019
  • Lion Air Group (Lion air, Thai Lion, Malindo) international flights (previously T2D) - from 1 May 2019
  • Jetstar Asia (previously T3) - from 15 May 2019
  • Citilink and Tiger Scoot - also scheduled to move to T2F soon, making it a fully international LCCT for Indonesia.

Below is a video of the new LCCT at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport

Resmi! Terminal 2F Bandara Soetta Khusus Maskapai Murah Mulai Mei 2019 - YouTube

As this strategy involves a realignment of domestic-international flight operations, all domestic flights by Sriwijaya Air and AirAsia that were previously operating at Terminal 2F will move to Terminal 2D/E also from 1st May 2019.

There is also a dedicated terminal for umrah pilgrims which is also underway. SHIA is definitely undergoing an exciting transformation, with all of these additions and changes. Even the new Terminal 4 is currently being built. 

For those who may not be familiar with Soekarno-Hatta International, the airport is divided into three main terminals which are;

  • Terminal 1 (1A, 1B, 1C)
  • Terminal 2 (2D, 2E, 2F)
  • Terminal 3 (which is now designated for full service international flights like those by Garuda, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and others)

Soekarno-Hatta International Airport Jakarta

The airport’s Terminal 1 (opened in 1985) and Terminal 2 (opened in 1991) were designed by Paul Andreu, a French architect who also designed Paris–Charles de Gaulle Airport in France.

One of the characteristics of the airport is the incorporation of the local architecture into the design, and the presence of tropical gardens between the waiting lounges. 

With the unique characteristics of design and architecture, the airport won the 1995 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Terminal 3 started operations in 2017, and another Terminal 4 is currently in the pipeline.

The overall layout map for the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo Wikipedia)
Why Did They Make the LCCT at T2?

According to the airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II, the declaration of T2F as an LCCT was made in response to the Tourism Ministry’s aim to increase tourist arrivals under the Wonderful Indonesia campaign. 

In 2018, 30% or 4.65 million out of 15.5 million passengers on international routes at Soekarno-Hatta International were in the LCC segment, and this is expected to grow further in 2019. 

The first quarter of 2019 saw a growth of 2% in LCC international route passengers at SHIA, while aircraft movements increased by 5%.

Currently, 60% of passengers at SHIA are millennials, and they form the biggest group of LCC passengers in Indonesia. 

To cater to and service them better, PT Angkasa Pura II has assured that T2F will be equipped with digital services like self check-in kiosks, self baggage-drop and other value added services.

The T2F LCCT was said to be realigned to facilitate a fast departure process, short turnaround time and a happy journey experience for passengers.

To me, the most important point is how Indonesia is putting a very big emphasis on the LCC sector by providing a dedicated LCCT that will allow it to grow even further. 

The adoption of digital services will increase efficiency, cut costs, and enhance the passenger experience travelling in and out of Indonesia's Soekarno-Hatta LCCT in Jakarta. 

For Indonesian readers, you can also read the media statement by PT Angkasa Pura II, which was issued on the 26th April 2019.

Where is Terminal 2F at the Soekarno-Hatta Airport. (Photo: www.ifly.com)

Well guys, to be fair I have to go and check out the new LCCT at SHIA T2F, and see for myself if it is up to mark. And I also wonder how is it compared to our KLIA2? This is certainly on my airport review list!

I have travelled around Indonesia for work and leisure in the last few years, and also to a number of remote places, where I have reviewed the Raja Ampat airport and also the Marinda Waisai airport in West Papua, Indonesia.

And if you haven’t, please check out my review of KLIA2 vs Bangkok Don Mueang airport here, and my Tokyo Narita Airport review. I would love to hear your comments below too. 
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While everyone is writing about ecotourism, beaches, mountains, cultures and food of Sabah, it is little known that the sport of bird watching has become one of the most successful sub-genres of wildlife tourism in all of Malaysia. 

First of all, what is bird watching? Who does it anyway? And you will be surprised on how much tourism and revenue this hobby has brought into Sabah. Yes, this is not something where you come for a four day and three night excursion to Sabah. 

In this article, I would like to share information on how avitourism or bird watching in Sabah became one of the favourable and top destinations in Malaysia over the years. It is something that many did not see potential in, until some tourism numbers and facts were shared in recent years.

Bird watching in Sabah by tourist.
Bird Watching In Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

Sabah sits in the north part of Borneo, which is shared by Kalimantan, Brunei and sister state Sarawak. Since the 1990's, there have been some passionate bird watchers from Sabah, who saw a lot of potential is this area, and hence put their effort in bringing this sport and hobby to the next level. 

Before you continue to read on, I am a casual bird watcher and photographer, who was introduced to this nature loving hobby by Cede Prudente in 2008, which makes it a good decade of birding for me. 

Over the years, I have visited numerous destinations all over Sabah, Sarawak and Malaysia to document and write about this. And to my surprise, I have found out that it is only in Sabah, where bird watching is doing the best among any other state in Malaysia. 

The main reason for this is that the people who are involved in this circle have put in 100% dedication to bird watching. This resulted in many local tour guides, who ventured into being a bird guide, by studying the Sabah birds and attending the many training and events that are organized by various bodies.

Birding in th Sabah rainforest is an exciting adventure.
The bird guides are the most important factor to avitourism, and over in Sabah, I can vouch and say that all of the bird guides there speak a good command of English. This is a very important factor for international bird watchers that want to travel around for their hobby.

And for those Chinese or Japanese bird watchers heading to Sabah, there are even Mandarin and Japanese speaking bird guides here. This goes to show how important birding in Sabah has become.

Resorts and hotels also play an important part in bird tourism, where a number of them in Sabah actually print out a bird checklist for their resort area. One of them is the Tabin Wildlife Resort, which gives guests a wildlife checklist booklet, including birds, mammals, insects and frogs. 

Bird watchers at the Rainforest Discovery Center in Sandakan, Sabah
Why is Bird Watching important for Sabah? 

Bird watchers or birders make up some of the high yield tourist, who spend three times more than the average common tourist. While most tourist would spend three to seven days in Sabah for sightseeing, bird watchers would spend a minimum of ten days to two weeks to fully see as many birds as they can when in Sabah. 

To give you an idea of bird watchers from around the world, I will list down an estimate of how many bird watchers there are from each region of the world.

From there, you can imagine tapping just 1 percent of those numbers from each country, and it would be a huge number for Sabah. It was also documented that Americans contributed over USD 80 Billion to the US economy for bird watching in one year. 

  • America - There is an estimate 46 million bird watchers as of June 2018, with  around 18 million that travel overseas for bird trips. 
  • United Kingdom - Estimate of 6 million bird watchers, 2 million are very active and travel.
  • Netherlands - Estimate of 140,000 bird watchers.
  • Japan - Estimate 35,000 bird watchers from BirdLife Japan.
  • China - 21,000 bird watchers from a 2010 census, with 24 birding societies all over China.
  • Hong Kong - Around 2000 members from just the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society.

Where are the Places that Bird Watchers travel? 

Most bird watchers would stay in their own country to do this hobby, but since social media came around, many have started to explore the world in search of birds, namely the endemic species and below are a percentage of where birders go to find them;

  • 32% of birders head to South America
  • 28% of birders head to Asia
  • 24% of birders head to Africa

Birders cruising along the Kinabatangan River is Sabah
Is Sabah a Safe Bird Watching Destination? 

This is one of the main concerns of international bird watchers when they travel, and to date, Sabah has been one of the safest destinations to do bird watching. Most of the locations are in national parks, conservations and forest reserves, making it extremely safe for any bird watching tourist.

A list of Important Birding Areas (IBA) in Sabah.
Where are the most popular Bird Watching Destinations in Sabah? 

Sabah has many different types of terrains and destinations for bird watching, and the most sought after locations are where you can find the most endemics. From the east to west coast of Sabah, you can easily spend around two weeks moving from location to location, spending three to four days in each site. 

Among the highly popular locations, they each are isolated, have their own dedicated resort and also their own dedicated bird guides. This makes it easy and convenient for any bird watcher visiting Sabah. The locations are in no order below;
  • Kinabalu Park - West coast
  • Kinabalu Wetland Ramsar Site - West coast
  • Crocker Range - West coast
  • Maliau Basin Conservation Area - Center
  • Danum Valley - Center to East coast
  • Tabin Wildlife Reserve - East coast
  • Kinabatangan River - East coast
  • Rainforest Discovery Center, Sandakan - East coast
  • Tawau Hills Park - East coast

Birds of Borneo poster. (Click to see full size)
How Many Bird Species In Sabah? 

The golden question, and to be exact, there are 688 species birds found in Sabah at the point of this writing. To make it even more interesting, out of that number, 54 species are endemic to Borneo Island, and 33 species are endemic only to Sabah.

However, most of the endemic birds are spread throughout Sabah, and requires some traveling to get to them. When you book a birding tour, they often offer single or multiple destinations, depending on how much time you plan to spend here.

Some of the digiscoping equipment that bird watchers use.
Why is Bird Watching in Malaysia Slow?

I tend to be asked this question by a number of foreign bird watchers when they are in Malaysia, and the main question is that why is it so hard to get some good bird guides in Peninsular Malaysia? Well, for years, I have spoken to many in this field, and sometimes the answers I get are quite shocking. 

In Peninsular, there are only a handful of reputable bird guides, and they are always fully booked. Well, after writing so many articles on bird watching in Malaysia, I often get contacted by interested bird watchers from around the world, who plan to visit Malaysia to do bird watching.

They occasionally contact me to ask me about recommended birding guides for the places they want to visit. There are some websites that do offer bird watching services, but again, personal recommendations tend to be what people want.

At the end of the day, I would recommend most of my inquiries to head over to Sabah, as I know for a fact that there are many bird guides there, unlike over here. 

From my experience in the last few years, I have found that the local tourism boards are the most important marketing tool for bird watching. And Tourism Malaysia is the national tourism board, who is supposed to promote and market this on their road trips or when they attend events. 

However, over in Sabah, the Sabah Tourism Board was fast in seizing the opportunity since 2008, by attending some of the international bird watching expos and events around the world. Because of this smart move, it brought up birding in Sabah to an international level.

Former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi with Cede Prudente at the Borneo Bird Festival in Sabah.
So, how did Sabah Tourism do it? 

Very simple, they did not think about themselves, and they brought a number of reputable bird watchers, or specialized tour companies that dealt in bird watching to the bird fairs and expos around the world. I strongly believe that you need professionals to share the information, versus sending the tourism board staff for specialized events like this. 

With that kind of positive and sharing mentality of the tourism board, the information about birds in Sabah was shared from people who knew the industry. This made it easier for the would-be bird tourist that wanted to visit North Borneo or Sabah to do bird watching. 

In the early years from 2009 to 2015, a number of reputable bird watchers and guides from Sabah have been invited and hosted by the tourism board to attend some of the famous international bird fairs like the British Bird Fair, Dutch Bird Fair, Taiwan Bird Fair, Japan Bird Fair and many others.

Hence today, you will see many birders or bird watchers coming from those countries, and many of them return again, possibly with other birding friends.

Bird photographers and watchers on a boat.
What are the Type of Bird Watchers out there? 

It is often said that the serious bird watchers or photographers will spend at least one to three weeks on a birding trip, and usually done solo, as a couple or even with a small group. The objective would be that birding is the main focus, where anything else is secondary for this particular group. 

Below is a breakdown of what serious bird watchers are, and what they want when they travel;

  • Time at Destination - One to three weeks. 
  • Accommodation - Must be hotel, resort or lodge.
  • Influence - Must be shared by other birders about a location, logistics and so on.
  • Bird Tour Company - Must be well versed and specialized in birding tours for a long time.
  • Bird Guide - Must come recommended, or well knowledged, and speaks English.
  • Local Bird Guide Books - Operators and guides must have this, or even have it for sale to customers.
  • Expenditure - Most bird watchers will spend considerable amounts of money on their passion and hobby, and about 60% still prefer to pay more for comfort and good food.
  • Birder Age Group - Birders come in any age, from young adults to retirees, and also male and females.
  • Returning Birders - High chance of returning customers, if the service and experience is good. 
Birders and Bird Watchers at the Kinabalu National Park in Sabah.
What can be Improved for Bird Watching in Malaysia? 

Perhaps if the main tourism board starts thinking differently, then bird watching in Malaysia would gain more worldwide attention. By different, this means allocating or increasing part of their budget to send the right people, those in the birding industry, and the correct media who writes and promotes avitourism for Malaysia. 

As I have been writing about bird watching in Malaysia for years, I once inquired about sending some media that is well versed in bird watching to the bird fairs, but only to be told that there was no such thing, and there was no budget for this. 

My main objective was to attend the bird fair and document how Malaysia faired among the international countries. This way, I could understand from what angle we are approaching these bird fairs, versus just having a nice booth, photos and pamphlets of birds to give out.

The Sabah birders at the Borneo Bird Festival.
Personally, I think that a brand new approach needs to be done in order to promote bird watching in Malaysia, and hopefully, done the right way, it could increase the visibility of Malaysia to potential countries that have a lot of bird watchers. 

With a total of 785 bird species found all over Malaysia, it is on par with many other popular bird watching destinations around he world. All we need is to tap into this unique market, and by doing so, we can see a new avenue of tourism for Malaysia, and possibly increase the tourist spending dollars too.

For the record, I have also done an article about the top birding places in Malaysia if you are interested to know more about avitourism in this part of the world.

A Golden-naped Barbet, one of the prize endemic birds of Kinabalu Park.

At the end of the day, without the support of the specialized tourism sectors and tourism boards, I have resorted to writing about bird watching on my own, and working with a very small handful of bird tour operators in Malaysia. 

One of them is no other than the Borneo Bird Club, who is also the organizer of Malaysia's largest bird fair called the Borneo Bird Festival, which was in its 10th year in 2018. They are truly one of the best organized bird festivals in Malaysia, which does not lean towards the political side of things. 

Their objective is purely to share information, organize contests, educating the children, provide talks about birds and conservation and make bird watching a family fun event. I believe they have succeeded in doing so, but sadly, the funding to execute such an event could be better, and also supported by more private sectors.

The writer, who is also a scuba diver that does fish watching.
Every year, I would attend the bird festival in Sabah, speak to local birders, document events that go on, understand the bird watching industry there, and also get to know more about what is happening in Sabah. 

I believe that over the years, Sabah has led the way in bird watching for Malaysia, and it is only due time that the other Malaysian states, or the entire country look seriously into avitourism as one of the upcoming and potential subcategories of wildlife tourism to increase tourism numbers and of course tourism dollars. 
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For the flower and garden lover, I have come up with a complete guide to Royal Floria Putrajaya, and what is this event all about here in Malaysia. 

Most Malaysians are generally not interested in flowers and gardens, mainly due to the hot, humid and unpredictable weather in Malaysia.

But you will be surprised that there are in fact many who love plants and gardens in Malaysia, and the Royal Floria in Putrajaya is the biggest and best event to visit for this.

This amazing Malaysian horticulture event also reflects the standards of the nation's landscaping industry, which has gotten better over the years since it was first inaugurated.

Royal Floria has also managed to put the country on par with other countries that are known for their flower and garden expos and events.

Entrance to Royal Floria in Putrajaya, Malaysia.
Complete Guide to Royal Floria Putrajaya

This complete guide is done for the visitors to fully understand what Royal Floria is all about. Most may know this as Putrajaya Floria, which is a garden and flower expo held for a week in Putrajaya. 

The event sees over 1,000,000 visitors and has a wide range of activities, exhibitions, bazaars, demonstrations and many other fringe events that take place here in Putrajaya.

The Putrajaya garden, flower and horticulture expo originally started in 2007 as a biannual event, and from the year 2010, it became an annual event due to the overwhelming response from the public and participants.

10th anniversary of Royal Floria in 2018
10th Anniversary of Royal Floria Putrajaya

2018 marked the 10th anniversary of Royal Floria, and featured a special showcase of the last 9 years of Floria as the main display. This was a stand alone special garden for for visitors to walk through.

Visitors are taken through a special garden time walk with displays of the theme flowers starting from 2007 right till 2016, and with some basic information of each year.

Royal Floria 2018 showcased 10 years of Floria, this is Floria 2009 with the Orchid theme.
Overall landscaping was done using all the flowers from the previous years, which created a vibrant outlook for the flower festival.

His Majesty the Sultan of Selangor officiated the event on the first day along with VIP's and other dignitaries.

Below is a list of the event from the start till 2018, and showing what were the flower themes of each year. Articles are linked to my review for some of the years the event was held. 
  • Royal Putrajaya Floria 2018 - 10 Wonders of Floria, every theme flower from last 9 years
  • Royal Putrajaya Floria 2017 - There was no event this year
  • Royal Putrajaya Floria 2016 - Chrysanthemum Theme
  • Royal Putrajaya Floria 2015 - Lily Theme
  • Floria Putrajaya 2014 - Begonia Theme
  • Floria Putrajaya 2013 - Orchid Theme (Orkid)
  • Putrajaya Floria 2012 - Flower Paper Theme (Bunga Kertas)
  • Putrajaya Floria 2011 - Rose Theme 
  • Floria Putrajaya 2010 - Heliconia Theme
  • Floria Putrajaya 2009 - Orchid Theme (Orkid)
  • Floria Putrajaya 2008 - There was no event for this year
  • Floria Putrajaya Flower and Garden Exhibition 2007 - Hibiscus Theme
Begonia was the theme flower for Floria 2014.
What is Royal Floria? 

Originally called Floria Putrajaya Flower and Garden Exhibition, then Floria Putrajaya, this unique event was renamed as Royal Floria in 2015 by Her Majesty, the Queen of Malaysia. 

The Royal endorsement was graced by the HM Queen of Malaysia on the 29th May 2015, and at the Royal Garden of Negeri Sembilan. 

A large Floria sign seen at the event
However, reports state that in 2014, the ‘Royal’ status was awarded by His Majesty Agong (King) of Malaysia, and this needs to be clarified as there is no official documentation.

Royal Gardens also became part of the exhibition where each year, a different state in Malaysia would feature their own Royal Garden or Taman Di Raja as one of the main exhibits.

Visitors are allowed to visit these beautifully manicured Royal Gardens and also take photos. A good tip is to come as early as possible if you want nice photos with a clear blue sky.

Otherwise, visit the Royal Garden during sunset hour for the magical moment when the lights are put on.

Putrajaya's enchanted garden at Royal Floria 2018
Royal Floria is also the brainchild of the Putrajaya Corporation (Perbadanan Putrajaya or PPj), and the they work in collaboration with the Federal Territories Ministry.

This event is also supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture of Malaysia, and also Tourism Malaysia, to brand this as a major tourism event in Malaysia.

In 2017, Royal Floria won the Malaysia Tourism Council (MTC) Gold Award for The Biggest Flower and Garden Festival in Malaysia.

Since then, Royal Floria has also won numerous awards and accolades locally and also internationally. 

Floria 2010 with the Heliconia themed garden on display
Floria Putrajaya History

Since the humble beginnings of the Putrajaya Flower and Garden Exhibition in 2007, it has been ten year since the inaugural event. In 2018, the theme was also called Celebrating 10 years of Floria. 

The first Putrajaya Flower Expo was also opened by then Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in front of the Palace of Justice at 9.00 am on Aug 25, 2007. 

There was no official theme except that it was in conjunction with Malaysia's 50th Anniversary of Independence, and the event was selected as one of the national level events for Malaysia.

Today, this flower and garden event is marked in the tourism calendar of Malaysia, making it one of the must-visit events in Malaysia during the National Day week.

Beautiful flower colours on display at Royal Floria Putrajaya.
However, being the first time the event was held, there were many hiccups which included dying flowers, wilting flowers and plants, bad layout designs and no proper signages. 

Over the years, all of these issues were ironed out by the organisers, and till today, Royal Floria has become of of Malaysia's most beautiful and successful outdoor events.

A Merdeka themed garden in conjunction with the Malaysia National Day.
Did You Know? 

Did you know that Royal Floria always takes place around the month of Merdeka or the Malaysia National Day? It also lasts for nice whole days at Anjung Floria.

Because of this, there is a lot of emphasis on the elements of the nation's independence that is used on the floral decorations. They are also done by professionals and also the college and university students.

This in turn, results in some beautiful creations by the designers and landscapers for the largest floral and gardens exhibition in Malaysia.

When is the Best Time to Visit Royal Floria in Putrajaya? 

This is a tricky question, but if you ask me, I would personally recommend you visit the flower exhibition in the first few days.

It is also best to visit just before the weekend, as the event can get really crowded on weekends and on National Day. Trust me, it does get really crowded.

For photographers, or those who want some peace and quiet, I would highly recommend going on the opening day, and in the morning or evening. Try to avoid going on midday as it can get really hot and humid.

For those who dislike the humid weather, I recommend going in the evenings, when the weather is much cooler. The event closes at around 11.00 PM, so you have a lot of time in the night there.

One of the floral displays located indoor.
Exhibitions and Displays at Royal Floria

Every year, various international designers and landscape architects from around the world are invited to participate and showcase their creative work and designs at Royal Floria. 

Over the years, there have been many countries taking part, namely the Southeast Asian and Greater Asia countries that have been strong supporters of this royal event.

Designers floral work.
There have even been countries from as far as the Middle East and Europe that have taken part at Royal Floria in Putrajaya.

Every year, we see new countries participating, and in 2018, Korea had also participated for the event. Hopefully for Royal Floria 2019, we will see even more countries participating. 

Among some of the main displays and events that are held on a yearly basis are below;

  • Royal Floria Entrance Statement
  • Royal Floria Wonder Garden
  • Royal Floria Royal Garden
  • Royal Floria Miniatur Garden
  • Royal Floria Fertigation Garden
  • Royal Floria International Dialogue
The main entrance into Royal Floria in Putrajaya.
Royal Garden

This is one of the main highlights of the event where every year, a state from Malaysia will be selected to showcase their Royal Garden at the event.

An elaborately designed garden will be created by the participating state, complete with a mock up of the royal palace for that state. 

And as every year, the King or Queen of Malaysia will be invited to graciously officiate the event, followed by a special tour of the Royal Garden and the event grounds. 

Often, the prime minister or deputy prime minister of Malaysia is also invited for the official launching of Royal Floria.

The word Floria at the entrance of the event.
What Goes On At Royal Floria?

While flowers and plants are the main highlight at this Malaysian horticulture event, there are a few other things that go one during the nine day event here.

Exhibits of themed gardens are held indoors and of course outdoors from participating teams, councils and companies from around Malaysia, and also some regional companies.

Though creativity takes center stage here, a fun filled family or couple activity is easily achieved when you spend the day here.

And apart from just the flowers and gardens, there are of course other things happening at Royal Floria, which are;

  • Flower and Garden Displays
  • Colleges and Universities Gardens
  • Floral Pavilion 
  • Orchid Display
  • Bonsai Display
  • Outdoor Plant Bazaar
  • Craft Bazaar Indoor
  • Floria Flavours Food Center
  • Horticulture Talks
  • Workshops and Demonstrations
  • Various Contests

Orchids being sold at the Plant Bazaar of Royal Floria.
Plant Bazaar at Royal Floria

Every year, there will be a plant and garden bazaar at Royal Floria where numerous vendors from around Malaysia will set up shop at a specialized area of the event. 

This plant and garden bazaar is highly popular among the locals as it is the one time that you can find many different vendors selling all sorts of plants, flowers, orchids, air plants, fertilizers and so on.

On average, there are about 20 vendors that provide an avenue to beginners or even plant collectors to get some of the plants and fertilizers for discounted prices.

Orchid vendors at the plant bazaar.
Most popular are the orchid vendors, that showcase many different types of orchids for sale. This is a big hit among the locals and also orchid lovers.

Many locals will head to the Plant Bazaar to buy all sorts of plants, because the vendors come from all over Malaysia.

And if you love plants, I would highly recommend you make your way to the Plant Bazaar at Royal Floria.

Vendors include many orchid sellers, who have some beautiful hybrid and rare orchids, air plant sellers, cacti and succulent sellers, and the commercial landscaping plants.

Inside the Royal Floria Craft Bazaar and Hipster Square
Craft Bazaar and Hipster Square

This section is held inside an air-conditioned tent at the event and houses over 50 vendors. You will find a good mix of items being sold here, but of course, the priority goes to plant related sellers.

Overall there are all sorts of everything at the Royal Floria Craft Bazaar which range from clothes, food, jewelry, collectibles, terrariums, and the list goes on.

In the middle of the event hall, they have a horticulture themed art experience for kids and also adults, which is open to everyone.

There are also workshops and demonstrations done here. The art session and vendor list changes from year to year too.

One of the contestants for the Royal Floria awards. 
Royal Floria Contest and Awards

Every year, Royal Floria will have various contest held throughout the duration of the event here in Putrajaya. There are also special awards given out to participants as well.

The contest is divided into a few main areas, one for the invited participants, one for the media, and the other for the visiting public.

Below is a list of the contest that are usually held in conjunction with Royal Floria;

Contest and Awards for Participants

  • Garden Prime Awards - This is for participants that showcase gardens at the event, and stand a chance to win cash prize of RM15,000. 
  • Designer Boutique Garden Award - Another award and prize totaling RM10,000 for this category. 
  • Garden of Malaysia Award - This category has a cash prize of RM5,000 as well. 
  • Royal Floria Putrajaya Inter­na­tional Cup
  • Bonsai and Suiseki Competition Awards
  • Orchid Competition Awards

Some of the air plants that make interesting photography..
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This review of the Marinda Airport in Waisai is for anyone who plans to fly from Sorong to Waisai in the Raja Ampat Regency. You should know that there is currently one daily flight from Sorong to here and this is the closest airport to entering the main Raja Ampat area. 

From other major cities in Indonesia, all the flights land at the Domine Eduard Osok Airport in Sorong, West Papua. Usually, travelers will opt to take the ferry to Waisai before catching the local boats to your resort in Raja Ampat. 

For those who get seasick, flying from Sorong to Waisai would be your best option as it only takes 30 minutes flight. If you take a ferry or fast boat from Sorong, it will take you around two hours by sea. 

Review of Marinda Airport Waisai

The welcome sign as you walk into the Marinda Airport in Waisai, Raja Ampat.
On my trip to Raja Ampat in late 2017, I was fortunate to have experienced flying from Makassar to Sorong, and then a connecting flight to Marinda Airport here in Waisai. Therefore, I am doing this airport review for anyone who plans to do this same route. 

The Marinda Airport (RJM) is considered to be one of the very small airports in this part of Indonesia, which is a Class 3 domestic airport.

This is also the closest airport to the Waisai Harbor where you catch your boat to the resort you are staying at. The airport officially opened in May 2012 due mainly to the increase in tourism to Raja Ampat.

Currently, the airport is undergoing renovations as the Waisai province is hopping to extend the runway in order to accommodate larger wide bodied aircraft like the Airbus A320's and Boeing 737's. At the moment, only the ATR turboprop planes can land here.

Arriving lets you walk to the main terminal building
The Indonesian transport ministry is hoping to turn the Marinda Airport into an international airport, to receive more guests into Raja Ampat. Originally initiated in 2015, renovations are ongoing as I noticed when I landed here. 

The current runway is only 1,200 meters long by 30 meters wide, and a small terminal with a total of 120 square meters large. This is the old format of small remote airports in Indonesia, but with tourism leading the way here, it is only right to renovate this airport.

In 2017, a total of 40,000 tourist visited Raja Ampat making this one of the up and coming places to visit in Indonesia. 

Here is a fun fact - The unique name of Marinda Airport (Bandar Udara Marinda) is also adopted from the combination of regional leader (Bupati), where his name is Marcus Wanma and vice bupati Inda Arfan. So they named the airport after both of them calling it Marinda.

The baggage collection area is still manual here
Facilities at Marinda Airport Waisai

When you arrive, be prepared to go back in time. The plane will make a quick land and a quick turnaround, before stopping about 10 meters from the airport entrance. Sorry, no shuttle bus or aero bridges here, exit the aircraft and take a nice slow walk to the building. 

The airport is so small, there is only one door leading into the arrival room. Luggage is sill manual and dropped through a hole in the wall. You pick up your own bags as it is put through the hole. Old school if you ask me. 

Once you collect your luggage, it is five steps and you are outside the arrival entrance. Here you will be greeted by local drivers or 'supirs' who will ask you if you need a taxi service.

Before you exit, there are some general notice boards with signs indicating how much it costs to go where in Waisai.

The one and only gift and general store at the Marinda Airport.
Sorry to say, there is no coupon or taxi counter at this small airport. Only locals dressed in their everyday attire waiting to pick up confirmed guests.

If you have arranged a pick up with your resort, they would most likely send a decent modern day air conditioned van to pick you up. Well, I saw a traveling couple using that service. 

There are toilets, but they remain in a time from back in the day. They are overall clean and usable. But do not attempt to shower or drink the local water from the bathroom taps. Just buy a bottle of mineral water from outside the tuck shop.

Promotional banners on Raja Ampat are the only colors you see just as you exit the airport.
To be very honest, there is only one little shop that sells coffee, tea, some local snacks and instant noodles. This is located outside the arrival hall by the entrance. From what I saw, only locals will frequent this place for their daily coffee fix. 

There is nothing modern in terms of Starbucks, souvenir shops or any kind of shop. Just one local cafe, so if you need to buy anything, please do so at the Sorong airport in west Papua before you come here.

The transportation service from the Marinda Airport to various places in Waisai.
Outside, minor renovations are ongoing, but I guess at a very slow pace as debris and construction materials are seen around the area.

Well, they are doing upgrading works, and according to the locals, the new Marinda airport should be ready by end of 2018 or early 2019, if it all goes smoothly. 

Marinda Airport is a stand alone airport and located about 20 minutes out of the Waisai Harbor. My group was decently large with about 15 people, hence a local bus from the 80's was arranged to send us to the harbor. 

Classic design with no air conditioned and slide up windows, this was truly a trip down memory lane. The bus ride takes you through a pristine rainforest, looking like those you only see deep in the heart of normal rainforests. 

I sat at the last seat by the window to capture anything out of the ordinary on my camera, and to my surprise as the bus was traveling, an eagle was flying next to the bus after being startled. You can imagine the look on my face when I saw it. This is truly Raja Ampat.

By the way, if you are planning to visit this exotic place, please don't forget to get your Raja Ampat Marine park permit from Sorong before you come to Waisai.

Wings Air ATR-72 aircraft that flies to the Marinda Airport
Airlines that fly to Marinda Airport in Waisai

As of April 2018, only two airlines fly to Marinda Airport in Waisai. They are Susi Air which uses a Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft since 2012, and Wings Air which started once a day flights in January 2017. 

Wings Air uses an ATR 72-600 aircraft for this flight which operates four cities. The flight route is Manado, Waisai, Sorong and Monokwari which is a once a day flight. This means the airport only operates from 8.00 AM to around 5.00 PM. 

Apparently, at the end of October 2017, Nam Air and Sriwijaya Air began to operate flights to Marinda Airport from the Sorong Airport as well. There are a total of 17 flights a week operating this route.

News also surfaced that there may be AirAsia flights to Raja Ampat in the near future, but it was only verbally announced. Once they start flying here, it will most likely land at the Sorong Airport due to the aircraft used. 

Marinda Airport Waisai 
Address: Jln. Marinda Waisai Raja Ampat.
GPS Coordinates: 00 ° 25'56,3 "S130 ° 46'22,33" E
Contact: marinda.airport@gmail.com


Raja Ampat is home to 75 percent of the world’s corals with a whopping total of 553 coral species and 1,437 coral reef species.

Raja Ampat also contains the richest marine biodiversity on earth, making this destination one of the best places for snorkeling and scuba diving.

To get here, you can read my other article on how to get to Raja Ampat as I share the most common ways for all types of travelers.

Overall, I would say that you should not be booking a three or five day trip here as it is not worth it. You really need to spend at least a week in Raja Ampat to fully enjoy this amazing place. 

Again, for those who plan to take a flight from Sorong to Waisai, this is the main airport that you will arrive at, and I hope you got some valuable information from my review Marinda Airport in Waisai. 
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As a frequent traveller all these years, I have visited more than 50 different airports ranging from really small to mega world class airports, and I guess it is time that I put some focus on airport reviews now. 

This is not my first airport review as towards the end of this article, I will share some of my other airport reviews done over the last few years.

However, in this review, I would like to emphasise on the current budget or low cost terminals that have changed travel rapidly in the last decade, and it will focus on the Don Mueang International Airport and KLIA2, Malaysia's budget airline airport.

The Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
Review of the Don Mueang International Airport vs KLIA2

First and foremost, flying into Don Mueang airport  requires you to be on a budget airline, and for me, it was AirAsia that flies from Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 or KLIA2 to the Bangkok budget terminal. 

As I have been flying into Bangkok for the last 30 years, using various airlines, I would like to share how Don Mueang was quite run down after Suvarnabhumi Airport took over as Thailand's international airport.

The new terminal two of Don Muang International. 
Since September 2006, all major airlines moved to the new international airport, and Don Mueang closed shortly for some renovations, only to reopen back in March 2007. Since then, the former airport was known as the low cost carrier airport of Bangkok. 

If you have been flying as long as I have, you would have known how bad the condition of Don Mueang was back in 2006 to 2013. But soon, it all changed to one of the most efficient airports in the region. 

Well, all I can say is that Thailand really valued tourism very much, and from 2013 to 2018, tremendous improvements have been done to make this one of the most easiest airports in Southeast Asia to visit. 

Below is a timeline of what Airports of Thailand did, and is still doing for the Don Mueang Airport;

  • September 2013 to May 2014 - Three billion Baht renovation for Terminal 2.
  • December 2015 - Completion of Terminal 2. Passenger capacity increased to 30 million a year.
  • December 2018 - 38 million passenger capacity achieved.
  • 2018 to 2024 - 38 billion Baht expansion plan, includes Terminal 3. 

When you look at the statistics and numbers for Don Mueang Airport, it is no surprise that Thailand is going full steam ahead for the tourism arrivals, and to do so, you need a fully functional airport that can handle this.

Nok Air is one of the airlines that flies from Don Mueang
What Airlines Fly To Don Mueang Airport? 

There is no doubt that AirAsia is Don Mueang's biggest customer, with AirAsia Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia all landing there. However, there are also many other budget carriers that land here as well. They include;

  • AirAsia
    - Malaysia
    - Thailand
    - Philippines
    - Indonesia
  • Malindo Air
  • Nok Air
  • NokScoot
  • Scoot
  • JC International
  • Thai AirAsia X
  • Thai Lion Air
  • Tigerair Taiwan

As a hub for budget airlines, I have to say it is quite impressive to have so many different airlines landing here in Don Mueang, and if you look at KLIA2, in one hand, you can count the number of airlines that land here.

Don Mueang International Airport, outside.
Comparison of Don Mueang Airport and KLIA2

Malaysia is home to AirAsia, and we obviously have our own budget terminal, which is called the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, or KLIA2 in short.

With that I assumed that our budget terminal would also be on par or perhaps better than other countries. Yes, Malaysia Airports has been trying hard to make the airports world-class over the last decade. 

However, when you do an apple to apple comparison, we are left far behind. Even though KLIA2 launched as a modern lifestyle budget terminal, everything did not flow as how an airport should flow. 

With that, let me just share with you the simple process of what happens when you go to an airport to check in for your flight, comparing both airports.

The distance of both airports, using Google Maps.
Distance to the Airport

KLIA2 - The distance from the city center to KLIA to is a whopping 58.3 kilometers, making this one of the furthest airports in Asia, if not the furthest. 

To drive here, it takes about 60 minutes, and sometimes up to 90 minutes one way, depending on traffic. The only good thing is that there is a train that gets you from KL Sentral to KLIA2 in 30 minutes. A Grab Car will cost you RM65.00 one way, minus toll charges. 

Don Mueang Airport - From the airport to Bangkok Central, it is only 23 kilometers in distance, and an average of 30 minutes drive. Grab Car only charges around 300 to 400 Baht, or you can even take the local bus and then change to the BTS for less than that. 

Conclusion - As KLIA2 is a beautiful airport without a proper system, it does not work in favour of the passengers. I will have to say that Don Mueang takes the prize here as the closest airport to a city.

The main drop off area of KLIA2. Photo by www.klia2.info
Arriving at the Airport

KLIA2 - When you arrive at departure area, you will find multiple lanes, with cars always hogging the drop off areas on the out most lane. Police or authorities are hardly seen monitoring this, or often at times, they are there but not doing anything. 

Plus the closest lane to the airport entrance is permanently blocked off for VIPs, and often the second lane can also be closed, leaving only the third and outer lane open. When this happens, there is a congestion in the third lane during peak hours, which can be frustrating.

One thing I always notice is the urgency of people that get dropped off at KLIA2. Sometimes, the entire family and neighbors want to tag along, and they spend a good ten minutes saying their goodbyes at the drop off areas.

The drop off area at Don Mueang International Airport.
Don Mueang Airport - The main highway runs pass the airport and turning in is hassle free. When you arrive at the terminals, there is only one main road for vehicles to drop off passengers, and it is constantly monitored by airport authorities.

They are strict and no nonsense, and will chase away cars that wait there. Because of this system, there is hardly any traffic congestion here, and providing a smooth traffic flow. 

The terminals are also all laid out in an elongated format, so terminal one and two has their own drop off, which is part of a continuous road. Along both terminals, you will also find bus stops, taxi stops and the general car stop for dropping passengers off.

The great thing about this drop off area is that people get dropped off, and the cars dropping them will move on. If they want to say long goodbyes, they will usually park at the airport parking. 

Conclusion - Don Mueang wins this vote due to the simple and practical airport layout and flow. This makes it easy for travellers to maneuver from the drop off to the check in counter without much walking.

Authorities are extremely strict at the drop off areas in Bangkok, wherelse in KLIA2, they may or may not be there, and this is a loophole for locals taking advantage of the system.

One of the check in counters at KLIA2.
Check-In Counters at the Airport

KLIA2 - Because of the lifestyle concept of having a mall and terminal linked together, Malaysia Airports makes passengers walk through the mall before reaching the departure terminal of KLIA2.

If you have been here before, you will know that you need to walk at least half a kilometer inside before you arrive at the check in counters of the departure terminal. 

Malaysians being always late, tend to rush for their check in and so on, and in most cases, they are always cutting it close. This has also become a local habit for those travelling.

Honestly, this concept does not work for a budget terminal, but I do not blame the airport designers for trying to be different, and in the end, it shows how passengers are always rushing to check in for their flights. 

This also means that you need extra time to walk from the main door of the drop off point, and I estimate around 10 minutes before you reach the departure hall, with a casual walk.

There is no direct drop off to the departure hall of the airport, hence please take not of this flaw.

The distance from where you get dropped off and the check in counters. 
Don Mueang Airport - The minute you walk into the airport door, the check in counters are located just meters from the main doors. All you need to do is find out which row your counter is and head straight there. 

This layout is extremely functionable, and straight to the point with no hassles or distraction. Airports of Thailand or AoT in short, has made it easy for passengers to check in once they arrive at the airport, which is what it should be.

Even how busy or stressed, the Thai AirAsia staff know how to maintain a pleasant smile. 
The only set back I found is that due to the popularity of the airlines, come of the check in counters can get crowded. But the airlines have overcome this with fast and efficient staff that keep the momentum moving, to avoid jamming up the areas. 

Conclusion - Again, Don Mueang Airport gets the vote due to a simple and functionable system where after you get dropped off, you are already at the check in area, without having to walk too far.

Gateway KLIA2, the main shopping mall before the airport terminal.
Shops Layout at the Airport 

KLIA2 - Because of the KL Gateway mall being your main entry point, you can easily get distracted before checking in for your flight. There is good and bad in having this concept of a mall in an airport. 

Anyway, the mall is spacious, but the outlets tend to be occupied by only the big names or chains. One thing for sure is that you will not find any local small brands here, due to the excessively high rentals charged. 

The bad side of this is that because most travellers are always in a rush, many tend to just bypass the mall and head straight to the check in areas.

When your gate is right at the end, you tend to hurry and will not stop at the retail shops along the way.
Honestly, how many times have you actually stopped to look at some of the shops, and if your gate is at the other end, you just tend to worry about reaching your gate. This results in the retail shops not doing well at all.

Those retail outlets nearest to the departure terminal tend to be the ones doing well, as after checking in, you can then explore the mall, provided you are not rushing. 

But here's the fun part - The main departure hall at KLIA2 also has some food, cafe and retail outlets, and this is rather confusing as it looks like the airport management just wants to fill the place up with retail outlets.

How some of the restaurants and fast food shops are laid out conveniently.
Don Mueang Airport - Somehow, I find the departure area being very straight forward, where when you first arrive, you will be greeted by the check in area. Only after checking in, you will start to see the retail lots, and this is how an airport layout should be. 

The whole point of going to an airport is to check in for your flight, and then only you look for retail outlets, food or drinks. Correct me if I am wrong on this part, but it has been like that for all these years, so why change the flow? Don't you think so? 

After the second phase of renovations, Don Mueang Airport was very well laid out for the passengers. After checking in to your flights, you get your boarding pass, and for those who do not want to shop or eat, can immediately just cross over to the passport control area without any hassle.

The perfect layout  for passengers as they head to the boarding gates.
And if you wanted to eat or just walk around, you could do so in this elongated terminal concept. Priority outlets get to be closer to the check in area, like the airport hospital, airport inquiry center, toilets and also prayer rooms. 

All other general retail outlets follow after the priority ones, and you can find them at two main levels of the airport with one of the best selections of fast food and other eateries and cafes. 

Conclusion - Another vote goes to Don Mueang Airport for the overall shop layout plan in the airport. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out, unless you just want to fill an airport with shops located anywhere you can find a slot.

The automated passport gate for Malaysians at KLIA2. 
Passport Control at the Airport 

KLIA2 - After you have checked in, you will walk to the domestic passport or identification check, and also for the first layer of the body and bag screening. The domestic check is located at one leftmost corner of the airport. 

The international passport section is smack center of the departure terminal, and is not hard to miss. It is here where you will first go through the first layer of the airport police check for your boarding pass and identification. Right after this, it is straight to the immigration counter for your passport check.

The kind of sign you do not want to see when you are coming home to Malaysia.
For local Malaysian, there are passport gates, which are meant to make passengers go through much faster and smoother. But often at times, they passport gates may not be all fully functioning, which can create really long lines.

Plus it does not help when there are no staff there to assist confused passengers. Many times that I have gone through these gates, there was no immigration staff stationed there. This led to many passengers frustrations on trying to utilize the passport gates. 

Non-Malaysians still need to line up at the manned counters, and usually, it this works well. But on many occasions, I noticed a lack of immigration officers manning the counters, which result is really long lines. Honestly, do I need to elaborate more on this matter?

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