Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back to Malaysia and off to Thailand

All 3 flights from Houston back to Langkawi were on time and totally uneventful.  Neither of us was selected for the new TSA full-body image screening or pat-down, although the new circular x-ray machine stood ominously on our left as we went through the regular metal-detector line.  I do hope the TSA is profiling to some extent.  There were 3 men standing inside an elevated booth overlooking the incoming passengers patiently waiting their turns for screening.  TSA should be able to profile by neuro-linguistics programming to see which passengers warrant additional screening methods; the profiling does not need to be done by race or physical appearance.

We arrived at the Houston airport well before 08:00 on Monday morning, and arrived back at the marina 40 hours later -- which would have been Tuesday afternoon Houston time but due to crossing back over the International Dateline was Wednesday afternoon for us.  Lost that day going home and gained it back when we returned.   Thankfully, 6 of those 40 hours of travel time were spent in a room at the Transit Hotel in Changi Airport in Singapore.  I was more grateful for this than Bill because he slept a lot on the longest flight while I watched 7 movies.

The Transit Hotel is the greatest business we have encountered in a long time.  Thanks much to Bill and Amy on S/V ESTRELLITA for telling us about it.  The Transit Hotels are located inside the airport behind the first layer of security.  Arriving passengers do not clear Immigration and Customs into Singapore and DO NOT COLLECT THEIR CHECKED LUGGAGE.  Oh man, what a time saver and energy saver that service proved to be!!  We had checked 4 bags packed to the full allowable limits for international travel on the Continental and United Airlines flights, but those airlines do not interline with Malaysian Airlines.  That meant we should have collected the bags in Singapore and transported them to another terminal and re-checked them with Malaysian Airlines.  We also each had 2 carry-on bags.  Lugging 8 bags between terminals after flying 2 long flights and being dead tired was not something either of us wanted to do.  The Transit Hotel was the perfect solution.  We had looked at this hotel on our outward bound trip on October 27 and reserved a room for 6 hours beginning midnight December 1.  The hotel rents rooms for 1 hour, 3 hours or 6 hours only and it books up WELL in advance, so reservations are a must.  The hotel handles notifying the arrival airline to send your checked luggage to Lost Luggage department.  After our 6-hour stay in the hotel, we were instructed to proceed to the Transit Lounge in the proper terminal for our Malaysian Airlines departing flight.  There the clerk produced boarding passes for us and re-checked our luggage -- without us having to collect our bags.  The bonus feature doing this is that Malaysian Airlines did not charge us for excess weight since they had no idea how heavy our bags were as the counter clerk in the Transit Lounge never saw our bags.   Continental and United allowed 50 pounds per bag on international travel; but Malaysian Airlines allowed only 20 kilograms (44 pounds) TOTAL per passenger.  Our combined 4 bags were 110 pounds over that limit and we fully expected to pay the additional baggage fees.  It was a nice surprise that saved us a bit of money.    The hotel cost $76 SGD (about $55 USD) and that was considerably less than we expected to pay for excess baggage fees for this final flight.  Future travelers take note.  This worked beautifully.

The Changi Airport is hands-down the best airport in the entire world.  For a number of years this airport has been rated number one worldwide, and it fully deserves that rating.  There are orchid gardens and fern gardens, free movies, free wifi, numerous "Zone Experiences" throughout the terminals where one can relax in comfy upholstered chairs.  We caught up on sports on a 12-foot sports screen and then watched National Geographic shows on the 2-D televisions and animated movie clips on the 3-D televisions.  There was also a 3-D online game playing section, but we old folks skipped that delight.   The restaurant selections and fast-food selections are great throughout the main 3 terminals.  The Budget Terminal does not share in these travel conveniences, but we were not in the Budget Terminal on this trip.  The best feature of the Changi Airport is that the secondary security screening takes place at each gate rather than blocking the entire gate wing areas.  Doing it this way does entail using a lot more metal-detectors and security agents, but it prevents that God-awful time-consuming long line backed up at all other airports.

The boat was in great shape upon our return.  Thanks again to Bill & Amy on S/V ESTRELLITA and Michael & Linda on S/V B'SHERET for receiving our re-galvanized anchor chain and loading it back onto our boat during our absence.  I unpacked the bags and stowed things away while Bill did the usual work above deck to put the boat back into sailing shape after our long absence.   We split a pizza at the marina cafe for an early dinner and Bill was asleep by 19:30.  About 3 hours later I also crashed into bed.  I think sleeping for a few hours in the Singapore airport to break up the return trip was a really good idea and helped us  quickly adjust back to local time with less jet lag.

Thursday morning we rented a car to drive into Kuah and formally clear out of Malaysia.  On our return flight yesterday we met another American couple who were returning to their boat after an 8-month absence.  Their boat is in the boatyard.  They did not rent an air-conditioner to keep out the humidity and they returned to a boat filled with mildew.  So the wife shared our rental car while the husband spent the day cleaning the interior of their boat.  She was in search of proper cleaning products and bleach to try and salvage some of the fabric items inside their boat.  Gosh, I am so glad we used disposable de-humidifier things that absorbed moisture and left water collected inside small plastic pails.  Our boat had no mildew or mold whatsoever.

While at a supermarket in downtown Kuah we ran into a couple we had last seen in Trinidad in September 2006.  They transited the Panama Canal one year ahead of us.  We had kept in touch via email but quickly lost contact.  We assumed they were now well ahead of us.  So we were literally floored when we ran into Tony & Linda of S/V AMAZING GRACE today.  They are anchored near Kuah and will be going to Phuket soon.  So hopefully we will see them again in Thailand later this month.  We very much enjoyed Tony & Linda's company in Grenada and Trinidad back in 2006 and are delighted to encounter them again.  Later we returned to the marina and discovered S/V HARMONIE berthed just down the dock from us.  We last saw Don & Anne in New Zealand when they sailed away towards Fiji during early May 2009 and were surprised to find them here in Langkawi.  HARMONIE is another Amel exactly like ours. That now makes 5 Amel Super Maramus in Rebak, plus 1 older regular Maramu model.  There are more Amels in this marina than any other brand of boat.  Not a bad showing for a company that only builds 30 to 35 yachts per year.

While shopping in Kuah a Muslim woman store clerk wished me a Merry Christmas.  That was a very nice gesture and exemplifies that not all followers of Islam are fanatics.  This was a nice experience just as we are leaving this country.

We are officially cleared out of Malaysia, stating that we would depart at 23:00 Thursday night.   Bill will kit up with scuba tank and dive to clean the prop this morning.  Assuming all goes well and he finds no problems below the water line, then we hope to depart the marina this afternoon and sail the short distance of 16 miles to the southernmost island of Thailand.  We are looking forward to anchoring out for the next 4 nights before entering a marina in Phuket.

Please, please, please let the fishermen not be as prevalent in Thai waters as they were along  the Malaysian coast.  I want to enjoy sailing for the next few days.

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