I left Perth on Tiger Airline on Friday night arriving in Singapore at about 3am Saturday, 4 June 2011. I then flew Tiger to KL arriving about 7:30am. I then learned that Tiger lands at the Budget terminal which is 20-30 minutes drive from the KL International terminal. My Sri Lankan Airline flight from KL to Colombo was due to leave at 9:20 am, so I missed it. They close the check in counters one hour before the flight because the check-in counter is about 20 minutes away from the boarding gate – even including the free light rail that transports passengers around the vast KL International Airport. The KLIA is impressive for its size and high-tech facilities, however, the signage and lack of information about these logistical matters is a negative. Sri Lankan Airlines should have some note on their e-ticket about the counters closing 1 hour before flight and maybe something about warning passengers who may be connecting from the KL budget airport.
From what I saw, the KL budget airport might just as well have been called Air Aisa Airport since Air Asia dominates so much. The access to taxis was difficult. There seems to be no consideration for passengers such as myself who might be going to the KLIA. Buses between terminals depart about every 20 minutes and I just missed one so I was obliged to take a taxi. However, you need to go to a special counter, through a police checkpoint just to get a taxi voucher. The taxi voucher counter didn’t accept any currency except Malaysian Ringits. I didn’t have enough MR so I had to go back out through the police checkpoint and find a currency exchange service, wait in the queue and accept an exorbitant exchange rate, go back through the police checkpoint to the taxi counter, back out through the police check point and cross a busy road to find the taxi rank. The taxi had a very small boot so no-one’s normal size luggage would fit in it. The driver then puts on an act about my luggage and then puts it on the back seat. To his credit, he did driver rather quickly to try and get me to the KLIA on time for my Sri Lankan Airline check-in. He dropped me at the wrong end of the terminal (he wasn’t to know – not his fault) so I ran pushing my trolley loaded with luggage from one end of the terminal to the other, only to find the area completely unstaffed – too late!
I then found where the Sri Lankan Airline office is located and pushed my trolley up there. I waited for about 30-40 minutes in the empty corridor outside the office and then wrote a note to stick on their door while I wandered off to find a toilet and some refreshments. I enjoyed some noodles and sambal washed down with coffee. I went back and waited in the corridor doing pacing up and down for exercise – no where to sit except the floor. Then about 10:30 the Sri Lankan Airline officers arrived at their office. The lady was very helpful and arranged for me to go on the next flight leaving at 2pm, but going via Singapore. I was relieved.
So I passed time and ate a delicious murtabak ayam (pancake stuffed with curried chicken) and drank tea and juice for lunch. My seat on the SLA flight was 67G which is right next to the toilet on the last row. The leg room was relatively cramped due to some device on the floor. Many passengers were Indians returning from holidays in Malaysia – some kind of package tour that included a one night stay over in Colombo. Many were rude to the crew and made many demands. Unfortunately there did not seem to be enough vegetarian meals provided by the catering company so some Indian men became very upset. I felt sorry for the SLA crew. Then the captain announced that for some unknown reason, Changi Airport (Singapore) was only using one runway and our flight was obliged to fly in circles around Singapore in a queue waiting to land. We all had to get off the plane in Singapore and wait for 30-40 minutes to board again. After boarding we waited another 30-40 minutes in our seats to get permission to take off. I suppose all these delays might have aggravated passenger moods. So finally we arrived in Colombo at 7pm – two hours after the scheduled time for that flight and 9 hours after my planned time of arrival (10am).
I got a taxi to my hotel in Negombo and after checking in, went out to buy a Sri Lankan SIM card for my mobile – success. However, when I tried it out, I found my phone is locked to Telstra and the Norton security software also prevented me from changing the SIM. I forgot to disable that before I left Australia. Now I need a new phone.
After a cold shower (no hot water at the A$78 per night hotel – don’t go there – Rani Beach Resort) and lots of water, I spent some time horizontal for the first time in over 24 hours. I woke refreshed, packed my stuff and ate some included breakfast within sight of the Indian Ocean. It was lovely. I then got in a three wheeler to the Negombo bus station and found that there are no air conditioned buses to Kandy. In retrospect, I could have gone to Colombo to take the train or an AC bus to Kandy, or I might have found an AC bus to Kurunegala, get off and get a different AC bus on to Kandy. I just wanted to keep moving so I got on the non-AC bus. I managed to buy three front seats (111 SL rupees each = about A$1 or about 65 British pence) just behind the driver that are normally reserved for clergy. I took a risk that if a monk boarded, I’d have to relinquish my seat (even though paid for). I pushed my luggage onto the window seat and sat comfortably on the other two seats for about 1 hour while the bus was not full. Later when many passengers boarded and I felt guilty for having pregnant women, old men and children standing in the narrow aisle, I invited a woman to sit down next to me while I squashed in next to my luggage. The woman spoke English and we had a brief conversation. She actually worked at the airport. She was fascinated by my Kindle e-book reader and I showed it off to her. She showed me a book by Ajahn Sumedho “Now is the Knowing”. I told her how I’d met Ajahn Sumedho in Bangkok and in Perth many years ago. She seemed pleased to meet a non-Sri Lankan Buddhist. As soon as she got off, another lady sat down for the remainder of the trip to Kandy.
Kandy was warm and humid but not excessively so. I found a three wheeler to take me to the Buddhist Publication Society BPS bookshop but found it closed on Sunday, so I went straight on to Mrs Clement Disanayake’s guest house where I had stayed several times when I was in SL last year. Without a booking, she welcomed me. She had no other guests. She is a lovely 72 yo widow. We chatted about our lives in during the past year I’d been in Australia. I noted that I left Sri Lanka around 19 May 2010 and now returned 4 June 2011, just over one year away. With Mrs Disanayake’s recommendation, I found Mr Nimal Pieris at Tele-pix on Perideniaya Road, a much awarded SL businessman who promptly sold me a Samsung touch phone which may have been once destined for the Polish market judging by the language of the instruction booklet). Anyhow, the phone works fine. I finally phoned Mum to reassure her that I arrived safe and well.
[Mrs Clement Disanayake’s guest house is listed in the Lonely Planet and possibly Rough Guide books for Sri Lanka – recommended]
I ate a good Sri Lankan curry meal as lunch at one of the Devon restaurants for less than A$5. I didn’t need dinner after that. I chatted more with Mrs Disanayake, showered and slept early. There is a 2.5 hour time difference with Perth. (6pm Sri Lanka is 8:30pm Perth).
This morning after a pile of toast, eggs, jam, bananas, herb rice porridge and 3 cups of tea for breakfast 🙂 I went down to the BPS book shop which opens at 9am. There I spoke with Berty who remembers me. He is very charming and operates the till in the shop.
I am donating some items to the Sangha of the Forest Hermitage lead by Ven. Nyanatusita Bhikkhu. The box is a little bulky but not heavy – about 10 kg or less. Berty and his colleagues at the BPS shop phoned Ven. Nyanatusita and we have agreed that the BPS van will transport the fridge and me to the Forest Hermitage which is in the middle of the Udawattekelle bird sanctuary. Usually entry fee is 600 rupees but if visiting the Hermitage, this can be waived if you are carrying an official letter provided by the BPS. On the other hand, providing money for the maintenance of the bird sanctuary is a good thing.
I will stay overnight at the Forest Hermitage for a while. I am looking forward to some Dhamma talks with Ven. Nyanatusita.