Penang to Phuket
While there is an express bus 401EE that runs to the airport from George Town jetty running every 15-20 minutes, we decided not to push our luck and get a cab instead - the last thing we needed is another hour and a half wait for the bus at the jetty. We also met Scott the night before and he was going to take the same flight so between myself, him, and the Norwegian girls it would only be 10 ringgits/$3.20 each (forget the meter).
Penang Airport (PEN)
It took us about half an hour to drive to the airport and it looked pretty impressive and modern from the outside. The new terminal has been under construction since last year and it did look very nice. Once inside, we had to send our check-in bags through a scanner before getting to the check-in counters and that was a complete joke. The two people working the scanners were just chatting among themselves and did not even look at the monitor to see what kind of nastiness I had in my bag before slapping the 'Security Screened' sticker on it.
The departure area was a mix of modern looking transparent enclosures around the gate area and not-so-modern lack of sitting accommodations except for the rows of chairs along those gate enclosures. There were also very few choices for getting something to eat at the terminal. In fact, the only two choices were as shop selling overpriced sweets packages and a mom-and-pops style food cart with ridiculously expensive coffee. Fortunately, I spent my money wisely prior to that and I only had a ringgit 20 left to spend on... nothing.
While there were three FireFly check-in desks, only one of them was manned and they were only checking in passengers for another flight. They told Phuket passengers to start a line to another check-in desk that would open shortly. Of course, by the time the check-in for Phuket started, they suddenly had three lines open and somehow people that were at the end of our line got to check in before us at the other desks. Great... Still, what really confused me is the fact that when I asked the guy for a seat in the bulkhead row for more legroom, he told me that he will give me an exit row seat. The confusion came from the fact that FireFly flies ATR-72 turboprops which do not have the exit rows per say. Their exit row is the bulkhead row, but once again, I naively trusted the guy to know what he was doing (same mistake I made with Velvet Sky and Zest Air).
The incoming flight was a bit late, so we boarded after a 30 minute delay. As we boarded, I once again realized that I hate being right. The seat was no exit row and since Scott, also not a small person, was given the seat next to me, we were really cramped in there. The flight appeared to be full, but finally the last person sat down and there were still two seats open in front of us so I quickly jumped in there.
The flight itself was nothing to write home about. While we were taxing, I could not help but compare FireFly to Spirit Airlines because of the ads for a real estate company being plasted all over the aircraft. Because of that, I was really surprised when we were served with free juices and muffins on the flight - the first from any of the low cost carriers I have flown with on this trip.
Phuket Airport (HKT)
Landing in Phuket reminded me of the LaGuardia approach - coming from the west, it looked like we are descending into the sea when suddenly we hit the ground. Taxing in, I was surprised to see a bunch of heavies parked at the terminal including a Finair jet and a bright green S7 airlines 767-300 - yey, a plane full of Russian tourists. It did not 'disappoint' me - there was one guy cursing at the immigration officers for having to go pay for an entry visa. Later on, another lady grabbed some poor airport worker and was angrily telling him that they were supposed to be picked up by some hotel. Of course, all in Russian. Of course, before they even got out of the customs area. Sad...
As soon as we cleared customs, we got ambushed by all the Ko Phi Phi ferry offers (never mind that there were no ferries left that day). Those were followed by the 'taxi to town' offers (never mind that all of them were higher than the taxi kiosk right at the customs area exit - the first thing anyone would see coming out of there).
There were plenty of ATMs in the corner of the arrival area as well as a small convenience store there and after grabbing some cash, we decided to jump into one of the vans to get to town for 100 baht/$3.25 instead of waiting for the bus that runs every hour and does not cost much less at 85 baht. The ride took about an hour, and at one point we actually stopped at some tour selling place to 'check the tickets'. Of course, they were trying to upsell us on some hotels and, surprise, a ferry to Ko Phi Phi for the next morning.
On the bright side, we got dropped off somewhat near to the hostel we were going to and they had plenty of rooms available. Scott and I decided share one private for 650 baht/$21 while the girls split another one. It was somewhat of a weird setup with shoe rack located at the front while we had to go through a backyard laid with some small, sharp stones so we opted to keep our shoes on. The room was very basic with a fan and an old TV. I saw some ants running around my bed and some other bugs, but they did not look like bedbugs so I just went back and got a spray from the front desk to spray around.
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