It’s always nice when you are able to abuse the system by using their own rules against them to get something they don’t want to give you, but are powerless to deny you. Such are the simple joys of the frequent flier. For 35,000 miles, I had booked an intra-Southeast Asia award in Business class through United. This allowed me to use any of United’s Star Alliance partners (pending award availability), have one stopover (stop longer than 24-hours), one destination and one open jaw. Basically, the least adventurous use of this award would be to go from Bangkok to one place, stop, go to a second place, stop, then continue back to Bangkok.
I chose to route my award somewhat differently. As I mentioned, a stopover is a stop of 24 hours or more. I had never been to Indonesia before, and I was able to route my award Bangkok-Jakarta(23 hour stop)-Singapore(stopover)-Hong Kong(destination)-Bangkok-Koh Samui(thanks to open jaw). I like to feel that I am maximizing the segments flown and sticking it to the airline when I cash in my hard earned miles. Plus, the sub-24 hour rule on international connections allows you to check out places quickly, get a feel for them and see if you’d like to return. Jakarta was definitely a place I’d like to come back to.
In my last post, I said that my flight was at 7:30am (or so I thought). There had either been a schedule change, or I hadn’t read my tickets carefully, because the flight from BKK-CGK was actually leaving at 8:30am. I like coming to the airport early, but this left me with waaaay too much time in Thai’s Royal Silk lounge.
The jerk from the Novotel had dropped me at door 5, so I walked back to door one and into the private Royal Silk Check-In. I again selected 11A (old A330 J seats again) and within 5 minutes was through Thai’s private security line and immigration. In and out of the Kingdom in under 24 hours…again.
The lounge had the usual breakfast on offer, so I grabbed some dim sum and a sparkling water and messed around on my computer.
After ages, it was finally time to board. There was a nice sunrise coming up over the field, and I was excited to see Jakarta. The flight itself was a bit longer than I had anticipated, but if you’ve been reading this long, you know that time on airplanes is not something that bothers me. I wanted to watch a movie on my laptop, but decided to wait until after the meal service.
Some nights before, I had downloaded The Year of Living Dangerously from iTunes, as it’s set in Jakarta. Thai’s in flight movie was the terrible Justin Timberlake movie where everyone is under 25 and you pay for things with “time credits.” Did anyone with an IQ over 100 think about this idiotic concept before green lighting the movie? If everyone dies at 25, society would completely breakdown. There would be no older generation to impart knowledge on the younger generation. No one would bother working since they had such limited time, and If all parents died at 25, there would be no one to even raise the children, so humanity would likely be in trouble. It would be a brutal hunter-gatherer, might makes right type of existence for as long as infants could fend for themselves and reach maturity. Stupid, stupid crap.
As you can imagine, I opted to watch The Year of Living Dangerously. It’s about an Australian foreign correspondent covering Indonesia in the run up to an armed coup where the Indonesian Communist Party tries to seize control of the country. Also intertwined with this is a love story sub-plot between Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver and a creepy friendship between Gibson and Linda Hunt who won an Oscar for her opposite gender portrayal of a male midget, half-Chinese photographer. If ever there was Oscar bait, a woman playing the part of an awkward, half-chinese midget, male must have been it.
In case I didn’t mention it, The Year of Living Dangerously was right up my alley and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The running time also coincided nicely with the amount of time remaining in the flight.
As we neared Indonesia, I had a moment of panic. In case you are unaware, they have incredibly draconian laws on bringing drugs in or out of the country, often resulting in the death penalty. I had a tonsillectomy in the months leading up to this trip, and I was unsure if I had painkillers in my toiletry kit. The pills were of course prescription, but I didn’t know what if any documentation Indonesian customs would want, and I really didn’t want to piss them off. I searched through my kit, and as luck would have it, I had anti-malaria pills, but no painkillers. Wheew. I’m sure it would’ve been fine, but why chance it.
After we touched down, I was surprised by how small Soekarno-Hatta Airport is. As the main international airport for the world’s fourth most populated country, I had expected a huge operation. Most of the planes milling around were Garuda Indonesia and Lion, the odd TG or SQ bird, and that was it. Slightly off topic, but if anyone can answer this, please reply to the post…Indonesia is the largest muslim nation on earth by population, yet their national airline (Garuda Indonesia) is named for Garuda, a figure from Buddhism and Hinduism who was Lord Vishnu’s vehicle. Seems a bit odd no?
I had arranged for a visa before leaving New York, so I was spared the visa on arrival queue, and I can’t comment as to how painful (or painless) that process is.
All my worries about customs were for naught, I was through the border and into the arrivals area in under 10 minutes. I walked out of the terminal, unable to find an ATM. I was told there was one of the second floor, so I went back in, and up. I located an ATM, but was unable to get it to work with either my US bank card or my French bank card. I gave up, went back downstairs, found the money change kiosk (I hate using these because you get a lousy rate and pay fees) and swapped out the Thai Baht in my pocket for Indonesian Rupiah.
One U.S. Dollar is the equivalent of around 9,200 IDR. So when a taxi said he would take me into town for “250” I immediately said “let’s go.” Once I thought about the situation rationally, I realized he must have meant 250,000 IDR, which is a rip-off price from the airport into town, but I was already in the car, and it still wasn’t a ton of money for a long ride, so I let it slide.
I checked into Le Meridien, which was a perfectly fine hotel. I had lunch at a restaurant called (of course) Garuda. They bring out like 20 little plates and stack them all on your table. You then pick the ones that look good, eat those and you are only charged for the dishes you consume. I had some shrimps over rice with lots of chili sauce and some sort of beef jerky. It was spicy, delicious, cheap and as an added bonus, didn’t make me sick.
After this, I started walking back towards the hotel. I popped into a shopping mall, because I needed running sneakers (size 13US, impossible in Asia). I was shocked by the onslaught of luxury brands.
You never think of Jakarta as being that wealthy a city, but it seems to be moving much closer to becoming the next Singapore than regressing to the level of so many other Southeast Asian capitals. Needless to say, it bore no resemblance to the low rise city freshly cut out of the jungle that was portrayed in The Year of Living Dangerously. 50 years of progress will do that to a place.
I caught a cab to MONAS, the national monument, jokingly referred to as Soekarno’s last erection, as it was the last big thing he built, and it’s a rather phallic obelisk, then went back to the hotel to rest briefly.
I met an Australian friend at Potato Head for drinks. She works as a (non-clandestine) counter-terrorism analyst and was formerly with the intelligence agency of one of America’s allies, so I jokingly asked her if she was currently a spy. She told me she wouldn’t tell me if she was, and I reminded her I have two perfectly good cover careers if anyone is looking.
After a large number of cocktails, we decided to go to B.A.T.S. This place is notorious in Jakarta. It’s an acronym for Bar At The Shangri-La and is of course located at the Shangri-La Hotel. It’s known as a meatmarket and also as a place for old men to pick up Indonesian hookers, but it’s crowded every night of the week, and it was a Monday after all. There was a pretty great band from Canada of all places playing on the main stage and we had a fun evening. Soon enough my 23 hour loophole vacation was set to expire and I had to get back to CGK and on to Singapore…United’s orders.