Malaysia Travel Guide
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How does a month of flying around Southeast Asia for under $200 sound?
That's the question we asked back in December, when it was first announced AirAsia would introduce some sort of pass for unlimited flights. Well, that passthe AirAsia ASEAN Pass, named for the Association of Southeast Asian Nationsis official and available for purchase, beginning today.
The ASEAN Pass' original promise of travel to 10 countries has been kept, and passengers may elect to fly to airports in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Burma, Laos and Brunei. The greatest variety of destinations is of course offered from AirAsia's base in Kuala Lumpur, although Bangkok also has a bunch.
Popular leisure destinations in the passes include Bali, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Langkawi, and Puerto Princesa. With just those it'd be very tempting to turn an ASEAN Pass into a "best exotic beaches of SE Asia" pass, but culture and business travelers will find plenty destinations of interest as well.
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Above: AirAsia's route map out of KUL
How does a month of flying around Southeast Asia for under $200 sound?
It'll soon be possible, so hopefully your answer was positive. You see, the AP reports that Malaysia-based low-cost airline AirAsia is getting ready to release an unlimited flying pass to 10 Southeast Asia destinations for only $148 (excluding airport taxes). The airline, whose slogan is "now everyone can fly," will allow travelers to use the passdubbed the "AirAsia ASEAN Pass"for one month of flights at some point in early 2015.
This comes just as ASEAN countries are making strides to "liberate the airways" in 2015, which we reported from the annual ASEAN conference earlier this year.
For travelers who've never flown AirAsia and may be skeptical: yes, this pass is suspiciously cheap, as are AirAsia's regular flight prices, but it is a reputable airline and we have flown with them several times. Who would doubt an airline that serves in-flight bubble tea and offers 19 different buy-onboard meals?
As Ebola headlines dominate the mainstream news, Malaysia Airlines has been busier than ever. Still in the midst of a search-and-recovery operation for MH370, the airline is also going through a number of structural and ownership changes. To catch you up, here are the latest updates:
• After unveiling its new plan at the end of August, the airline's majority shareholder, Khazanah Nasional, is attempting to buy out all minority shareholders. If the offer is accepted, Malaysia Airlines would become privatized.
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A few weeks ago, we gave you the scoop on how Malaysia Airlines might rebrand itself given the two unfortunate and unlucky incidents it had this past year. There's no new livery to speak of yet, but the dirty work is about to begin. The airline is reportedly about to launch the first phase of its rival plan, which aims to move it from government/public ownership to one that is privately operated. Unfortunately, it's going to mean the cancellation of routes and the loss of jobs.
The Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday that, according to its sources, "Malaysia Airlines will stop flying to some unprofitable routes in China and other places such as Frankfurt," Australia, and Dubai.
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Time to add another novelty to the list of cool things you can see in the jungles of Borneo: The world's smallest bear, the Sun Bear, is now on display at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok in the Malaysian state of Sabah.
Opened to the public this year, the Conservation Centre attempts to rehabilitate sun bears that have been the victims of deforestation and, believe it or not, those that have been mistreated as pets. Apparently, people have made a habit of poaching them as cubs, keeping them in cages and raising them like a dog while they're little. But ultimately, things go wrong as they grow and suffer from a life of captivity.
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Regardless on how accountable one might hold Malaysia Airlines for the two tragedies of the past six months, there's no question the airline's brand and identity have been considerably tarnished.
It's way too early to know if there will be any long-term impact on future business success, but it appears MH won't be waiting around to find out. In a media release, it announced that it has already begun considering a new brand identity, including a new name, to go along with a restructuring of routes. The Malaysian Government, which is the majority shareholder of the airline, said it would all be in an effort to draw new investors and rebuild.
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Last month, when we previewed our attendance at the Rainforest World Music Festival, we anticipated that it would be one of the best events of the summer given its location on the island of Borneo and its lineup that brought in bands from all over the world. We’re happy to report that despite the “on-paper” promise and high hopes we had set for RMF - typically a travel no-no - the festival weekend exceeded absolutely every expectation.
Why? The first and foremost reason is because it is exactly as advertised in terms of its exotic setting and multi-cultural lineup. They call it the Rainforest World Music Festival for a reason. Located at the Sarawak Cultural Village about 45 minutes from Kuching, the festival takes place in the shadows of Mount Santubong, where the rainforest spills down to the coast. The rainforest serves as a backdrop for the two stages, and across the street is the beach and the calm waters of the South China Sea.
The new terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, KLIA2, opened earlier this year in May. A three minute, 50-cent train ride from the main terminal, it serves AirAsia, Lion Air, and Zest Airways and contains about 60 gates overall.
On our recent adventure in Southeast Asia, we passed through it on our way to and from the Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo. As expected, the building is very modern, following the “new airport trend” of looking more like a shopping mall than a transit terminal. But there was one vendor that jumped out at us as we walked by, something we never expected to see: A grocery store.
Obviously, the press for Malaysia Airlines hasn’t been the best of late given the on-going search for the unsolved mystery that is Flight 370. Making our way to Borneo this week, we flew the airline from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur (4 hours) and then on to Kuching (1.5 hours). Despite the unpleasant images that come with the mention of its name, we actually really enjoyed our experience flying Malaysia Air. In terms of its everyday flying policies and procedures, it does a lot of things right.
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Last week, we told you some of our top picks for festivals to kick off summer. The most worldly and unique, however, might be found on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo at the end of the month.
Known as the Rainforest Music Festival, the weekend concert features musicians from around the world with a theme of tribal and traditional music. Every continent is represented, but there is a focus on the local island cultures with performances by the indigenous musicians of Borneo.
Southeast Asia Travel / Borneo Travel / Planet Borneo / Iban Longhouse / Kuching Travel / Malaysia Travel / → All Tags
Similar to the Native American reservations here in America, native tribes maintain ownership of certain plots of land on the island of Borneo. One such tribe, the Iban, inhabits the jungles outside of Kuching in Malaysia, and makes its home in community lodging facilities known as “longhouses.”
The name is a pretty accurate description of their appearance. Picture a long, rectangular "motel" with side-by-side rooms and a common-area patio that runs the entire length. This is essentially the setup for the longhouse, except the outside common area is enclosed, and beyond that is an outdoor patio. Each room houses a single family and consists of two rooms, the bedroom and the kitchen. The bedroom also doubles as a living room when the mattresses are removed from the floor and leaned against the wall.
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An entire weekend has passed since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and, in that time, the only news of any consequence has been that at least two passengers onboard were traveling under false identities, using stolen passports.
No aircraft, wreckage, emergency calls, or anything to decipher the mystery has been found.
What we have now is a world distressed by the use of these stolen passports, both swiped in the last two years while the original owners (who are alive still) were visiting the popular vacation destination of Phuket, Thailand. Phuket is an island towards the south of Thailand, much nearer to the border with Malaysia than the Thai capital of Bangkok.