Saturday, 28 June 2014

Jetstar Asia 3K598 Siem Reap to Singapore

Date: 18 May 2014, Sunday
Aircraft: A320-200 9V-JSI
Seat: 21A
Departure Gate: 5
Stand: 10

Scheduled Departure Time: 1535 LT
Boarding Time: 1512 LT
Push Back: 1529 LT
Take Off: 1536 LT Runway 23
Cruise Altitude: 37,000ft

Scheduled Arrival Time: 1840 LT
Touchdown: 1829 LT Runway 20R
Actual Arrival Time at Gate: 1840 LT
Arrival Gate: C11

From Angkor to Siem Reap Airport

After finishing my tour of Ta Prohm, I found my tuk-tuk driver waiting for me at the temple entrance and headed to a nearby restaurant for lunch. It is a common practice for many taxi-drivers & tuk-tuk drivers to recommend an overpriced restaurant to their clients in Asia where they would be able to enjoy a commission from the restaurant itself. It was no exception this time around as there were only tuk-tuks in the parking lot and foreign visitors at the New Ta Prohm Restaurant. The restaurant offered an extensive range of standard Khmer & Thai dishes with each main dish priced between US$6-US$7. A can of soft drink can be had at US$1.50 while fruit juices cost significantly more. 

Stir-fried chicken with basil leaves. This classic Thai dish (US$6) was unfortunately destroyed by the overuse of salt and the chicken pieces were tough as a result of overcooking. It was served together with steamed rice.

In order to save time and avoid the additional hassle of having to find another tuk-tuk, I had requested for my driver to drop me off back at the airport departure hall instead of the hotel for an additional charge. Ta Prohm is approximately 12km from Siem Reap, or 14km from the airport located to the west of Angkor. I was thankful that I did not stick to my initial plan of riding a bicycle as it would had meant riding for close to an hour under the noontime sun and under time pressure to make my flight.

We headed west towards Angkor Wat under the shelter of tropical trees which flanked both sides of the road and provided shade from the mercilessly hot early afternoon sun. The roads linking the major temples in Angkor are sealed and are in generally good condition which made for a smooth ride in a tuk-tuk that lacked any viable form of suspension.

The increased availability of new & second hand Korean buses had seen the shift from Japanese built right hand drive buses to more suitable left hand drive Korean vehicles in the Indochina region. Phnom Penh registered 3B-8865 is one of several Hyundai Aero Hi-Class coaches operated by tour operators in Siem Reap.

Colourful solar powered street lamps line the northern airport access road which links Angkor Wat with Siem Reap International Airport. These street lamps were sponsored by KOICA (Korean International Cooperation Agency) and Asiana Airlines. Asiana Airlines operate daily non-stop flights between Siem Reap & Seoul-Incheon with a A321. The frequency is decreased to 4 times weekly during the lull season between end-Aug to end-Oct. 

Siem Reap Airport

After a 20 minute ride, we pulled up to the entrance to Siem Reap International Airport (REP). There are separate driveways to the domestic & international portion of the terminal building, and tuk-tuks are obliged to pay an entrance fee. As such, this fee is often added to the cost of renting a tuk-tuk from the city though it might be added for trips departing the airport as well.

As the gateway to the country's premier attraction, Siem Reap Airport is the busiest airport in Cambodia and serves a sizeable number of regional destinations with direct flights from a mix of full service & low cost carriers. The airport is conveniently located 6km northwest of Siem Reap off National Route 6 and adjacent to Angkor Archaeological Park which posed a number of operational restrictions from the single runway facility.

Entrance to the international departure hall. Although the new terminal building was completed in 2006, extensive renovations are still ongoing and an undignified bare concrete corridor led from the drop-off kerb to the check-in hall. The signs in the terminal building are shown in English, Khmer & French.

The design of the airport terminal was inspired by the traditional architecture of Khmer temples with the tall vaulted ceilings and excellent placement of full height windows allowed the check-in hall to be well-lit by the afternoon sun. The spacious check-in hall featured earthly tones and the tiled floors were spotlessly clean. Wooden benches built around the base of the support pillars offered adequate seating to passengers waiting for the check-in counters to be opened for their flights. 

A small Parisian airport cafe located at the far end of the check-in hall provided the only source of food & refreshments in the public area of the terminal building. A can of cold drink cost US$2-US$3. The entrance to the airside section of the terminal is subtly screened off with wooden & glass partitions.  

FIDS in the departure hall. Jetstar Asia operates a single flight to Singapore on most days of the week while Silkair offers both a direct flight to Singapore and one via Da Nang in Vietnam. I opted for the Jetstar Asia flight as it gave me an additional 3hrs to explore Angkor and I was travelling without any check-in luggage which maximised the US$31 savings over the direct Silkair flight. The second Silkair flight via Da Nang was significantly more expensive and was also not operated by the airline's new B737-800.

Two check-in counters were opened for the flight 2hrs before the scheduled departure time and a long queue which stretched across the width of the check-in hall soon formed in front of the counters. As the allocation for the check-in counters were not shown on the FIDS in advance, it depended on one's luck to be seated near the appropriate counter when it opened.

I was handed my boarding pass with my pre-booked seat allocation after a relatively short 5 minute wait in the queue. Unlike Singapore where the check-in staffs are generally very strict with carry-on baggage, the carry-on bags were not weighed and tagged at Siem Reap. Jetstar Asia has one of the most generous carry-on baggage policy among the low-cost carriers in the region and passengers are allowed a maximum of 10kg for their carry-on baggage (combined weight of 1 carry-on & a backpack / handbag).

There were only 2 other passengers ahead of me at the combined security checkpoint and immigration was also fast and efficient with multiple counters available. 

After entering the airside section of the terminal, one is greeted with the usual assortment of airport duty free shops for passengers to make last minute purchases of souvenirs & handicraft items. In addition, the excellent Blue Pumpkin cafe which serves handmade ice cream sorbets also has a convenient outlet in the airport terminal.

Coconut & Rocky Road ice cream sorbet (US$3). The ice cream is served either in a cone or in an ingeniously designed paper cup with came with an attached cardboard handle.

Dairy Queen has a kiosk in the restricted area but prices for fountain soft drinks and ice cream desserts are costly.

The airside section of the terminal offered plenty of seats for passengers and free WiFi & computers with internet access are also available throughout the building. It is worth noting that there are no airport lounges in the terminal that accept Priority Pass or Veloce card memberships.

Spotting of apron & runway movements are possible through the single layered full height glass windows but it is more suited for a morning location as the airport terminal is located to the east of the compound. An Air Asia A320 9M-AHD with Tune Insure livery was photographed being attended to after arriving at Stand 11 as AK540 from Kuala Lumpur.

Jetstar Asia A320 9V-JSI turning into Stand 10 after arriving from Singapore as 3K597. She would turn around to operate my flight back to Singapore as 3K598.

The Flight

Shortly after passengers on the inbound flight were escorted to the arrival hall of the terminal, boarding was called for the outbound flight to Singapore through Gate 5. Siem Reap has no aerobridge equipped gates and passengers are either walked or bussed to their aircraft at the apron. 

As our aircraft is parked in front of Gate 5, passengers simply walked across the tarmac and aviation enthusiasts have the opportunity for ramp shots of aircraft parked on the ramp or taxiing across the apron. Cambodia Angkor Air A321 XU-349 was photographed resting in between flights at the apron.

9V-JSI (C/N 4443) was delivered new to Jetstar Asia on 15 Oct 2010 and featured the revised livery which bold billboard titles splashed across the front of the fuselage. The livery had been further tweaked with thinner billboard titles in black for the newer deliveries.

After being welcomed onboard by the friendly crew, I found my allocated seat in time to have a final look at VN-A502 which was taxiing into the apron at REP for the final time as VN931 from Hanoi via Luang Prabang. This route would be operated by an ATR72-500 with a corresponding increase in the flight time by 35 minutes from 19 May 2014. It was a bittersweet moment that I had managed to experience this unique aircraft on its last weekend of operation and certainly felt a tinge of sadness that she would be consigned to a remote corner of the vast apron at Hanoi with its sister ship VN-A504 after this flight.

Bangkok Airways ATR72-500 HS-PGG 'Chang'. Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia & Cambodia Angkor Air provide direct services to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport from Siem Reap.

I was delighted that I had the whole row of 3 seats to myself for the flight as the flight was approximately 80% full.

After a quick safety check and demonstration of the safety equipment, we were pushed back from the stand 6 minutes ahead of schedule and backtracked along runway 23 for departure. In order to safeguard the sanctity and safety of the ancient capital of Angkor Thom which lies exactly along the departure flight path for aircraft departing from runway 05, departures at Siem Reap airport are only conducted from runway 23. 

Video of the takeoff and departure from Runway 23.

A hard bank to the left was made shortly after departing from runway 23. Siem Reap city could be seen in the background along National Route 6 which links Siem Reap with the capital city of Phnom Penh.

The extensive sprawl of the former Khmer capital had been lost to the encroaching vegetation through the centuries. The lost capital was only rediscovered by the French in the mid-19th century after forging through the impenetrable tropical jungle and published sketches of the ruins that sparked off a worldwide interest in Angkor.

The Jetstar Asia flight between Singapore & Siem Reap is not code-shared with other OneWorld & QANTAS partners and in-flight service sales were brief as few passengers opted to purchase food & beverages on this short 2hr long hop. However, the cabin crew continued to impress me with their courtesy & professionalism and was a welcome change from my previous experiences with the airline over the past years.

Overflying the serene Cambodian countryside. Much of the country remained heavily mined as a result of the conflicts that had besieged the country in the past 40 years.

Leaving the Cambodian coastline as we headed south towards Singapore at a cruising altitude of 37,000ft.

After a smooth flight, we commenced a bumpy descent through heavy thunderstorm clouds and made a final bank over southern Johor for the final approach into Singapore Changi Runway 20R.

Flightradar24 trace of the final approach into runway 20R. Copyright & Google, Inc.

Flightradar24 trace of the flight from Siem Reap to Singapore. As there is no strong FR24 coverage of Cambodia, the flight path within Cambodia is inaccurate as we headed southeast along the northern banks of Tonle Sap lake towards Phnom Penh before turning south across the South China Sea. Copyright & Google, Inc.

Video of the approach & landing on Singapore Changi Runway 20R. The firm landing onto the wet runway had seemingly triggered an uncontrollable sneezing attack from a girl seated behind me. 

Singapore Airlines B777-200 9V-SQF had been decommissioned from revenue service and was photographed being parked at Stand 300 with a dark blue cheatline and tail. 

We pulled into Gate C11 at exactly 1840hrs after being made to hold short of the gate for 5 minutes as it was not being prepared for the arrival of our aircraft. It was also my first time using this gate after the renovation of Terminal 1 and was a novel experience to be on the other side of the viewing gallery which had been brought nearer to the gates.

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