Narita Airport’s Smoking Rooms, Free Wi-Fi, and Exciting Toilet Bowls

Japanese packaging for a pack of Marlboro Light Menthols.

As a not avid but long time smoker, something I enjoy about foreign airports is that their assholes aren’t so tightened by political stupidity that they’ve banned smoking rooms.  I understand that non-smokers don’t want to inhale smoke, but I also think it’s wrong to punish smokers, or inconvenience them, for doing something that isn’t illegal.  Singapore’s Changi Airport has smoking rooms.  Japan’s Narita Airport has smoking rooms.  Germany’s Frankfurt Airport has smoking rooms.  NAIA in the Philippines doesn’t have a smoking room, but the Philippines tries to emulate all the laws the US passes, and that airport just sucks anyway, so it doesn’t count.

On a long-haul flight from Manila in the Philippines to New York City, that stop at Narita is a small blessing if you’re a smoker.  I’ve gone through there twice, in different areas each time, and in both instances a smoking room was conveniently placed for people on short or long layovers.

The smoking rooms are completely closed in with tinted glass windows and doors that you open by pushing on a pad on the door, located where a handle would normally be.  Inside is a vending machine, lots of benches, a television, cigarette butt receptacles / ashtrays and even a stand with car-style lighters for people who forgot those or couldn’t get their lighter through security at their point of origin.

A Japanese man and woman taking a break in a smoking room at Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan.

When I sat down in the smoking room it had a really relaxing atmosphere.  There was an assorted crowd inside that fluctuated constantly as people rushed in and rushed out to head to their gates.  I saw Japanese businessmen talking in clipped tones, likely about some upcoming project, convention or deal.  I saw airline attendants, Japanese and otherwise, enjoying their breaks.  There were plenty of travelers, mostly Asian, lounging with dazed looks on their faces.

A group of Japanese people in a smoking room at Narita Airport, Tokyo, Japan.

While there, a traveler that looked like he was from the Middle East was trying to give away a meal voucher he had.  He asked me if I had time ‘til my next flight and told me about the voucher, asking if I wanted it.  I only had a few minutes left by that point so I declined.  It was odd, but he went around almost the whole room before running into someone that would take it from him.  It’s possible that everyone had a connecting flight coming up shortly, but I think it’s more likely that most people just won’t take something free, because scams are so prevalent.  No one wants to get suckered.

Another guy I spoke to was from the US.  He was on his way back home to pick up his dogs and bring them back to Japan.  That sparked a long conversation about pet importation, since I had my cat Marble with me on my flight, importing her to the US, and had previously imported her and three other cats to the Philippines from Singapore.  Japan is pretty strict on their import requirements, especially compared to the US which barely asked me for any documentation at all for Marble and didn’t require an import permit.

Sitting on the floor near my connecting flight's gate, charging my phone at a wall outlet.

Narita as a whole is a very modern, attractive airport that reminded me of Changi and the airport in Kuala Lumpur.  My only complaint about the place is that it didn’t have free wi-fi throughout the terminal, though I did find a wi-fi kiosk sponsored by Google.  The catch was that after registering to use the service, you were presented with an advertisement encouraging you to download the latest version of Google’s browser, Chrome.

Google sponsored free wi-fi at Narita Airport in Tokyo Japan.

Leaving Narita and arriving at JFK in New York was like leaving a posh neighborhood and stepping into the projects.  JFK even smells funny, but from what I’ve been told it’s common knowledge that the place is a dump in serious need of remodeling.  One of the most interesting thing about Narita, though, are the toilets.  Have a look for yourself:

A toilet with butt sprayer, butt blow dryer and heated seat at Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan.

These types of toilets are common in Japan.  The one pictured above had a heated toilet seat and a sprayer that you could use to clean your backside.  It also had a blow dryer that would dry your backside after it was sprayed clean.  Even if I’d needed to use them, I don’t think I would, since it was a public toilet.  I spent about five minutes looking at the toilet bowl from different angles, trying to figure out where the spray and blow drying would come from, but I gave up.  If I ever have a chance to stay in a hotel in Japan, I might give it a try.  Or France.  I hear they’re used there too.

Passing through Narita is, overall, a pleasant experience with a clean environment, satisfactory amenities and interesting people watching opportunities.

Swensen’s at Changi International Airport Terminal 2

The last thing we had to eat before leaving Singapore was at Swensen’s, which is an odd circumstance since I vowed never to eat there again about a month after reaching Singapore.  Well, it was Swenson’s at Tampines, but you get the idea.  We’d received some horrible service with our dishes showing up more than 20 minutes apart from each other and the waiter never returning to take our drink order.

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot open at 2:30 AM at Changi, so our choices were pretty limited.  When we saw the sign saying that Swensen’s was on the lower level and was open 24 hours a day, we resigned ourselves to another potentially disastrous experience for the sake of filling our bellies.

I wasn’t disappointed with the meal this time, though it was nothing to get excited about either.

DSC04825

I was a little surprised when this showed up at the table.  I’d ordered a chocolate soda, but I didn’t think it would come with a big ball of chocolate ice cream on top.  In the US there’s a fast food place called Sonic’s (I think that’s the one) where you can order flavored Cokes.  Just out of curiosity I ordered a chocolate Coke one day and it wasn’t bad, but it was just Coke with chocolate syrup mixed in.  I had expected the same thing here.

Beef Mee Goreng

Mee goreng is something I came to love about Singapore’s food scene.  That and nasi goreng.  Well, I gained an appreciation for a lot of foods that come from the Muslim and Indian Muslim food stalls.  Swensen’s version of mee goreng isn’t too bad.  The beef was very tender, the tomatoes were flavorful, but overall the dish seemed to be lacking something.  Maybe they add a lot of MSG at the hawker stalls?

Seafood Kway Teow

My wife went with the seafood kway teow.  She said it was a good choice.  The soup was thicker, tastier and more filling than the usual hawker fare.  I kinda wish I’d ordered one of these too.

So, Swensen’s managed to redeem themselves, literally at the last minute.

Singapore Budget Terminal Children’s Art Area

If you haven’t been through Singapore’s Budget Terminal lately there’s a table set up for kids to play.  It’s one of those tables where you lay a piece of paper over an image made from raised edges.  You scribble a crayon (or pencil) across it and the picture carries over.

It’s a lot of fun!  The table was drawing a mixed crowd and when I walked up to it, it was composed of mostly adult tourists trying to get one last souvenir before getting on their flight.

Some of the designs are really interesting too.  Here’s the one I made:

3 Days in Kuala Lumpur: Part 10: Heading Home

Before we knew it, our short 3 day trip in Kuala Lumpur was coming to an end.

On the morning of the third day we were there, we got up at 9 am to make sure we wouldn’t be late.  We really had no idea how to get back to the airport.  On the way to Kuala Lumpur, the buses were in an obvious location, right along with the taxis and stuff, but it’s not as much of a “no-brainer” when going back to the airport.

The first thing we had to do though was… eat of course!  Since it was a day for traveling we didn’t want to risk eating something that might mess up our stomachs, so we went to McDonald’s.  My wife had the sausage biscuit again, which seemed fitting.  That’s what she had on the first morning, when we were at the Budget Terminal at Changi International in Singapore, waiting on our flight.

After eating, we went back to the hotel and checked with the lady at the front desk for directions.  We specifically wanted to know how to get on one of those cheap buses again.  Why pay more when you don’t have to?  She told us that the best way to get there would be to go back to the Pasar Seni train station and ride to K.L. Central.  She said there were buses there that would take us back to the airport for 8 ringgit each, which is what we paid the last time heading into the city.

That seemed simple enough, and it didn’t take us long to get to K.L. Central.  The place was bigger than we expected though so we had to stop for directions again.  Unfortunately, the guy behind the counter told us it would be “better for you to take fast train to airport.”  Of course… that’s what we didn’t want to do.  The fast train he was talking about is fast, but it’s also 35 ringgits per person.  I couldn’t see spending that much more just to shave 30 minutes or so off our trip.  We wound up getting the right directions from a guy working at a sales stand.  All we had to do was go downstairs.

When we got downstairs the bus we wanted was right in front of us.  It was yellow, just like the one we had taken from the airport, and just like the one we had taken from the airport it was indeed only 8 ringgit.  It was called Star Shuttle (see the ticket stub on the left, which was from our trip into the city on the 1st).  We double checked with the guy selling tickets to make sure it was going to the airport and then paid and got on board.  We got on the bus at about 11:30 am, and about 20 minutes later the bus pulled off from the curb and got on its way to the airport.  I dozed off for part of the trip again.  My wife was kind enough to let me know I was knocked out and had my mouth hanging open for quite a while.  Oops!

We left Kuala Lumpur early because we weren’t sure of the way back to the airport, so when we did get there, we got there early.  Really early in fact.  We had two hours to kill before we could even check in, so we went to the McDonald’s there and got some coffee.  I tried to log into the free wireless but either it was acting up or my phone was, because I kept getting a “no reply from gateway” error.  Thinking about it now, it had to be my phone if I got the same error in two different places.  Since we couldn’t get the internet to work, we found a bench to sit on.  My wife pulled out a book, and I fell back asleep for about an hour.

When the time came, we checked in, got our boarding passes and then went through the immigration and security checkpoints.  While in line we realized that we hadn’t taken the time to stop for Dunkin Donuts.  There aren’t any Dunkin Donuts stores in Singapore.  I have no idea why, because the donut stores that are in Singapore aren’t very good.  We were both kinda sad about the whole thing, because we love their donuts.  Fortunately for us, there’s a Dunkin Donuts just past the immigration checkpoint.

We had just enough ringgits left for four donuts, so we chowed down!

The rest of our trip home was fairly uneventful.  The gate was a bit crowded and the flight left a bit late, but we were back in Singapore by 5:45 pm.

3 Days in Kuala Lumpur: Part 4: Finding Our Hotel

If you remember from the first post, we booked a place at Hotel Chinatown 2, on Jalan Petaling. One of the things that appealed to us about the place is that it’s near the center of town, close to a train station, and there are lots of shops around it, or so we had read.

Our hotel:

And, unfortunately, the airport:

I’ve never seen a city where the airport is as far away as it is in Kuala Lumpur. We were actually worried about the fare from the airport into the city itself. It’s a long way! In fact, the ride from the airport to our hotel in Kuala Lumpur wound up taking longer than the flight from Singapore to the airport there in Malaysia. Weird right?

Before we left, we’d gotten some directions from the hotel’s website and saw a list of what prices we could expect for the various means of transportation. We had a few different options, all of which were about 80 ringgit, meaning none of them were appealing. Luckily, Malaysia has a similar system to the Philippines when it comes to transportation. Private buses. As we wandered down the length of the airport we saw waiting areas with lots of buses pulled up to them. I got excited and we went on ahead to check it out.

Buses like these probably aren’t the safest mode of transportation, but we’ve used them in the Philippines and we didn’t see why we shouldn’t use them in Malaysia as well. The best part of the deal? The cost was 8 ringgits per person. So, 16 ringgits total for my wife and I to get to Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. That’s a lot better than an average of 80 ringgit.

After getting on the bus we worried for a little while that we’d been taken in, and that the bus wasn’t actually going past Jalan Petaling, but the guy seemed pretty sure, and the ticket he gave us looked pretty official. There was even an office address and a phone number. Just to be on the safe side though I asked the guy that sat down across from us if the bus passed by Jalan Petaling. He said it did, so we went ahead and kicked back and got comfortable.

The bus had great air conditioning and the ride was smooth, if a bit long. I think I dozed off for a little while, because I don’t remember some parts of the trip that I saw later on the way back. Thankfully, it went without incident, and after about 50 minutes the bus was making it’s first stop in town, about one block from Jalan Petaling. We actually went right past the entrance to Jalan Petaling, so we were sure we were in the right spot.

After getting off the bus, we walked down the street, over a foot bridge, and onto Jalan Petaling itself. As we made our way through the crowd, looking for our hotel, my wife told me she was shocked. I asked her why. She told me it was because she’d never seen so many white people in one place before. I looked around and it was true. The place was packed with foreigners, most of whom seemed to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed.  Australians perhaps?

After about a block we decided to stop and ask a police officer we saw for directions. His English was a bit rough but he was able to point us in the right direction and we found our way to our hotel.