Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Amazing Race 23, Episode 8

Al Ain (UAE) - Bandung (Indonesia)

This week the cast and crew of The Amazing Race 23 had to make about as long and awkward a journey as any within (depending on how you define it) a single continent: from Al Ain (UAE) on the Arabian Peninsula in far West Asia to Bandung (Indonesia) in Southeast Asia.

The racers were allowed to drive from Al Ain to the much larger Abu Dhabi airport (IATA code AUH) to start this leg of their trip around the world. There is an airport in Al Ain, "AAN", but it has no long-haul flights. Having once or twice had to arrange flights for groups traveling to Al Ain (for reasons I can't talk about, in deference to my clients' privacy, although it's a great story), I know that connections to and from AAN are likely to involve long and inconvenient layovers.

At the other end of their trip, however, the racers were required to fly to Bandung airport (BDO). Whatever the reality-TV producers' reasons for that choice, it almost certainly made the trip take longer than if the racers had flown to Jakarta (city code JKT, airport code CGK) and gone overland from there to Bandung.

There are far more flights in and out of Jakarta than Bandung, including daily nonstops between Abu Dhabi and Jakarta. The only international flights to or from Bandung, on the other hand, are on regional "low-fare" airlines serving nearby airports in Singapore and Malaysia.

From CGK, there are scheduled luxury shuttle-bus services either direct to Bandung, or to Gambir train station in downtown Jakarta to connect to more comfortable, scenic, and safe, although not quite as frequent, trains to Bandung. It's about three hours from Jakarta to Bandung either by direct bus from CGK airport, or by train from Gambir station.

I prefer to enter most countries through the back door, and often prefer provincial airports.

[In the final segment of this season of The Amazing Race 23, the contestants had to continue on from Bandung Airport to Tokyo. But if you don't have to start your visit to Japan in Tokyo, you can make connections through Seoul, South Korea, or sometimes other hubs outside Japan, to airports serving a surprising number of smaller Japanese cities. There are fewer flights on smaller planes to provincial airports than to Tokyo, but they can be a lot less overwhelming than Narita Airport or the city of Tokyo. At Fukuoka (FUK), the third-largest international gateway to Japan, immigration officers were surprised when I told them I was a tourist: An arriving U.S. tourist isn't an everyday arrival at FUK. That's just one more indication of how easy it is to get off the beaten tourist path if, rather than following lists of "off the beaten path" destinations, you simply go to places that aren't listed, or at least that aren't highlighted, in guidebooks or other sources of information directed at tourists.]

There are times, though, when, "There's an airport closer to our ultimate destination," doesn't mean, "We should fly to that airport." It should be no surprise that flying to a secondary or tertiary airport can be more expensive or more complicated that flying to a much larger airport a little further away. But there are times when it is quicker, easier, and/or cheaper.

As I've written previously, for example, the quickest and most comfortable way top get to Brussels from my home in San Francisco (or from many other places around the world without direct flights to Brussels) is to fly to Paris and take a direct train form the Paris airport (CDG) to Brussels. I prefer that route even when Air France pricing makes it more expensive than connecting flights that land in Brussels.

In the USA, there have been direct buses for decades from northern New England to Logan Airport, bypassing downtown Boston, and similar bus services between O'Hare Airport and cities like Rockford, IL, and Milwaukee, WI. Few U.S. airports have mainline rail stations, however, and most U.S. travellers tend to think of buses and trains as alternatives to flying rather than as possible components of a trip made partially by air. In the USA, unlike some other countries, you can rarely find through schedules or buy through tickets from a single source (other than an offline travel agency) for an intermodal journey.

Several companies have begun to try to build online intermodal route-search engines. It's not an easy task, and none of these services that I have tested have yet succeeded.

Rome2Rio.com, which I've mentioned during previous seasons of The Amazing Race, is still the best of the lot, but still (inevitably) unreliable and incomplete. I know and respect Rome2Rio.com CEO Rod Cuthbert, but I suspect that those who've been giving the company awards haven't tested the site with routes like Al Ain to Bandung. Rome2Rio.com does suggest some routes via Jakarta, but doesn't know about the direct buses for CGK to Bandung city center. That's no surprise, but missing links like this, and other failings, limit the usefulness of the site.

I get a lot of pitches from publicists for travel start-ups, and this is actually a chronic problem. Someone e-mails me (or worse, interrupts my writing with a phone call), to tell me that I ought to tell my readers about some new travel service. Sometimes the service seeks to exploit a profit opportunity with no apparent benefit to travellers. But even when a start-up, or an existing business, is seeking to fill a genuine need or deliver value to travellers, that's no guarantee that their service does what it is intended or alleged to do.

Publicists who mistake journalists for shills often expect me to write about such a service on the basis of the claims in their press releases about what it does, without actually having tested it. Or they are surprised that, after trying it out (if they let me do so), I decide that it doesn't do what it's promoters claim, or doesn't do so not well enough for there to be any reason for me to write about it at all.

Should I write about services that don't (yet) deliver on their promises? Would that be giving them encouragement, or giving free publicity to them and their exaggerated claims?

Bandung is a big city, just a few easy hours from the mega-capital, but far off the international tourist track. Indonesia as a whole is one of the easiest countries in the world in which to escape completely from mass international tourism. I'll talk more about Bandung (and its equally untouristed sister city on another continent) next week.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 24 November 2013, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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