August 24 ’08
Just to let you know what I did last two weeks.
I was off to Cambodia to inspect an airplane. First stop was Bangkok to have lunch with my Thai friend Supap. He insisted that I go back by Saturday to fly with him in his Caravan to KL to watch the Formula 1 races. Sounds interesting so this should be the objective.
Made it to Phnom Penh by dinnertime and Prince Norodom Ranarriddh invited me to a cozy French restaurant in the center of town. Great soup, bread, and salad but I should have had Khmer for the main course. Wondering why I was privileged to dine with royalty? That’s because I was inspecting the airplane of the prince so he was my host.
The next day was sort of serious work-inspecting the airplane and meeting with Ambassador Ek who was in charge of negotiations. Yes, I did look shrewd and difficult and the prince would need very good diplomatic expertise to negotiate with me. But it was fairly simple for me- we will buy at our budgeted price. After a long chat, a few airplane stories, and discussion on new avionics at the house of the Prince overlooking the Mekong River, we shook hands. My assignment was to prepare the sales agreement. I had to be very careful in my choice of words since he had three big German shepherds in his garden plus a battalion of bodyguards by the garage.
I requested to use the plane to visit Siem Reap and serve as my test and evaluation flight. I rushed to the airport and was hoping to catch the sunset at Angkor Wat. It was considered a VIP flight and it was kind of fun flying the plane with the royal crest. Being a regular client and friends with the local Aman group in the Philippines, I managed to get a couple of dollars discount on my Amansara stay. This used to be the guest villa of King Shihanouk who is the father of the Prince. It was worth the stay. It was located strategically in town and gave me easy access to the ruins and sites. Food was excellent and almost everything came with the room package. There were two Filipina staff in Amansara who came from Amanpulo so I was given special treatment. Jenny chose the best room for me since she was head of rooms and Linette was CFO so discounts were not forgotten. I took the two ladies to the airport to impress them a bit. Even in Cambodia, I still manage to fly in style!
The rest of the time was spent driving around with my Aman trike that still seemed too classy in this simple little tourist town. I had a great driver and he was shocked at my energy and speed, and how fast I visited the temples. My excuse was that I had very good comprehension and did not really need to stay longer. In reality, I was probably worried about my room rates, tips for the pilots for waiting, and time to close the deal. My favorite was Ta Prohm. While walking around, it made me feel like “Indiana Joy” looking for the Lost Ark again. The daydreaming ends when you hear the Korean tourists with their loud shouts and picture posing. The place was amazing and made me wish that I lived in that era. The King Jayavarman II had the vision of constructing grandiose temples dedicating it to Shiva. I also understand that he had a couple of “Shivas” himself–now he is really my idol!
Angkor made me proud to be Asian. The Asian culture was very much around even before America and Australia were discovered. Angkor had temples and structures way ahead of European structures like the Notre Dame in France. Its culture and history is so rich that a lifetime will be needed to understand and comprehend it fully. This will definitely be the next educational tour of my “mutley” kiddos.
Supap, myself, HS-SMC 10,000 ft.
en-route to KL from Bangkok
The flight back was easy and was just a quick transfer to the international airport in Phnom Penh. Bangkok seemed bustling and busy after Siem Reap. It was an early start for us Saturday morning for our flight to KL. Clearing customs, immigration, and quarantine on a private flight in Bangkok sucks but we were airborne on time. Supap’s Grand Caravan has logged in some 300 hours already since we picked it up in Wichita last year. The leather interior was still good and the fancy avionics were still acting up as usual. Catering was extraordinary!! We had duck noodles and roast pork noodles from the best noodle shop in Thailand. The spices were just right and it sure felt good when you are 10,000 ft at ten in the morning and have not had breakfast. It was a long but easy flight on the Caravan. The air-conditioning helped and made our trip more comfortable. A prepared welcome committee headed by our friend Ismail was the best. Ismail showed us how a VIP flight should be handled. All the hotels were booked because of the races and we had no choice except to take Nikko hotel and had a suite room. Paying rooms were always a big argument when Supap is around.
We had an easy afternoon and had an opportunity to meet the family of Ismail. Her daughter Ida was my favorite and she always had a smart comment on everything that we talked about. The next day was Formula 1 day. Just driving to Sepang gave us the feeling of being a part of the races especially when you are driving 160 kph in Ismail’s Carnival van. I guess his driver has ambitions of being a formula driver too. Tickets, souvenirs, food, and every move in the racetrack was super expensive. This is how the balloon fiesta should be so it can be profitable. There were too many good-looking girls that distracted us from watching the races. Yup we need them in the balloon fiesta too. The sound of the engines and the crowd cheering for their favorite team is something you will never enjoy on TV. Yes, it was worth being in the track that afternoon.
We departed for Bangkok after a quick shower. It was about eight in the evening when we were finally airborne. We would not have been able to do this if not for the expert handling of Michael who is another pilot staff of Ismail. Now I have to practice so that I can give Ismail the same treatment when he lands in Manila. We were lucky the weather was very good and we had about 7 knots of tailwind. Dinner on board was Malaysian chicken rice. Philippine Airlines should try these meals for a change.
Next day was Manila and back to reality, working on documentation for the purchase, problem solving for the office, answering emails, and organizing the tickets and ATO (Air Transportation Office) inspection staff that will be going with me. And of course, raising the funds for the purchase of the aircraft.
We almost missed the flight last Thursday since the check-in counters were closed but flashing the ATO IDs and calls to friends allowed us to get on board. We were even escorted to the gates through security check. Undersecretary of State of the Kingdom Mao Havannall in his black 500 series Benz picked us up and treated us to a sumptuous Khmer dinner along Mekong River. They also kept us busy every night thereafter. Yes, the features of French- Cambodian beauties make one feel like he is fifteen even if he is fifty. However, most of them do not speak English. Oh, I forgot to tell you that my friends and I are all taking Khmer and French lessons everyday after office hours.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh took us to another French restaurant and of course the bread and the wines reminded me of Paris. All of us were given souvenirs from Cambodia- Silk ties and silver trays. I invited his royal highness to join me in the flight back to Manila. Being an avid flyer, he was excited and decided he should do it. All the embassies en-route were advised of the plan. Our own Ambassador and Mrs. Gazmin invited us for dinner in their house to discuss the plans. We were served squids and very fresh fish for dinner. Their Filipino cook made us feel at home. However, when Philippine politics was the subject of discussion , we knew it was time to go home.
We were thirty minutes late from our target departure time from Phnom Penh. Too many good byes and too many officials sending off the Prince. The engine sounded good after take off and we were climbing to flight level 150. After cruising at 150 for a while, I noticed the cabin altitude warning light up. I wanted to request for lower but when I tried calling control, there was no reply. I watched if all “my guinea pigs” or should I say passengers were sleeping then I guess it was hypoxia so I had to descend even without radio contact. As we approached the beginning of Subang STAR, I knew it was time to descend and still I cannot get hold of anyone. At this time, I realized that something was wrong with both my radios. I transmitted blind and started my descend since I was getting too close to KL. As I got lower and closer, I decided to switch to approach. About 20 miles out, I had radio contact and the controller was so upset with me. Thank God it was not an “RP” registered airplane and I had a VIP on board. I could barely hear them but managed to bluff my replies until I was handed over to Subang Tower. We were cleared to land and our radios were just dead. Luckily, Ismail was around so he woke up his avionics guys on a Sunday morning and started trouble shooting the radios while refueling. Verdict- radio one was good when it was cold but dies after a few minutes of use. Radio two was completely dead including the VOR. I was not too excited to stay another night in KL. I would rather have my own pillow and bed. I asked Ismail for a portable radio. Fortunately, he manages the Department of Civil Aviation hangar and there was one available (a nice powerful dittel portable) but no one to ask permission if we could borrow it. Easy, we just borrowed without asking permission. Now I had Ismail praying all day that I do not crash. This was a good way of getting prayers for my flying.
Off we were to our next refueling stop, which was Kuching. I was so uptight flying over Singapore. I was imagining what punishment I will get if they discover I was flying with only a portable radio and a GPS. I will probably be caned to death or be executed by electric chair. Luckily I did not have chewing gum on me if their fighter planes force me to land in Seletar! I did make it through Singapore and exited via Kong Kong NDB. I was asked to switch to Singapore Radio on HF. All I said is “roger”. I was sure my HF was not working but I had to bluff again, do the exercise and call and say that I could not hear them. After a few calls, I almost fell off my chair, I heard a squeaky reply “XU012 go ahead, this is Singapore Radio” Now, I was sure I was on my way home!! I reported my position and she said next report over FIR and if unable to contact, call Kuching control at 128.3. I had to keep my poker voice and said “roger” very calmly otherwise she will start to doubt me and probably accuse me of intending to crash over orchard road on orders of Osama Bin Laden.
Kuching was an easy approach but it was almost sunset when we landed. There were a lot of build-ups in the direction of KK which was the next destination and targeted RON place. All the ministers were waiting for the Prince as we landed. Everyone was in coat and tie on a super hot and humid afternoon. I was in my usual blue jeans and Aussie outback shirt. I was sure the Malaysian ministers could not figure out if I was a pilot, a mechanic, or what. But as always, the Prince asked me for my decision and I felt we should not stretch our luck too much and just stay over. The defense and security ministers prepared the hotel rooms for us and specified that we should not leave the airport until after they have checked security and prepared motorcycle escorts. They interviewed me and asked where the plane was parked. They did not realize that I just parked on the side of Hornbill hangar without any security. They referred to the plane as the “jet of the prince”. They did not realize that it was just a Cessna 421, which has bad pressurization, bad radios, and an old radar that was not even working. Now I realize that title and flying can be deceiving. Unfortunately, all I have is the flying but not the title.
Monday was Kuching to KK and on to Manila. The prince arrived in the Rolls Royce of the minister complete with motorcycle escorts. The usual VIP goodbyes were done while I was struggling to get good signal from my portable radio for my start up and ATC clearance. There was a strong rain over the field and cloudy all over. I did not pay for handling and did not have the weather but the American pilot ferrying a Helicopter walked by. I asked him if he was flying. He said that he would wait for the weather to clear. I looked at his weather chart in his clipboard and saw that it cleared after Miri. Yup this should not be a problem even without radar and I did not even spend for the Meteo report. While lined up on the runway, the Kuching Tower could not hear my transmission and asked us not to take off. Oh, oh. I thought I was in trouble. I tried to transmit on my radio one and they got me 5X5. Now I discovered that I can transmit on my Garmin 430 but just could not receive. I receive on the portable and transmitted on the Garmin. What a way to fly!
KK is just like flying to Cagayan de Oro for me. It is like being home specially because Richard and Errol are around. They are both my good friends who are running the Sabah Flying Club and manage all my flights into KK. We were visual with the runway as far back as ten miles. While refueling, the Prince was invited to visit Karambunai Resort and to have lunch over there. I decided not to go since I have been there during their opening. They rented my balloon during their inauguration. I do not want the owners to remember me since I think I overcharged them. I had local lunch at the airport after getting the plane ready. I spent some time with Richard and gave him some pointers on how we can have a good fly-in in KK and encourage people to fly around Sabah. I am hoping to fly there again late April while the fig trees are blooming in the jungles and the orang utans are feeding in the wild. This, I would like to catch in my video cam.
Flight back to Manila was easy and I insisted that the Prince take the left seat and land his airplane in Manila. We had a lot of photos and the crosswind landing in 06 was not that difficult. CIQ was done at my hangar and I asked my kids to prepare some sampaguita lays so that we can give his royal highness a warm Filipino welcome. He requested not to inform anyone in the Philippines of his arrival since we were planning to just have some fun flying with my Baron. I had cocktails prepared and we hosted an Italian dinner for the Prince and Amb. Ek. The Prince had to ride in my Toyota to the hotel. Good thing though, it was dark and he was tired. I was hoping that he would not notice the difference between the Toyota and the Rolls. However, the next day, he decided to use his embassy car.
We flew to Amanpulo the next day. Sleeping and spa was priority after the long flight from Phnom Penh. Snorkeling and fish feeding were the favorite of the prince. He enjoyed seeing so many colored fishes that cannot be seen in Cambodia. After being to all the resorts in Palawan, Amb. Ek said that he enjoyed Pamalican and promised the resort staff that he will be back. The Prince was very grateful for the outing so he invited my whole family to a Spanish dinner in Manila. We had too much paella and sangria but the company was great and we all enjoyed.
I have the plane in the hangar now. The best thing that happened is-I had the opportunity to visit my good friends at the different airports and enjoyed flying with the Prince. Friendship is very important and number one on my list and business comes after that. This is probably why I have no “title” and have remained a pauper up to now.
Hope you can fly with me on my next trip.