>BACK when the only available airfares to Kuala Lumpur cost more than $400, taking a bus into the Malaysian capital was a viable alternative.
And it still might well be, even as budget airlines have begun flying the route.
Although I knew of at least four other companies running bus services to KL, I picked luxury coach Aeroline for the way it billed itself as "the convenient way to fly".
And so I was off with 19 others on a 51/2-hour journey on Aeroline's double-decker. The lower deck was a 'lounge' for passengers, who are all seated on the 28-seater upper deck.
The seats were business-class standard - comfortable and with proper leg rests and ample leg room.
If only they were clean too. Food stains also dotted the foldable tables and carpet.
But this was tolerable because the air-conditioning, running at full-blast, killed whatever smells that might have lingered in the air.
The bus was none too punctual. It left its HarbourFront terminal 20 minutes later than the 11am stipulated on my $99.13 return ticket.
But with the the roads towards the Second Link clear that Wednesday morning, the driver made up for lost time.
The ride was smooth on the upper deck. Every bump or pothole along the way felt ironed out.
SO-SO FOOD: "The food on the bus was nothing to rave about: a serving of chicken in dark sauce, long beans and taupok with rice. Vegetarians got a huge mushroom instead of the chicken. We were given 25 minutes to chow down," Judith Tan.
[ST Photo: Judith Tan]
Some passengers were yakking away on their mobile phones - a privilege they would not have enjoyed on a plane.
Clearing customs and immigration at both the Tuas and Malaysian checkpoints was a breeze. We had to alight and walk to where immigration officers were on hand to clear our passports. It was only on the Malaysian side that we had to carry our belongings.
The coach waited for all passengers to return before continuing the journey - not a plus point if you have people with immigration problems or, in my case, an elderly passenger who took her time in the toilet in the immigration building.
At 11.45am, we were well and truly on our way to KL.
No one seemed interested in Hitch, the 2005 Will Smith movie playing on the single flat screen TV mounted near the front of the bus.
Some people slept in the reclining seats and two women worked on their laptops plugged into electrical sockets positioned at every seat.
Lunch was served by an attendant who handed out plastic bento boxes about half an hour after the coach left the Malaysian checkpoint.
The food was nothing to rave about: a serving of chicken in dark sauce, long beans and taupok with rice. Vegetarians got a huge mushroom instead of the chicken.
We were given 25 minutes to chow down. Coffee, tea or Milo came later, only after the boxes were cleared away.
We arrived in KL just after 4pm, beating the evening rush hour.
Businesswoman Maggie Gomez, 63, who travels to KL five times a month, said she prefers taking the bus to flying because it takes her right into the city centre.
She was right. I was dropped off in front of Corus Hotel, Aeroline's terminal, along Jalan Ampang, a five-minute walk from the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.
It was a relief not to have to find my own way there.
Top photo: "The Aeroline bus' lower deck was a 'lounge' for passengers, who are all seated on the 28-seater upper deck. The seats were business-class standard - comfortable and with proper leg rests and ample leg room," Judith Tan