One entertaining aspect of travel in the northern interior is the chance to fly on Twin Otters, 19-seater propeller planes. More formally known as the de Havilland DHC-6, the Twin Otter can turn on the proverbial dime and take off from a standing start in around ten seconds, making it ideally suited to the tiny airfields hereabouts. As such, the plane forms the backbone of the Rural Air Services operated by Malaysia Airlines subsidiary MASwings, mostly out of Miri (though it’s not used for Mulu, where the airport can take larger aircraft).

As the Twin Otter isn’t pressurized – you can see daylight around the door rim – it doesn’t fly above 3000m, and affords great views of the north’s mountain ranges. That MASwings’ Twin Otters are 30 years old and slightly shabby (though perfectly serviceable) only adds to the experience; the cabin will be fan-cooled and the cockpit door may well be open, letting you see what the pilots are up to.

On a practical note, passengers sit where they like, and luggage is limited to ten kilos per person (you may well have to weigh yourself at check-in so staff know the laden weight of the plane). At some airfields, departing passengers are slapped with a “service fee” of RM10–15 atop the taxes included in ticket prices. Levied by the small private concerns that run the airfields, these fees appear to be condoned by the authorities. Finally, while flights are seldom cancelled except in very gusty or stormy weather, note that the planes get booked solid during public and school holidays and over Christmas and New Year, when you may have to reserve weeks in advance.

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