Snakes on a plane – for real?

First it was monkeys, and now this. A Malaysian man pleaded guilty to smuggling after 95 live boa constrictors burst out of his bag on a luggage belt in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport last week.

Ken Liang “Anson” Wong, 52, was charged with exporting the snakes without a permit, said Shamsuddin Osman, a Malaysian wildlife department official. He will face six months in prison and the equivalent of a $50,000 fine, said Faridz Gohim Abdullah, a prosecuting officer representing Malaysia’s wildlife department. The maximum fine for this crime is up to seven years in jail.

Previously, Wong was sentenced to nearly six years in a U.S. prison in 2001 after he was found guilty of running an animal smuggling ring between Asia and Africa. He was arrested in Mexico in 1998. It is unknown if he served the full six-year sentence.

The most recent arrest took place as Wong was en route to Jakarta, Indonesia. The bag was also found to contain several other snakes and a turtle.

The criminal charges involve the boa constrictors only, because the other animals are not listed as endangered. All of the animals are alive and under the care of wildlife officials, Shamsuddin said.

In July, parliament passed a new law to punish poachers and smugglers more severely, but the act has not yet taken effect.

Activists are urging the government to seek the maximum seven year sentence against Wong, but it prosecutor Abdullah said he was planning to discuss with other government authorities whether to appeal the court’s ruling and seek a tougher sentence.

Image courtesy of

Worst travel mistakes of the 2000’s: Kuala Lumpur passport shenanigans

Back before my days as a Gadling blogger I used to travel on an extremely tight margin. As a starving college graduate, travel was my main priority — debt, work and rent, well, those were ancillary.

My usual modus operandi involved saving up a few hundred dollars in cash and clearing another few hundred on my credit card prior to departure. I could spend and accrue debt in parallel until I returned home. And if I engineered things right, I would be hitting zero dollars and maximum debt by the time I touched down at home.

The success of the above plan was obviously predicated on my travel going flawlessly — no outrageous expenses, disasters or errors on my part. And for the first 99% of my trip through Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong, everything worked like a well oiled machine. Until I left for my homeward bound flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Hong Kong to Los Angeles to Dallas to Detroit.

The night prior I had spent my last dollars short of train fare on a couple of delicious Tiger Beers on the streets of KL, the hotel expenses already covered and my last meal consumed. We had opted to stay in a nicer hotel than usual for our last night on the road, a $20 cell with two lonely single beds and dank, flowing curtains. It was a setup so trustworthy that I hid my passport under the mattress and kept my other valuables clutched in my front pocket.

Waking up at 6:30 for my 8:30 Air Asia flight to Bangkok I groggily collected my belongings and shuffled towards the door, my last ringgit going towards an express train ticket to KLIA nonstop.

Few feelings on the planet beat the dread of realizing that you’ve lost your passport. I can only compare it to swallowing a baseball-sized rock or perhaps getting punched in the stomach — the feeling of “Oh no. Something is terribly, terribly wrong,” and a deep, sullen weight inside of your stomach. Reaching the airport I checked to find that I would indeed miss my flight without my passport, but that there was another, later flight with which I could connect. But I had to hurry and get back to that hotel before they cleaned the room.As it turns out, those ringgit that I spent the night prior were indeed my last. Dipping my ATM card into the train station kiosk, the LCD blinked “declined” back at me, slowly, scoldingly. Trying my credit card yielded the same result. I was out of money — completely — in Kuala Lumpur Airport without a passport.

Herein lies the worst feeling that I have ever had in my years travel. No money, no phone, no safety net and no passport in a foreign country. I did two laps around the departure terminal staring at the ceiling and getting my shit together — then put my backpack down and rifled through the gadget pocket. Twenty dollars. I had stashed a twenty in there when I left the states in case of emergency. It was still there.

Back at the hotel my companion had already left and the room had been turned down — the front desk didn’t understand why I needed to get back into the room so urgently. But when they followed me into the room and saw me pick up the mattress they knew why: my passport was still flattened between the slabs. I would make it home, barely, with the last $20 to my name through five different airports, twelve time zones and a lifetime of stress.

As it turns out I wasn’t out of money, there was a problem with all international bank transactions that morning and nothing was making it through. But the lesson of a young, foolish traveler is still seared into my memory: have a backup plan. Have several. You’re not that far from totally cutting loose and falling off the map.

Want a lifetime of free flights? Give birth on board

There’s one lucky newborn baby and mom living in Malaysia. The mother, a 31-year-old Malaysian woman, added excitement and drama to an AirAsia flight from Penang to Kuching this past Wednesday when she gave birth to her bundle of joy while the plane was still in the air.

Shortly after the baby was born, the plane landed in Kuala Lumpur. The aim was for the emergency landing to occur before the baby arrived but obviously the baby had other ideas.

Giving birth in flight, with the help of a doctor who was on board, has landed this mom a jackpot of free flights on AirAsia for life. The airline has also bestowed these riches to the newborn.

Can you believe the luck? Just two days old and already a budget traveler to envy. Think of all the nifty vacations this kid will be able to go on. AirAsia, a budget carrier, flies all over Asia and to the United Kingdom.

In a way, this is also like being granted lifelong companion fare status. If either mom or son want to travel with a friend or relative, they could offer to pay a portion of the companion’s ticket in order to share the wealth and have a steady stream of traveling pals.

Happily, mother and son are doing well, even though, the birth was 11 weeks premature.

Photo of the day (10-8-09)

Mingthein posted this picture to our Flickr group page a few years ago, but I’ve only just now stumbled upon it. Karen Walrond wrote in her Gadling feature, Through the Gadling Lens, about shooting cities at twilight, and she also covered cloud and sky photography just prior to that.

So it seemed fitting to post this, a picture from Kuala Lumpour that effectively used the techniques featured in both of Karen’s articles. I’ve never thought of exposing for a distant cloud. Way to go, Ming!

Are you a Flickr user who’d like to share a travel related picture or two for our consideration? Submit it to Gadling’s Flickr group right now! We just might use it for our Photo of the Day!

Canopy Tours: Ohio and Malaysia

People give me tips on where to travel whenever they have been some where they think I would like. A friend of mine jumped out of her chair in the middle of a sentence, remembering a place she went this past weekend. She fetched a certificate from the Hocking Hills Canopy Tours, saying, “This was great.”

From the description of the tour, and from what my friend said, it proves that outdoor adventure and thrill can be found in Ohio, a state where a lot of it is flat as a pancake. The scenery of Hocking Hills thrills me from the ground. It’s perfect for hiking, biking, and roaming around in glorious woods. Being hooked onto a zip line for a tour that soars through trees at treetop level sounds awesome. This is the stuff of the Amazing Race. There are skybridges, rock cliffs and rappelling. There is a two for one deal. My friend said I should take my daughter. I think I might.

There is another canopy tour I have been on that’s a far cry from Ohio. At the Forest Research Institute in Malaysia in Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve not far from Kuala Lumpur, you don’t travel through the trees on a zip line, but by hiking on a series of suspension bridges set high in the leaves and branches. There are many trails to explore with your feet firmly on the ground as well. I went here with a friend of mine. How much I perspired has been erased from my memory–kind of. What I do remember is the lushness and beauty.