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Singapore & Malaysia 2010: Planning and preparing for the trip

I know I haven’t posted anything new in over a week, but that’s because I was travelling.  This time, it was a 10 day trip to Singapore and Malaysia – both first time visits for me.

While the next few posts are going to document what I saw and feature some of the 3,900+ photos I took, I thought I’d make a post first on how much planning and research went into this trip, which itself was a process I enjoyed.

When I got back from my Thailand trip last year, the friends I travelled with in India in the past said we should do an international trip. Ramesh, the gearhead of the group said he would like to go for the Malaysian Formula 1, but this was in March. As it was too soon – and I still had my credit card dues to clear – I said I couldn’t do it.

So I suggested we plan for the Singapore F1 instead, to be held in September. This would give us a good 6 months to prepare. We soon figured there wouldn’t be much to see in Singapore and since we were going all the way there, we might as well see another destination as well. Hong Kong was in consideration but given how expensive the city was, we chose Malaysia instead.

First up was booking our flights. We set the dates for Formula 1 weekend, and since we figured it was going to a busy period, we decided to book early.

We were going to do this trip on a budget and since it was only going to be a one way journey to Singapore, flying Singapore Airlines was out of the question as the one-way fares were too high. We instead opted for the budget carrier Tiger Airways. I got my one way ticket for around Rs. 4,500 (US$101/€73) when booked late March and this was for direct flight which leaves Bangalore at 11:30pm and arrives at Singapore at 6:30am. Seemed convenient to us.

We initially wanted to fly straight from Singapore to Langkawi but unfortunately, tickets were sold out. So we decided to fly to Penang instead and then take a ferry from Penang to Langkawi.

From Langkawi we would then fly to Kuala Lumpur. After spending a few days in Malaysia’s capital city, we would fly back to Bangalore via Air Asia. The return ticket cost me around Rs. 3,625 (US$82/€59) including a pre-booked meal, up-sized baggage limit (20kgs) and a selected seat.

Since we were going to be three people, we made our hotel reservations well in advance. Most of our rooms were booked using, and only the Langkawi booking was made using Just about every flight and stay booking was made months before our journey, saving us a lot of money and giving us enough time to plan our itinerary.

When calculating how much cash we needed to carry, we considered the entry fees, daily food expenses and the balance amount we’d have to pay at all the hotels we booked via and (both only accept 10% of the amount at the time of booking and the remaining 90% have to be paid in cash on at the time of check in). I also decided that all large purchases would be made on the credit card, so in the end, all three of us converted around Rs. 20,000 in Singapore dollars, Malaysian Ringits and the rest in US dollars.

We also needed to plan our luggage and what all we were going to carry. The thing with budget carriers (at least in the case of both Tiger and Air Asia), you have to pay for check-in luggage. We paid for the minimum of 15kgs for our onward journey but opted for 20kgs for our return. We also planned it in such a way that we wouldn’t carry 3 different deodorants or shaving creams, thereby minimizing space used as much as possible. In fact, Loiyumba, the third friend on this journey had the least luggage (one backpack) while going since he said he wouldn’t be shopping much. Of course, I told him all that would change while coming back. 🙂

We knew this being our first trip – and due to time and money restrictions – we wouldn’t have been able to do everything. As for our planned itinerary, it went something like this:

Day 1 (Singapore)

Arrive at hostel 8am approx. – rest for some time – go to Sim Lim Square by 10am for camera equipment shopping – head to Little India – from Little India to Arab Street/Kampong Glam – then head to Geylang Serai – from Geylang, by sunset, head to city for River Cruise – watch the F1 pre-race show, head to Clark Quay for dinner

Day 2 (Singapore)

First head to Singapore Zoo – then check out Orchard Road, have lunch from the hawker centers – photo session at Merlion Park – check out Marina Bay/Raffles Hotel & Marina Bay Sands hotel – Chinatown, from where we’d have dinner

Day 3 (Singapore)

Pack up and keep things ready – head to Vivo City Mall, take monorail (SGD$3) to Sentosa – Sentosa cable car and other attractions – Jurong Bird Park – be at Changi airport by 6pm for flight to Penang

Day 3 (Penang)

Check in to hotel at 10pm and then head to Gurney Drive for dinner – buy ferry ticket to Langkawi (if still open)

Day 4 (Penang)

Buy ferry ticket to Langkawi – visit Kek Lok Si (largest Buddhist temple in South-East Asia) – Bukit Bendera,  the tram ride up to hill-top – drive on Penang Bridge and then come back – head to Batu Ferrenghi till sunset – drive back to Gurney drive at night for dinner

Day 5 (Langkawi)

Go to Eagle Square as it is in Kuah, where the ferry docks – head to hotel and check in – post lunch, try and rent bikes to go to Gunung Raya, the Langkawi Sky Bridge

Day 6 (Langkawi)

Island-hopping tour – drive around post lunch – hit the beach and relax

Day 7 (Kuala Lumpur)

Catch morning flight to Kuala Lampur – check in by noon – check out Bukit Bintang area – head to KL tower in the evening to get a view of Petronas and the city lit up – China Town for dinner

Day 8 (Kuala Lumpur)

Wait in line for Petronas Towers tickets at 7am – depending on when our time slot is, plan the rest of the day – visit Batu Caves – if there is time, check out National Mosque, Masjid Negara

Day 9 (Kuala Lumpur)


Day 10 (Kuala Lumpur)

Shopping – depart for airport by noon

Well, that was what we thought of doing. But did we accomplish all the above? For that, tune in to my blog the next few weeks 🙂

Read the series here:

Singapore 2010: Day 1 – Little India, CBD, Clarke Quay, China Town… and a lot of walking

Singapore 2010: Day 2 – Orchard Road, mall-hopping… and already shopping

Singapore 2010: Day 3 – Singapore Zoo, Marina Bay Sands; leaving Singapore for Penang

Malaysia 2010: Day 4 — One day in Penang (Around Georgetown, Gurney Drive, Penang Hill)

Malaysia 2010: Day 5 — Langkawi (Ferry ride from Penang, Cable car & Sky Bridge)

Malaysia 2010: Day 6 — Langkawi (Island hopping tour, Pantai Tengah beach, Night market)

Malaysia 2010: Day 7 — Kuala Lumpur (Low Yat Plaza, Petronas Towers, Jalan Alor)

Malaysia 2010: Day 8 — Kuala Lumpur (Batu Caves, Petaling Street/China Town)

Malaysia 2010: Day 9 — Kuala Lumpur (KLCC Aquaria, Merdeka Square, KL Tower observation deck)

Malaysia 2010: Leaving Kuala Lumpur… and about going back


Getting ready for my first Thailand trip

The travel bug bit me when I first went to Rajasthan in 2005. Since then, I’ve been to Rajasthan once more, Goa twice, Pondicherry twice, New Delhi, Agra, Mysore (I lost count), Kerala (a bunch), Coorg twice and few other places from where Bangalore isn’t too far.

All there is left for me to explore in India is the North-Eastern stretch — from Kashmir all the way through Nepal or Darjeeling.  But I need to plan a heck lot for that given the logistics and the weather conditions. So when it came to thinking about traveling abroad, South-East Asia seemed like a logical first choice. After all, budget flights were aplenty and it wasn’t too far. The places I was initially planning on going were Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

After much research, I scratched Singapore of my list. I realized how well marketed that place was. If you have never seen a world-class city before, I can see the appeal to some Indians but to me, it really didn’t offer me anything compelling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure its an awesome place to live, but as a tourist destination, I wasn’t impressed.

Now, Hong Kong is yet another ‘city’ destination (like Singapore) but what a city it is!

I would go just for that view at night.

Then, there is Malaysia. Interesting mix of races, a nice city in Kuala Lampur and coastal destinations like Langkawi.  Then there is Thailand, which was a ‘must-go’ after watching ‘The Beach‘ (mediocre movie, awesome soundtrack!).  Of course, if I had the money, there isn’t a place on earth I wouldn’t want to visit (okay, maybe not Saudi Arabia and some countries in sub-Saharan Africa).

Back in the South-East of Asia, the other destinations I’d love to visit are Vietnam (all thanks to the Top Gear special from 2008), Bali and Cambodia. But the problem with destinations such as those are the cost of flights to get there.  Because there are so many Indians visiting Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, flights are aplenty and the competition keeps prices reasonable.  But no so for the other countries.

Anyway, back to my trip. My initial plan was to go on holiday for 2 weeks since I had 11 days of leave I had to use up before year end. I decided not to go to Hong Kong right now as it isn’t a cheap destination (read: getting there and hotel room rates) so I just thought I’d do Malaysia and Thailand first.

Then, something came up in Goa. I wasn’t really keen on Sunburn 2009 … until they announced Armin Van Buuren was going to be there! I LOVE AVB’s music. So I thought I’d keep a few leaves for that because I knew some friends who were interested in going for that as well.

I then cut my trip down to 10 days and started budgeting the cost of flights to Malaysia and Thailand. I started off with Tiger Airways as Air Asia had no direct flights from Bangalore. There was a flight from Bangalore to Kuala Lampur via Singapore (6 hour stop over) available for Rs. 13k (return, incl. taxes). I thought it was a good deal since I felt I could use the stop over time to use the Singapore Airport bus tour to see Singapore city instead of simply wasting time at Changi. But I later learnt that, even though that tour is free, regular Indian passport holders need to have a transit visa just to enter Singapore airport.  So when I factored in the cost of Singapore visa, Malaysian Visa, the flight to KL and then from there to Thailand, it was coming to a bit much for just 10 days (the Thai Visa-on-arrival is free).

So instead, I decided I’d just focus on Thailand for now.

I went to all the popular online ticketing sites but ended up with a good deal from A return ticket from Thai Airways for the dates I picked cost me around Rs. 17k. But at the time of booking, I saw a field for ‘Yatra Promotion Code’. So, I googled for ‘Yatra coupon codes’ and found a few sites that listed them. Some worked, most didn’t — but I eventually got one that saved me a good 5-10% off the ticket price. The final cost was Rs. 15,740 (incl. taxes).  There was a cheaper flight from Sri Lankan Airlines but that included a very long stop over at Colombo airport which made the total duration of the flight 9 hours. The Thai Airways flight is a direct flight from Bangalore to Bangkok and back (3 hr 45 mins journey time).

The places I wanted to visit in Thailand were Krabi, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Kanchaburi and then Bangkok. I decided not to got to Koh Samui because the Full Moon party for December had already gotten over on Dec 2nd and I really didn’t want to stay for the one on Dec 25th & the New Year party. Plus, it can be dangerous if one is alone, which I was going to be. So I decided to keep Koh Phangan and Koh Tao for next time.

I paid for my Canon 7D on Nov 25th and booked my flight for Dec 13th, thinking 2 and 1/2 weeks was a long enough time for it come and for me to get the hang of it. I wanted to spend a few days in Krabi province — mostly Railay and Ao Nang.  In Krabi I wanted see the Tiger Cave Temple, which 1200 stairs up on a hill is where, they say one can see the Andaman sea.  Railay was pretty much a backpacker’s haven, also popular for rock climbing. Ao Nang is the sea side tourist town of Krabi and a base from where I would take the tours to Phi Phi island and the many other islands (like ‘James Bond’ island) . After spending at least 3 to 4 days in Krabi, I would head to Phuket, which was 2 hrs by road. After spending a day there, I would head to Chiang Mai (for the temples, the ‘Long Neck’ tribe) and then Kanchanaburi (for the Tiger Temple) and then finally back to Bangkok (for the Weekend market, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and then shopping).

Well, that was the plan. But as you’ll see in the next few posts, things didn’t really go according to plan. And that sucked.

Other Thailand posts in this series:

The day I left for Thailand

Day 1 – Suvarnabhumi, Pantip Plaza, Fotofile & MBK

Day 2 – Bridge over the River Kwai and Tiger Temple (Wat Pa Luangta Bua) in Kanchanaburi

Taking the bus to Chiang Mai from Bangkok

Day 3 – Maesa elephant camp, ‘long-neck’ tribe village near Chiang Mai

Day 3 (Part 2) – Chiang Mai Night Market

Day 4 – Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai… and back in town

Day 5 – Leaving Chiang Mai for Phuket

Day 5 (Part 2) – One night in Phuket

Day 6 – Leaving Phuket for Ao Nang by bus (via Phang Nga)

Day 7 – Touring Koh Phi Phi (Maya Bay, Monkey Island & Bamboo Island)

Day 7 (Part 2) – Exploring Railay, Krabi

Day 8 – Flying from Phuket to Bangkok

Day 8 (Part 2) – Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok

Day 9 – MBK, Siam Paragon… and ‘little Arabia’?

Day 10 – Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha

Day 10 – Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and finally leaving Thailand

Figures, lessons learned, and things I couldn’t do

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