Sunday, 5 February 2017

Through the London eye


I must say that this is really a long day. And we finally arrived in London! We pre-booked our stay at the Berjaya Eden Park Hotel. This hotel definitely has a feel of Asian culture with so many Asians treading in and out alongside their oriental decorations.

We set up our luggage in the hotel and off we go for the start of our adventure.

On top of our list was definitely breakfast and so we decided to head over to one near our hotel to freshen up before we start the rest of the activities. So this place, Granger & Co was an apparent hit even to the locals as we arrived at barely 9am and there was already a queue. Talk about being early.

Like typical Singaporeans, a queue is a good sign of a wise choice. Nevertheless, we didn’t have to wait long before we get our seats and our tummy filled. 

ricotta hotcakes, banana and honeycomb butter

We then headed to the Hitchin Lavender fields. You can imagine our determination since it took us more than an hour to reach there. The routes on google were quite accurate apart from the fact that buses don’t operate on Sundays. So do take note. We took a cab in the end that costs us about GBP 8 for a short 10 minutes ride. 

Once we arrived, it was all worth it. The vast field of lavender, as far as our eyes goes.

We had a cup of tea while we contemplate if we should hitch a ride out or request the nice staff of the coffee house to help us get a cab out. We chose the latter. Don’t want to risk our lives for petty cash I guess.

We headed back to London city center and decided to head over to the Wembley stadium to get our cravings satisfied at the designer outlet mall.

And so we settled for a lunchner at handmade burger Co. I was already a fan of fries and this here, is just off the charts.

HIPSTER CHIPS – that’s what they called.
Our famous handmade chips topped with jalapeño slaw, finished with Sriracha mayo & fresh spring onions

And this, is the best fries I ever had. The fries (Brits called them chips), fat and flavourful, fried to the absolute right crisp and top with my favourite jalapeño slaw and Sriracha mayo. I could remember the taste while typing this. Yums.

We took a long stroll and head back to our hotel for the night.

Day 2 – LONDON
We woke up leisurely and decided to head over to some sights of interest around London to mark our stay.

And so like all tourists, we went to the Big Ben and participated in the ceremony of the horse guard parade. I can only say even the thousand words pictures illustrated was not enough to describe the magnificence of the architecture and the parade.

We went back to Wembley stadium since we had some time to spare and we obviously had to make our stop at the handmade burger Co for obvious reasons. We tried a different menu – the Denver Chips with the pulled pork. Whilst it was still great, I would still strongly recommend the Hipster chips we had the day before.

We went ahead to have our favourite past time doing shopping and stopped for our early dinner at the Burger & Lobsters. Lobsters’ lovers really need to try this one out whilst in London, or you might as well say you haven’t been there. 

The lobsters are fresh and the sides that goes with it complements the mains totally.

Who could miss a chance for musical at the mother of all theatres in London West End? We pre-booked our choice for Les Miserables Musical a few days before since we have missed it in our home country recently. What a better chance to catch it here while we‘re here.  Really, catch it if you are in town. It’s really worth it.

After indulging our ears and eyes, we thought we ought to feed our stomach. But we had a failed mission at Flat Iron. They were almost close (last orders out) when we arrived.

Guess what, WE MISSED OUR FLIGHT! But oh well, haven’t we been through some crazy things throughout the past decade.

So the story goes, no wifi, online check-in and woke up late. I guess you could have imagined how the story goes. We missed our flight and went ahead to put our luggage at the airport concierge.

*Tip: Concierge - GBP 8 for 1 day

So we went back to London and caught up with what we have missed. Talking about bad luck and crazy weather. So we’ve heard how the weather in London is quite unpredictable, we diligently brought our umbrella everywhere we go, everyday, except today. We’ve thought that we will be heading straight to the airport for our flight to Ireland. Little did we thought that we might have missed the flight, so we jolly well left our brolly in our check-in luggage. And it has to be today to meet the legendary downpour. 

So to uplift the mouldy spirits from the missing flight, we decided to travel back to the city center to catch up on the things we missed instead of getting a flight to another Irish city, considering our plans.

We head back to the Buckingham Palace to catch the changing of the royal guards. And just as it was ending, the downpour came. We ran and it rained heavier. We finally found shelter but we were already soaked and drench. I was dripping wet, literally. As our luck goes, we decided to hop across to the Flat Iron for our long awaited GBP 10 steak that we keep hearing. Truth to be told, I was quite skeptical prior to that but once the dish was served, damn, I was impress with the quality of a GBP 10 steak.

We loitered awhile longer in the city before going back to the airport, before another storm hits us. We dutifully arrived in the airport real early to prevent any hiccups and took our much intended flight out from London.

And we arrived in Ireland.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Fun in NZ: Tekapo

We arrived in the afternoon and the first view of the renowned Lake Tekapo took our breaths away as the turquoise color promised to us peeked out so slightly to greet us as we climbed over the hill to enter the town. Magnificent. Just magnificent. I remembered I totally went OMG, OMG, OMG when I saw the view that greeted me. 

Our first encounter with the Lake
We headed straight to our hostel to check in before we make our rounds around town. We were greeted with friendly faces and helpful suggestions as to where to go to get the best out of the stay in this town. Naturally, the Astro Café is a big hit, almost everywhere that talks about Tekapo will point you in that direction. And so, we headed there. But the wind was so strong that the only road leading to the Café was close. We had to turn back and continue our exploration elsewhere. Delightfully, we found a hidden gem just along the road to the Astro Café and the views were just astonishing.

Small private road further down the road from Astro Cafe

After which we went around for a while before heading back to the hostel to get some rest before our night tour.

Church of Good Shepherd
The night was cold and we had our dinner before heading out. After the experience this afternoon with the road closure due to strong winds, we actually didn’t keep our hopes high. We reached the Earth and Sky office just down the road and the reception told us to wait a bit before they confirm the weather and register us, so we stuck around.

Finally, good news was broadcasted and we queue up to register ourselves and got a jacket each. Mind you, we were already wearing ultra-thick jackets. But they said that the wind is still crazy up the mountain, so it’s best we don their “arctic jackets”.

The drive was an adventure by itself. As to minimize the light pollution to the observatory, they would switch off their headlights while navigating through the winding mountain roads. I really have to salute the experienced driver for his balls and skills. Driving mountain range at night is one thing, but driving mountain range with headlights off is just insane. But he was quite right to say that once our eyes get used to the darkness, the moonlight is actually pretty bright.

And so we finally arrived at the observatory after the thrilling ride to face our old enemy – Cold. The wind is really gushing strong and the path was dark, really dark. They did give us a small red light torch just in case we need some lighting up of the paths. Red lights are less polluting than white or yellow lights.

There we learn about the stars we could see in the south. And the most amazing thing happened. We saw the southern lights. THE AURORA AUSTRALIS. Yes. The legendary aurora australis. The dancing lights lit up the sky and it was the most beautiful thing we saw.

Aurora Australis
Tips: don’t have to bring a tripod to the tour as the staffs are more than glad to help you take some amazing long exposure shots of the night sky.

We finally went back down cold and tired but feeling amazing af.

The next morning we headed over to the mountain range that leads to the Astro Café again and it’s open! We went ahead to have our breakfast and morning coffee up in the hills enjoying the cold breeze and amazing views before heading down to the Church of Good Shepherd again. It’s just too beautiful.
This is the first thing that greets you as you arrive at the peak
Walk along this road to find treasure
Astro Cafe

View that Astro Cafe overlooks

After that we went to a recommended Japanese restaurant to fill our tummy before we move on. And there we ended our happenings in Tekapo and continued our adventure.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Less than S$3,800 all in. New Zealand South island in 15 days!

Including flight, food, accommodation and our day tours!

To start with, we booked our flights really early. We were due to fly in October and we have already booked the flight tickets in April.

So here’s the expense and itinerary breakdown

Day 1 Singapore – Sydney – Christchurch
Depart Singapore on 16 October at 7pm local time
Cost: S$1,102.00 (Return flight - We found out that the prices sky rocketed after that, so it was an awesome feeling!)
SIN to SYD – 7 hrs 45 min (British Airways)
(4 hour layover – the luggage goes straight to Christchurch, so you don’t have to worry about this during the layover)
SYD to CHC – 3 hrs 5 min (Air New Zealand)
Day 1 Total Expenses: S$1,102.00

Day 2: Christchurch
We arrived at 3pm local time and man it was colddd. Brrrr.

We grab a 3GB Data prepaid sim card from Vodafone that was on promotion at NZD39 with 200 minutes local and overseas talk time so it was really well worth the price. Then we head over to the bus bay to wait for the transfer bus to take us to the Apex Car Rental to pick up our ride for the trip. We have already reserved a car back in Singapore and it costs us a total of NZD876 including all excess cover. To save some money, we brought our own GPS pre-configured, which was a great idea as we were familiar with our own device and reduces the need of fumbling around the machine.

The staffs was helpful, we checked the car and was ready to go!

We drove to our hotel in Christchurch – Breakfree on Cashel. This hotel is new and in the city area. You could reach the supermarkets and the places of interest all within about 10 minutes’ drive. Moreover, they have loads of free parking space nearby. So it’s a good deal.

Christchurch – Breakfree on Cashel (1 night)
Cost per person: S$47.50

Day 2 Total Expenses: S$47.50 + NZD 457.50 (NZD 915/2)

Day 3: Christchurch – Lake Tekapo
We headed out early to Lake Tekapo and the sceneries along the route were just breathtaking. We checked into our hostel – Tailor Made Tekapo Backpackers and the staff was really welcoming, introducing us the places of interest in the vicinity. This hostel is only a mere 15 minutes’ walk or 4 minutes’ drive away from the infamous Church of Good Shepard and the eateries around town. You may think associate hostels with bunk beds and shared bathrooms but nope. This is none of those. We have a huge room to ourselves and an attached bathroom. Our car can be parked right in front of our unit so it was really convenient and economical!

Church of Good Shepard
Lake Tekapo - Tailor Made Tekapo Backpackers (1 night)
Cost per person: S$44.00

Near evening, we head over to the Earth & Sky Stargazing Tour for an amazing night ahead. It was freezing cold but we saw the aurora australis!!!!!

Aurora Australis at Tekapo

Earth & Sky Stargazing Tour
Cost per person: S$137.95

Total distance covered: 325km
Day 3 Total Expenses: S$181.95

Day 4: Lake Tekapo – Mount Cook – Omarama
Mueller Lake Lookout
After the incredible night, we head over to Aoraki Mount Cook. As far as the planning goes, we wanted to stay in the car at the DOC for that night, but judging how little stuff we can do, we decided to make our way to the next town to alleviate some km for tomorrow.

So we ended driving to Omarama after a short hike to the Mueller Lake Lookout.

Omarama - Countrytime Hotel (1 night)
Cost per person: S$58.00

Countrytime hotel is fairly decent and has an old vintage feel to it. We actually like the hotel (surprisingly) despite being a last minute decision. The outdoor area has what it feels like a picturesque country side and you can only try to imagine big open spaces with Aoraki Mount Cook as the backdrop.

Total distance covered: 185km
Day 4 Total Expenses: S$58.00

Day 5: Omarama – Oamaru – Moeraki – Dunedin – Catlins
We started our day early as we have a long journey to go. We stopped by the Moeraki Boulders for a short break. There is a café at the site and boy, the fish and chips is really one of the best we ever had. It costs NZD$28 but it was huge and absolutely delicious and well worth it.

Nugget Point
We then move on to Dunedin, a city bustling with heritage and we visited some of the infamous places like the railway station and the Speight’s Brewery.

We left at around 3:30pm and start making our way to our last stop of the day at Kaka Point.

Kaka Point - Cardnos Accommodation (1 night)
Cost per person: S$48.00

Oh I love this homestay and it was really fantabulous. They have 3 heaters; 1 in the living area, 1 in the bedroom and 1 in the bathroom. For a S$48 per pax homestay I thought it was really well furnished. 

Right after we settled in, we went ahead to the roaring bay to wait for the rare yellow-eyed penguins and the eminent Nugget Point Lighthouse to enjoy a little sea breeze and sunset.

Total distance covered: 360km
Day 5 Total Expenses: S$48.00

Day 6: Catlins – Slope Point (Invercargil) – Te Anau
We went further south today, in fact that’s the “southest” you can go. We visited slope point and invercargil as an impromptu after we went by the Cannibal Bay and the millions years old Curio Bay. We then proceeded dejectedly to Te Anau when we found out that the famous Bluff oysters were a bluff (off- season when we visited, as we didn’t do much research since it was an impromptu side track)

Wind-swept trees at Slope Point
We drove in the rain and reached Te Anau at around 7pm. Rain is usually a good sign in the evening; it tells you that there is a good chance that the sky will be clear the next day.

Te Anau – Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park (1 night)
Cost per person: S$53.00

I honestly didn’t had a good opinions about holiday parks until I arrived and stayed here. It was INCREDIBLE. It was clean, it has all the amenities and you can park your car right outside your unit. Don’t underestimate the privilege to park right outside your unit. You don’t really want to lunge your luggage around in the cold, and worst rain.

So after we washed up, we went back to book the tour to Milford Sound (Go Milford) for the following morning. It was a decent deal, NZD159 per pax including picnic lunch and a mini land tour as well as entry to NZ only floating underwater observatory at Milford Discovery Center. (Note: there was another similar tour at NZD 149 that includes buffet lunch that we only realised later. But read what happens the next day to understand why we didn’t regret our choices)

Total distance covered: 337km
Day 6 Total Expenses: S$53.00 + NZD159

Day 7: Te Anau – Milford Sound – Queenstown
We woke up early to pack and check out and prepare for our tour to Milford Sound. A small bus came to pick us up and the tour was unbelievable.

We went past the Mirror Lake, Monkey Creek, Knobs Flat, Homer Tunnel, Christie Falls and The Chasm for photo stops and finally on the cruise for the Milford Sound tour. The guide was really informative and the cruise was relatively small, so you get a panoramic view from every seat. There is also a outdoor area where you can enjoy the breeze and also the waterfall as they go under it.

Milford Sound
We were brought to the floating underwater observatory where we can observe the wildlife in their natural homes. Afterwards, we board another cruise back to land. That’s the thing, this cruise that picked us up was a huge one, serving buffet lunch. But the cruise was so huge it wouldn’t be able to go close to the cliffs to experience the waterfalls, and also it you can’t get a seat near the windows, you pretty much can’t see much. So yea, I think we’ve got ourselves a better deal.

We were back in the holiday park before 5:30pm and we make our move to Queenstown via the Devil’s Staircase and the views were just breathtaking. We arrived slightly before 8, got ourselves checked in and went out for the renowned Fergburger for dinner.

Queenstown - Tanoa Aspen Hotel Queenstown (2 nights)
Cost per person: S$95.00

The hotel is about 5 minutes’ drive from the city center but it resides up a hill which makes your mornings look like a painting from your windows. The room was normal and decent, but they gave us a 3pax room making it very comfortable for our 2 nights stay.

Total distance covered: 410km
Day 7 Total Expenses: S$95.00

Day 8: Queenstown

We woke up early to have a light breakfast before heading to the Kawarau Bridge Bungee. The whole thing went off really quickly, from the time I got my tags, I was done in 15minutes. But boy, it was really frightening and I jumped before I’ve got time to hesitate.

Kawarau Bridge Bungee
Coronet Peak
Cost: NZD 195

And guess what did we do after bungee? We went for a buffet. LOL. We parked downhill and took a gondola up Bob’s Peak and had buffet lunch at the award winning Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar. Considering that it only costs NZD 57 per pax including the gondola ride which costs NZD 32 by itself, it is an extremely good deal with international cuisine and panoramic view of Queenstown.

After our well worthy lunch, we went to take a quick drive around Queenstown and landed up in Arrowtown and Coronet Peak (after we got lost to Skipper’s Canyon). It sure ain’t the ski season but the view was nonetheless beautiful in her own ways.

And guess what we had for dinner again? You guessed it, FERGBURGER! It was so awesome that my boyfriend has to eat it twice in 2 nights. (Trust me he even considered going back when we were in Christchurch later in the trip)

Total distance covered: 86km
Day 8 Total Expenses: NZD252.00

Day 9: Queenstown – Wanaka – Haast (Blue Pools) – Fox Glacier
We set out early as it’s another long drive to Fox Glacier with the stops we want to make along the way. We took the Crown Range road to get to Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. We also passed by the Haast’s Pass and had some fun at the Blue Pools before we went straight to Fox Glacier.

Crown Range Road
Fox Glacier – Lake Matheson Motel (2 nights)
Cost per person: S$119.00

I always had a different opinion about motels until I arrived here. Lake Matheson Motel is an unassuming motel that has an ultimate homely feeling when we were there.

We drove to The Lake Matheson but it was drizzling and required a fair bit of walk so we turned around and went for dinner at Cook Saddle Cafe & Saloon instead.  The food is great and the price is reasonable. (Try their Chicken Chop! It was absolutely mouth-watering the moment you see the dish. Gosh I’m getting hungry thinking about it. Their Fish & Chips is only so-so compared to the ones we had in Moeraki and Kaka Point.)

Total distance covered: 330km
Day 9 Total Expenses: S$119.00

Day 10: Fox Glacier
Our hearts sank when we woke up hearing rain drops on our doorstep because it meant that our long awaited trip to the heli-hike up the Fox Glacier might be cancelled. Nevertheless we got all dressed up and went ahead to the Fox Glacier Guiding Building just around the corner to await the weather check.

Fox Glacier Helihike
Cost per person: NZD 399

It’s a go ahead after waiting for 15minutes’ or so, but we had the choice of postponing our hike to the later time. We were lucky that we had 2 nights here at Fox Glacier township so we had the luxury of ascending the glacier at a later time. One tip would be to book for the 8:50am tour so that in any event, like us, you encountered bad weather, we could still go back for the tour at 11:50am. And that’s what we did! We went back at 11:50am and the sky cleared up quite a fair bit by then so it’s great news!

While waiting for the time to pass, we went over to Lake Matheson (again). This time round we managed to complete the full circuit in about an hour and the time was well-spent! Really, you should definitely visit Lake Matheson whilst in Fox Glacier township.

Total distance covered: 10km
Day 10 Total Expenses: NZD399.00

Day 11: Fox Glacier – Franz Joseph – Hokitika – Greymouth – Punakaki – Nelson Lake National Parks – St Arnaud
It’s a ultra-long day today and we set off really early before 8am and we made a terrible mistake by not pumping petrol at Fox Glacier township and move on to Franz Joseph township thinking that the petrol will be cheaper there since it is a larger township of the two. BUT WE WERE WRONG. It costs us an explosive NZD2.275 per litre in Franz Joseph but only NZD2.175 per litre in Fox. Silly us. Thinking that there were no other petrol kiosk for the next hundreds of km, we decided to bear the pain and pump nevertheless to only arrive in Whataroa to find the petrol at only NZD1.959 per litre. Yes we were devastated. Lucky we only pumped NZD30 in Franz Joseph. So we filled the tank and carry on to Hokitika Gorge.

We passed by this Lake Mapourika along the way and it really is a hidden gem. It was quiet and peaceful and exceptionally gorgeous. We had our take-away lunch there before continuing our journey to Hokitika Gorge.

Lake Mapourika
We then went straight to Greymouth because allegedly there was a KFC and he just had to have that craving. But I guessed we were really out of luck as the only KFC in a 3 hour drive radius is under renovation. I LOL when I saw his face when he realized there was no KFC. So we settled out lunch at McDonald’s just opposite the supposedly KFC location.
We are supposed to head straight to Nelson Lake Motel but him being him and me being me, we decided to re-route our way to see the Punakaki Pancake Rocks and the blowhole before we finally reached our accommodation of the night at St Arnaud slightly passed 8pm.

St Arnaud - Nelson Lake Motel (1 night)
Cost per person: S$58

Damn. It’s cold. The landlady shed some light as to why it’s so cold, because it’s about 800m above MSL. To put it into some perspective, Mount Cook village is only about 750m above MSL. And lucky thing Nelson Lake Motel has 2 separate heaters to keep us warm through the night.

Total distance covered: 505km
Day 11 Total Expenses: S$58.00

Day 12: St Arnaud – Kaikoura
There’s a beautiful lake just behind our motel hence we headed over there the first thing in the morning after we checked out. It’s really beautiful but there are too many flies. We couldn’t hang out for long. If you are there just take a peep around the pier as there are huge clusters of eels swimming around the pier.

The drive from St Arnaud to Kaikoura is only about 3 hours, so we decided to head up north. We passed by Nelson and decided against Picton as it started pouring. Since Marlborough is renowned for their vineyards, we dropped by one of the most accredited vineyard on international level – Cloudy Bay. We had wine tasting in their vineyard. How awesome is that. They have a range of different wine and tasting would only costs NZD5, NZD 10 or NZD20 depending on the package you choose. And it’s just purely amazing.

Cloudy Bay
I couldn’t help myself but to walk out with a bottle in hand as we carry on our journey to Kaikoura. You know that you are reaching Kaikoura because you see tons of seals. Like everywhere. They lie on all the rock formations and we even saw some right beside the roads.

Kaikoura - Heritage Court Motor Lodge (1 night)
Cost per person: S$48

Similar to a motel, we parked right in front of our unit. This motor lodge seemed to be operated by a group of Chinese so this is a good place if you need mandarin speaking assistance.

We head along to have dinner and we chanced upon Coopers Catch Kaikoura just tucked away from plain site, nothing fanciful, just a downright eatery. But the food was fabulous! The fish & chips were also one of the best we had, and the burgers were really nice and cheap.

Total distance covered: 335km
Day 12 Total Expenses: S$48.00

Day 13: Kaikoura – Hanmer Spring – Christchurch
We received a call in the morning from the Kaikoura Aero Club advising us to fly a little later than our scheduled timing as it’s drizzling and the whales might not appear. We took the offer and went over to Reserve Hutt for breakfast.

Kaikoura Whale Watch – Extended Scenic Flight
Cost per person: NZD140

We really got a cheap deal from as the price for this Extended Scenic Flights costs NZD210 usually. So go over to the site and see what promotions are there that coincides with the activities you are interested in.

But unfortunately, despite seeing loads of dolphins, we did not manage to spot any whales. Even the whaling boats didn’t set out that day. To trust our luck. But we did have a treat that day when we were the only 2 person onboard. What an incredible experience to “charter a plane”. Nonetheless, the scenery is still breathtaking, and definitely different from what you would see from land.

We landed safely under the experience of the pilots and they were really kind to give us a voucher that would take us up on another flight for whale watch for free the next time we visit Kaikoura, judging that we didn’t manage to see any whales with our rotten luck.

We then visited the Seal Colony, really it is flooded with wild fur seals in every direction you look. They are ridiculously cute. We also had our take away lunch from Coopers Catch (again) before heading on to Hanmer Springs.
Seal Colony
We took up the Private Thermal Pool at NZD40pp for 60mins at Hanmer Springs. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and relaxed sufficiently then move on back to Christchurch. By the time we arrived, it was already half past 8pm.

Christchurch - Camelot Motor Lodge (2 nights)
Cost per person: S$96

We wanted to try a different hotel as the first night so we can have a comparison. This motor lodge is really 1 quaint looking accommodation in the midst of an urbanized city.

Total distance covered: 280km
Day 13 Total Expenses: S$96.00 + NZD180

Day 14: Christchurch
We didn’t have anything planned out for the day so we decided to drive around Christchurch and later concluding that we should visit Akaroa for their well-known seafood. But it was a pity it was raining when we were on the way, so we only grabbed lunch at one of the local shops before heading back.

I really wanted to see some penguins before we leave New Zealand, so we settle with the little blue penguins in the Antarctic Center right beside the airport. It was actually quite fascinating and they have a chamber that simulates the Antarctic Storm. Lucky we were in time to experience what it feels like with wind speed at 40km/h and -18degC.

Antarctic center Admission: NZD39

Total distance covered: 180km
Day 14 Total Expenses: NZD39.00

Day 15: Christchurch – Auckland – Sydney
CHC to AKL – 1 hr 20 min (Air New Zealand)
1 hr 35 min layover
AKL to SYD – 3 hrs 35 min (Air New Zealand)
1 hr 55 min layover
SYD to SIN – 8 hrs 00 min (British Airways)

So we were there and back again. Covering a whopping 3343km on land!!

And there you have it! S$3,280.00 for 15 days (Exchange rate S$1: NZD1.08) in New Zealand excluding most food items. But we spent about S$3,800 each in total considering the entire expenses (we spent about S$400 on petrol). You can estimate to set aside about S$50 per person per day as a complete meal in any decent bar or restaurant will set you back about S$30 per person. I am a small eater, and we usually eat on the go for lunch so we had quite a huge savings from there. We also did cook for a couple of times as the motels and motor lodges come with microwave and electronic stove.

1.       En-suite rooms means that there was a connecting bathroom. Good for people on budget yet still hopeful for privacy like us!
2.       Petrol prices fluctuate quite a lot in New Zealand. The cheapest petrol we’ve got was $189.90 and the most expensive one was $227.50. I would say it averages out at about $195.50. (We’ve got the most expensive petrol at Franz Joseph and saw it was only $195.90 at Whataroa at less than 30min drive away, we almost burst into tears. Moral of the story, don’t pump at Franz Joseph. )
3.       New Zealand is a very tourist safe destination, they have indicative signs if there is no petrol for a long ride ahead.
4.       Bigger cities will usually have a better petrol prices
5.       Google map time estimation is quite accurate.  

I hope the itinerary is useful for you. I had loads of fun in New Zealand. I hope you do too!!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Road Less Traveled: 7 Days in Myanmar (Part 1)

After a long excruciating pain of waiting for almost 3 months after we booked the tickets, we finally set out on our next adventure to the holy land: Myanmar.

To be honest, I didn’t get a good feeling since the start of the journey, mainly because I did not plan this trip. The bulk of the itinerary was provided for by a dear friend, who even helped us get cheap day tours for the various cities that we will be visiting. However, we were too underprepared for this unexpected trip.

To start with, we travelled on a budget airline – Jetstar to Yangon. Having booked the tickets way ahead of time, we got really cheap tickets. However, do to the lack of planning and incomplete information, our mini nightmare was about to start. We took an early flight departing Singapore and we arrived at Yangon near noon. To our horror, Myanmar do not allow visa on arrival for tourists.
Please take special note on this if you are ever travelling to Myanmar.

Myanmar DO NOT allow visa-on-arrival for tourists. This is only applicable for business travellers and require company registration as well as letter of invitation by the company.

And so the story goes.. We got deported.

It was a horrifying experience. We tried talking to the immigration officers as well as the airport staff. But we were only met with hostility. We were being shoved back onto the plane. Even back in Singapore, we were being escorted by staff after staff. We only managed to clear customs at almost 7pm. The whole ordeal took us more than 12 hours. Hungry and tired as we were, we were considering flying back the next morning (with our visas of course) or to change the whole itinerary and fly somewhere else instead. Rationality made us fly back, considering that we have already paid for our hotels, and some of the attractions we were so looking forward to.

And so, we spent the whole night sorting out the documents we need for the visas and we re-booked our air tickets, all ready to fly back the next morning.

Visa = USD 50 per pax (straight new notes only)
New air tickets = SGD$383 each (Note: We only paid SGD$243 per pax initially)


And finally, we cleared customs without hiccups and all ready for our first adventure of the year. We changed some local currencies at the airport (before you exit the airport) and took a cab from the airport to the hotel our friend will be hosting us for the day before we leave for Bagan that night.
Singapore doesn’t really have any currency exchange whom sells Myanmar Kyats (pronounced as charts) and I have confirmed with my Burmese friends that the exchange rates at the airport are pretty good. Just note that Burmese are a little concerned with straight new US notes. Meaning if your notes are old and crumple, they will reject your notes (as I have suffered later on).

1 thing that I like is that there is a taxi booking stand right after you clear the customs. There’s only 1 so there’s not much left to chances.  We were told that you could haggle for the price and the costs of a cab from the airport to Downtown usually costs MMK8,000 to MMK10,000. After the whole ordeal, we thought our whole luck has changed for the better since we got the lower of the range without even asking.

Taxi = MMK 8,000
Note: Exchange rate is approximately USD1 ~ MMK1000 (for easy reference)

We settled at a nearby place for lunch and it was fabulous!

It was near evening and we got a cab to the bus terminal for our night ride to the long awaited Bagan. Truth to be told, the 10 hours bus ride was none but torturous. I have no idea why I could bear with the previous 7 hours ride in a minivan to El Nido but this seemingly comfy ride was rather an agony. There was only 1 stopover for a quick bite and toilet break in between. And finally as we reached Bagan at near 5am, only the next horror struck us.


It was COLD. It was actually FREEZING COLD. BRRRRRR.

We were told that Bagan would get colder at night but we didn’t know it would be so cold. As a simple reference, it is colder than Genting at night. I have to wear 2 thick jackets and I am still freezing my butt off. Brrr. As I was saying, we got deported so our itinerary was all pushed back by a day. Our guide came to pick us up and we were ready to check in but our hotels made a mistake and told us that no room was available for us until later in the day at about 9am. What a joke. So anyways, we went to visit the renowned sunrise of Bagan.

Part I

We climbed the Pagoda bare footed in the darkness. It was almost horrifying. And then we waited…

Slowly, the sun came up.

It was beautiful. It was stunning.

But it’s also cold as hell. Barely fighting the cold, we left soon after the sun rises. Remember us saying climbing the pagoda in the dark was horrifying? Trust me, the climb down in broad daylight was worst. 

Way worst…

As we were told that the room will only be ready by 9am, we went for a local breakfast before we head back to the hotel.

It consists of "you cha quey", local bee hoon soup (it's not spicy, don't be deceived by it's looks), curry puff lookalike thingy and chinese tea!

And it only costs us 800kyats!!! We were finally checked in and the hotel was amazing!!!

Zfreeti Hotel
As Bagan is naturally cold due to its high altitude, the room was naturally cold and do not require air conditioning. They have an outdoor swimming pool which would be great during noon as the sun can be pretty harsh at that hour. We have told our guide to pick us up at around 1030 after we are rested and washed up. Since we have paid for the room for the day before, we also enjoy complimentary breakfast! They have a simple fare of western and local dishes for the breakfast. To be honest, it wasn’t fabulous but I thought it was good enough for the 2 of us. I love it that they serve eggs cooked on the spot. So you can have a choice of omelette, sunny side up or jus scrambled.

So our guide came and picked us up for the 2nd part of the tour. Well, I am not going to bore you anymore.

Part II

One thing to note is that most of the operable temples and pagodas in the area require you to be barefoot, so bear in mind to wear slip-on footwear for simplicity sake. You can thank me later.

And we head for our lunch before we head back to the hotel for a short rest!

I love the guides in this area. They are so chillax, and so cool about everything. They'll go, "oh, it will be really hot in the afternoon, why not we start earlier in the morning so that it's more cooling and we can go back to the hotel for a short rest during 1-3pm when the weather is the hottest." AND I LOVE THE IDEA! Travelling is always meant to relax our mind, so I guess no point we stress ourselves over the hot weather. 

One more stop before we head back to our hotel for our afternoon nap.

Booking the hot air balloon tickets!! Actually, it was a concern for me for the entire time because I understood that the tickets are usually sold out way way before flying day. Hence, I have requested our dear friend whom assisted us in this trip to reserve ticket for us since she said she was able to get them at a cheaper rate and guess what? WE DIDN’T HAVE A TICKET!!! It was really nightmare after nightmare. So, we have to get our local guide to help us source for alternatives. Finally, we found the GOLDEN EAGLE hotair balloon ride simply because no other operators have vacancies anymore. It is really true that you have to book your hot air balloon way way way before your trip to secure a seat. Lucky for us, as Golden Eagle was only established slightly over a year ago, it was only known amongst the local tour operators. Meaning, it would be almost impossible to locate them over the web. However, they only provide the exclusive services, which means we have to pay more. SOBX. But since this was the main intent to Bagan anyway, we have decided to go for it.

Part III

After our brief nap in the room to compensate our lack of sleep this morning, we proceed for the 3rd part of the itinerary. 

Since we had sunrise for breakfast, it is necessary to complete the course with (i bet you guess it right) SUNSET!! We had chance to witness this beautiful sunset at another historical building (duh!). And it was pretty exciting as you have to climb through a steep stairway that i can barely fit through (bear in mind I'm pretty petite compared to the other travellers there). But the end result was a set of remarkable and cloudless sunset.

After the day long tour, we had dinner in our hotel, by the pool. It was very romantic, considering the dim lightings and dining under the stars. It was an incredible experience.


AND HERE COMES THE HIGHLIGHT OF OUR TRIP!!!! We woke up at 4:30am to wait for our bus to come pick us up. It’s really really cold in the morning. But the anxiety kept us warm and hopping around.

My boy was really hilarious. We came out of our hotel all sleepy and we saw a bus for BALLOONS OVER BAGAN and guess what he did? He ran to the bus and told me to follow up. It was until I opened my eyes then I told him it was not our ride. I couldn’t stopped laughing since.

So we board the mini bus and we got to the place from the day before, the large open fields preparing for the taking off. We were then served bread and tea/coffee in the cold hard wind. The process was really delightful as the flow was smooth and things just happened one after another. Just as we finished the breakfast, we were told to observe the mini balloon sent up to determine wind speed and direction. Then they also tested the burners and the warmth of it felt so great!!

And then you get really excited because they started to give us a brief training on safety and they start to PUMP UP THE BALLOON!!! It was really exciting as it marks the start of the ride and I haven’t exactly seen a balloon this size being pumped up before.

We climbed in and up we go!!!

The view is breath-taking. And the ride was surprisingly stable. You almost didn’t feel like you are in a balloon. And we learned a few things about the hot air balloon. For instance, you cannot navigate a hot air balloon, you can only control the height of the balloon and “catching” different layers of wind going different directions. I thought this was pretty cool as it really gives you an idea of a really really primitive type of transportation and you are totally reliant on the experience of the pilot and nature forces.

The landing was rather similar to that of the taking off, we both had a dozen people “sending” us and “picking” us. The landing was surprising smooth, no huge bumps or “turbulence”. The pilot accredited this to his crew. He was joking how he flew in so many other countries and he only had 1 assistant to help him along the way, and how pampered he was flying in Bagan with a luxury of crew to assist him, thus causing him to be so reliant on them.

And so we landed and we were presented with champagne and a certificate (of course) for our completion of the ride of a lifetime with the backdrop of the crew packing up the huge balloon!! 

After which we were sent back to our hotel.  We checked out and get ready for our next journey. We hoped onto our pre-booked bus and off we go. I thought the service for the bus is pretty good as they sent our bus tickets to our hotel. Also, we were due to arrive in Mandalay bus station but they offered to drop us at our hotel in Mandalay!! I guess our luck is turning for the better. (or at least I thought)..

Till later......