I know I have been AWOL for a long and there is no reason other than putting different priorities first. But not anymore; I promise to be fairly regular in posting about whatever catches my fancy!! This post is about the recent holiday I took. I wanted to share my journey, from the time we booked our tickets to the actual journey to show you that with little planning and research, you can have a fortnight holiday in South East Asia for four in a reasonable budget. We didn’t use any travel agent; except for getting Singapore Visa because that was the rule, and did all our bookings, including bus tickets from India. So if you are interested to know about our travel adventure, keep reading.
When I say planning and research done by us, I meant my husband!! Yes, he is the one who spends all his available, OK, most of his available time, in between our big holiday, in searching about the places he wishes to go. So right after we came back from our holiday in 2016, he started to plan the one we took this year. Planning ahead has both positive and negative; negative being that anything can happen and your plans may alter. But the positive outweighs the negative so much, that we take the risk.
So after researching couple of places (which inevitably are known for their beaches), my husband zeroed on Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore was for me; he knows my love of theme park and shopping. Naturally I was on-board. The first important thing was getting the tickets. For that, my husband uses Skyscanner. This website basically keeps a tab on airlines tickets, their prices, nearest airport and anything related to air travel. With the help of the website, my husband found that, even if we travel by train to Chennai, the flight to Singapore from Chennai, in the new Dreamliner planes from Indian Airlines, was coming cheaper than flying from Kolkata. So he purchased the tickets from Chennai which came around Rs 29,000 for four of us (3 adults and 1 child). As for the return tickets, we kept it open because we were not sure whether we will be returning via Singapore or directly from Kuala Lumpur. We got it much later and from Air Asia because they were only direct flight available between Kuala Lumpur and Kolkata. That came to about Rs 30, 000.
The next was train ticket which of course you buy from IRCTC. The period we selected (Puja holiday) is one of the most busiest India wise and luckily we snagged the last four tickets in AC third in Guwahati-Chennai Express. We also booked the return tickets from Kolkata on Shatabdi Express.
The places we finalized were Singapore, Tioman island, Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur. Booking tickets between Singapore and Tioman was very challenging because this island is closed for outsiders during Monsoon and the ferry schedule for September/October was available only around mid-September. Then there was the fact that all the ferry left very early in the morning; so we had to either leave Singapore at 5 AM (and lose a day seeing the city), or leave around afternoon and stay a day in Mersing in Malaysia. So hubby kept this part of the journey in limbo and focused on the rest. The tickets to Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur was again very cheap on a budget Airlines called Malindo Air. They were MYR 272 roughly 4400 INR for four of us!! Ferry tickets to and from Langkawi and Kuala Perlis was about MYR 89 or 1434 INR.
So journey was sorted. Next was accommodation. And that was my duty. For Singapore, I started first with AirBnB. If you don’t know what AirBnB is, it is basically a website that lets you rent someone’s home for a short period of time. They are cheaper than hotel and mostly will come with basic amenities like kitchen, bathroom, etc. depending on your requirement and choice. It is possible to rent even just a bed through AirBnB. We had booked our first AirBnB in our last year’s holiday to Hong Kong and was very happy with it. All the hotels we were looking for in Singapore were coming very costly or in not so decent locations! So I selected one AirBnB host, wrote to her and confirmed that the dates we were seeking was available or not. Then before committing to it, I thought of asking fellow Singaporean blogger Shanti Arumugan. She told me that AirBnB are actually illegal in Singapore!! And we being afraid of Singapore strict laws, immediately dropped the idea of AirBnB. So back to hotel search. We use mainly Expedia or Agoda to book our hotels and this time, I found Hotel Fragrance, which is chain of low cost hotels in a good location (Joo Chiat). We booked from 27th to 29th September. It is a no frill not even breakfast kind of hotel. But they gave us a room for four (3 adults and 1 child), and we were happy with that. The booking cost was Rs 14290.
Tioman booking was done by my husband because he was most excited about visiting this pristine island. He chose Salsea Condotel through Agoda which came with an apartment type accommodation of two bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a drawing/dining area and a fully functional kitchen. The resort also gave us breakfast and there was a swimming pool!! The price was MYR 422 for 2 nights as we booked from 30th September to 2nd October. I found the perfect hotel in Langkawi, right at the beach and in the most touristy place in the island, Malibest Resort in Cenang. Again a basic hotel with no breakfast but a big room for four of us, swimming pool and a beach front. The price came at Rs 9460 for 3 nights (from 3rd October to 6th October).
For Kuala Lumpur, we fell back on AirBnB and found the most amazing apartment. It had a swimming pool at 37th floor and everything was just close by. Our stay at Regalia came to just Rs. 5947, for our stay from 6th October to 8th October!!
So that was the basic plan. And all of these were done by July end. And then we waited. As soon as ferry schedule was available, my husband did the pros and cons and decided to leave Singapore early and catch the morning ferry. Which meant, we needed to stay one more day in Tioman. We contacted the hotel directly, and they offered us one night with breakfast and dinner for MYR 400! Since we had no choice and did not want to change hotels just for one night, we agreed to it. For return, he had already decided on travelling overnight to Kuala Perlis for catching the ferry to Langkawi. He asked if I liked to spend a day in Mersing (from where we will be catching the overnight bus), or spend some more time in Tioman. Now what I learnt about Mersing was that, it was just a small city and the swimming pool in Salsea was much better. And hubby dear was also in a spending mood; so we decided to catch the Cataferry at 2 PM from Tioman. This luxury ferry is costly; the tickets from Tanjung Gemok to Tioman was MYR 195 whereas the ordinary ferry was MYR 140 for four of us!
Every thing was going so well; and then disaster started to throw spanner. Due to incessant rain, a railway bridge collapsed near Malda which connects North Bengal to rest of India. The rail company was repairing the bridge as soon as possible, but with three weeks left for travel, our train journey to Chennai was in jeopardy. So my husband took a risk and started buying alternate tickets. First we got four Volvo bus tickets to Kolkata. We used RedBus because he went to the counters and they were quoting higher ticket prices!! Next, he went to the IA office in Siliguri and asked for help. They told we could change the boarding point from Chennai to Kolkata; we could be taking the same flight to Singapore, but as a connection flight. Susanta also found that he had enough points in his credit card reward system for a free ticket to Chennai and that too in Spice Jet! So he booked our tickets in IA for around Rs 13000. His flight was early and mine later. He did not cancel the tickets because if the train was cancelled, we will get full refund against partial refund if we cancelled from our end!! Yes, we are gamblers, we take a lot of risk!! (And this one paid off!!)
By mid September, it was getting clear that the train line was not going to be ready for 9th October, when we were returning. And we didn’t want to waste another full day for travel as my sons’ school was going to be already open by then, so we booked air tickets with Air Asia for Rs 11000. We did not gamble this time, but got partial refund by cancelling the Shatabdi tickets.
The only thing left was our 1 night in Chennai. The hotels that we looked into either was costing too much for basic rooms or were far from the airport. One day I was going through this website called sleepinginairports as my husband was planning to stay in the airport for the night, and came to know that Chennai airport has a retiring room!! So I called up my cousin who works in Airport Authority and asked him to book us a room. He said that it is only possible with tickets and so pre-booking is not allowed. So we kept that as our first choice and was ready to slog it out if we didn’t get it.
So that was all the preambles to our holiday story of 2017. If you are interested to know further, don’t forget to like this story!!
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