Air Asia/Air Asia X

AIR ASIA, The World’s Best Low-Cost Airline

http://www.airasia.com

This low-cost, no frills Malaysian airline whose operations started in 1996 was the first budget airline in Asia. This airline’s international flights started in 2003 started flying to the Philippines (Clark) in 2005.

Since 2007, I have flown with Air Asia 3x. And I am happy to say that the quality of the airline and it’s service has improved since then.

July 2007 – Clark, Philippines-Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

In 2007, only 2 commercial airlines flew out of the Diosdado Macapagal Airport at Clark Field, Pampanga – Air Asia and Tiger Airways. Despite the distance of the airport from Manila, we tried both airlines due to the very cheap costs of their tickets. During our first flight with Air Asia, I was sorely disappointed simply because it really was a budget airline- no food, no tv and unassigned seats. The seats weren’t comfortable and the planes seemed old.

February 2010 – Clark, Philippines-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-Siem Reap, Cambodia

Fast forward to 2 1/2 years later, along with a couple more budget airlines (including Cebu Pacific and Spirit of Manila), Air Asia still flies from Clark. We had to stop at Kuala Lumpur for one night for each leg of our trip (to Cambodia and back to the Philippines) since Air Asia only flies to KL and Kota Kinabalu from Clark. Air Asia’s main hub can be found at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), more specifically at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT). To our surprise the LCCT wasn’t the normal budget airport like the one in Clark and Singapore, etc. The terminal was big and literally hordes of people fly in and out all day. It felt like a regular yet slightly older airport to me. If you arrive with a couple of other flights, it will take you at least 30 minutes-1 hour just to get through immigration.

For the first part of our trip we looked for an airport hotel that where we could stay the night. Our options were limited to the Concorde Inn at the KLIA or the Tune Hotel at the LCCT (Air Aisa’s Budget Hotel). Technically even though the LCCT is located at the KL International Airport it would have been expensive for us just to take a taxi to the Concorde Inn and apparently a good 20 minutes just to get to the Main Airport. So we ended up staying at the Tune Hotel (there’s a free shuttle from the LCCT to the hotel or you could also take a bus for 1 myr). Making a booking at this hotel was similar to booking a ticket in Air Asia- the price for the room itself was pretty cheap but we had to pay for other necessities such as towels, air-conditioning, etc. We’ve stayed in cramped rooms before but I was utterly disappointed with this hotel- in my personal opinion this was the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Again, I am a bit obsessive-compulsive when it comes to the cleanliness of a hotel room and bathroom.; size – not so much as long as I could still walk around the room. Our room was SMALL – think of a small room and make it smaller, that’s how small it was. Our only piece of luggage could hardly fit the room. Imagine a bed in the middle of the room, headboard leaning on one wall and the 3 other walls just 2 ft from the sides of the bed. The bathroom on the other hand was fairly clean and was literally almost half the size of the room. But what totally ruined it for me were the ants – red ants everywhere. Fortunately, we didn’t have to stay long and had to leave the hotel at 5 am the next day.

After flying back from Cambodia we had to spend another night in Kuala Lumpur. We decided to stay in the city to see the Petronas Towers. We stayed at the Piccolo Hotel which was located at Bukit Bintang. It was a pretty good hotel. The hotel’s location was right in the middle of the shopping area. To get to the hotel we took the Star Shuttle which was a bus ride to one of the shuttles’ hub near the city center and a car ride from there which brought us directly to the hotel. Our flight was early in the morning once again so we took an expensive taxi ride back to LCCT (the concierge told us that there were no buses that leave very early for the airport; we found out later on that he was wrong). Our flight back was pretty decent and I was very happy with the way Air Asia had improved.

May 2010 – Clark, Philippines-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-Melbourne, Australia

AIR ASIA (Clark-Kuala Lumpur; Kuala Lumpur-Clark)

Just like our Clark-Cambodia trip, we had to stop in Kuala Lumpur for one night to and from Clark. We didn’t want all the hassles of our last KL trip so we really researched all our options (with a baby in tow we had to make sure that we stayed in a clean place that was accessible). This is why we ended up staying at Hotel@Sentral. We took the KL Rapid (Bus to the nearby train station and then a train to the KL Central Station – around 12 myr per way). I wouldn’t recommend this since it’s cheaper to take the Skybus. Ideally we could’ve walked to our hotel but since it was pouring when we arrived, we had to take a taxi for 10 myr for a 2 minute ride (Malaysian taxi drivers are the worst! They don’t use their meters and would always overcharge tourists). To go to the airport the following day, we walked to the station and took the SkyBus (Air Asia Shuttle – 9 myr one way) to the LCCT. When we got back from Melbourne, we stayed at the same hotel but we took the SkyBus to/from the Central Station instead (17 myr round trip). We loved the hotel due to it’s proximity to the Central Station (Bus & Trains) and the KL Monorail.  The flights were decent and I have nothing to complain about but because my 22 month old son didn’t have his own seat, it was pretty cramped. Also, checking in for Asia flights at the LCCT was a breeze.

AIR ASIA X (KL-Melbourne; Melbourne-KL)

I was very apprehensive about taking a long haul flight using Air Asia. First it takes 8 hrs to get to Melbourne from KL which is the same number of hours from Manila to Melbourne (it takes an additional 4 hours from Clark to KL). Secondly, based on my previous experiences unless you pay for the hot seats, the seats had no legroom whatsoever. Lastly, I would be carrying my little boy the whole time. But I was ECSTATIC when I found out that AIR ASIA X was really a new, big and clean plane. The seats were comfortable and had more than enough legroom (much much roomier than Philippine Airlines).  They still didn’t have free movies and stuff but it was fine. We did not upgrade seats even though I really wanted to since we didn’t want to pay more than we needed to. Our flight back to KL from Melbourne wasn’t a full flight so my son was able to score his own seat. In other words, I was very happy with Air Asia X. They really exceeded my expectations. The only negative thing I can think of was the long line at the check-in counter (at the Kuala Lumpur LCCT and even at the Melbourne Tullarmine Airport).

MEALS – We paid for our meals at the same time we booked our tickets. Apparently Air Asia sometimes runs out of food during the flight so unless you want to take that chance, you must pre-book your meals. For our Asia flights we didn’t book meals anymore since the hours were shorter.

LUGGAGE– The standard luggage allowance is 15kg per person which you need to pay for. Children without seats do not have luggage allowances similar to those given by bigger commercial airlines. You can upgrade your luggage allowance to 20kg, 25kg and 30kg.  We had to upgrade one of our bags for our Clark/Kl/Melbourne trip to make room for my son’s stuff. If your name and the names of your companions are in one ticket/itinerary only, you can share the luggage allowance. It’s better to pay for an upgrade beforehand versus finding out your bag is overweight at the check-in counter because the fees are quite high.

SkyBus– You can buy tickets for the SkyBus during the flight.

DIOSDADO MACAPAGAL Airport – Park and Fly (open parking lot) costs 90 pesos per night. There are also shuttles to/from Manila.

Overall, I would definitely fly Air Asia again; hopefully not in the very near future because it’s tiring having to pass by Kuala Lumpur every single time. I hope that sooner or later there will be direct Air Asia flights from Clark other than Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. But nevertheless I’m still looking forward to our future trips via Air Asia.

Shanghai Highs (2010)

Part of the thrill of traveling is discovering new places, food and meeting new people – along with getting lost, frustrated and annoyed. I can honestly say that Shanghai will never be one of my favorite cities to visit but it’s culture and heritage inspire me to want to explore other parts of China. Our visit to Shanghai will definitely be memorable because of the following:

1. Yun’s Paradise Waltz Boutique Hotel93 Caobao Road, Xuhui, Shanghai, China

We booked this hotel because of it’s proximity to the Shanghai Everbright Convention & Exhibition Center. We weren’t disappointed because it was located right in front of the Convention Center. For Chinese standards, this hotel was a bit expensive (around 104 usd/night) but it exceeded our expectations. Among all the hotel rooms we’ve stayed at, our top 2 favorites were Coal Harbor’s Westin (Vancouver, Canada) and Tagaytay Country Suites (Tagaytay, Philippines). Yun’s Paradise is now part of our top 3. The rooms were very clean (probably due to the fact that they only opened this year), the bed/comforter/pillows were cozy (king coil beds!) and the bathroom wasn’t cramped into one small space. It was the type of room where you can sleep in all day.

It’s location wasn’t as close as we wanted to the main areas of attraction but it was only a 10 minute walk (3 blocks) from the subway – Caobao Road Station. A bit of trivia: 3 years ago the Shanghai subway only had 3 lines and because of the world expo their subway now has 13 lines + 1 maglev line. By 2020 the Shanghai metro will surpass Japan’s railway system.

The only thing that I didn’t like about this hotel was their slow lifts. Since the hotel is very new, I expected them to be faster and more efficient. Also, like in most places in Shanghai the staff couldn’t understand english (only a few could). But all in all, this was a very good find.

2. Ichido

On our way to the metro from our hotel we found Ichido, a small pastry shop. They sold scrumptious breads and cakes that weren’t too expensive. One thing we noticed about Shanghai was they have well made pastries. It’s not everyday that you find a place where you can just get great pastries anywhere.

3. Lemon Yakult Drink

Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the place where I got this. But it was around the Tianzifang area. It may sound weird but it was really good! The sourness of the lemon mixed very well with the yakult flavor. I wonder if I can make one on my own?

4. Spicy WontonDin Tai Fung

I live for Xiao Long Bao. I really do. But for lunch we decided to also try Din Tai Fung’s spicy wonton. For those who live in Manila, you can find good spicy wonton at Miensan Noodle House (New Manila). But the ones from Din Tai Fung had the perfect mix of chili and the sweetness of their soy sauce. It was by far the best spicy wonton I’ve ever tasted.

5. Ice Cream from the World Expo site

They have excellent ice cream and variety at the World Expo – from popsicles, soft served ice cream to packed ice cream on cones and a lot more. There are stalls/carts all over the place but once they run out (they run out towards the end of the day), they have a store at the basement 1 level of the Expo Axis near the China pavillion. The most expensive ones only costs 4 rmb (around 28 pesos).

6. Xintiandi Area

A great place to get a bite to eat and shop! This is where Din Tai Fung is located and many more great restaurants. The area is composed of restored ‘stone gate” houses along narrow alleys (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xintiandi) and these houses have been converted into these shops.

7. Tianzifang AreaTaikang Road/Taikang Lu

As mentioned in my post before leaving for Shanghai, my friend described this area as “old houses transformed into an arts area with cafes and restaurants”. True enough this area was beautiful and so alive. The old houses were converted to restaurants and little boutiques that sell various items from souvenirs to paintings to clothes and jewelry, etc. Some stores were on the second floor but from the first floor you’ll be able to see that most of the houses on the 2nd level were still lived in. We went with our friend and had late lunch at Kommune (http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai/listings/dining/cafes/has/kommune/). They are famous for their wraps. I had a veggie sandwich that was delicious and my husband had their lamb wrap which was one of their best sellers.  Their smoothies were pretty good but sort of warm. It was a pretty hot day when we went and a bit crowded so that was a bit disappointing. Other than that, I would really recommend that you visit Kommune and Tianzifang.

8. The Pearl Tower

I should have learned a long time ago that I shouldn’t judge places by what people say about them. When I went to Paris, I wasn’t too excited because people told me that it was overrated but as soon as I stepped foot in the city of love, I really fell deeply in love. Even though I didn’t fall for Shanghai, I fell in love with the Pearl Tower. The buildings around the financial/business area surrounding the Pearl Tower were beautiful and properly spaced out. So this structure pretty much stood out. It looked like a pretty cool spaceship to me. Now I know why Shanghai is know for that.

9. Shanghai World Financial Center

I will discuss the SWFC in another post since this was pretty spectacular yet a bit of an odd experience. It’s not everyday that you get to stand in the world’s highest observation deck 🙂

Countdown to China (1 day to go!)

“A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” – George Moore

My husband and I are going to Shanghai for a couple of days. It’s funny how we travel a lot together but it took a while for me to appreciate traveling with just him. The last time we traveled with just the 2 of us was last February. The 4 trips we took since then were always with friends and family. Not that I don’t like traveling with other people it’s just that sometimes our travel styles are so much different from those we spent time with. I am a very impatient person and it’s hard not to get irritated when things don’t go according to plan (translation: when people don’t take into consideration time and schedules that have been set beforehand). So even though sometimes my husband and I still get into fights when we travel, at least we understand each other well enough to know which buttons we shouldn’t push.

Unfortunately, this country will not add up to my 30 countries before 30 list. But after this trip we’re thinking of a couple of new places to go to, so hopefully one or two new countries will be added before the year ends.

Anyway, we’re pretty excited to go to Shanghai since the last time we were in China we were only able to visit Beijing. Luckily we have a friend who works in Shanghai (http://caaarmel.tumblr.com/) so we were able to ask for Shanghai tips and recommendations. Based on the list that she gave us, we would probably go to the following:

1. World Expo – most people would probably go to Shanghai for this particular event and we’ve heard great things about it. Apparently the expo closes at 12 midnight and if you buy your tickets after 4 pm it’ll only cost you 90 rmb (the regular ticket rates are 160 rmb/ticket).  But my husband and I usually start our days early (when traveling only!) so I’m sure we’ll be able to visit some expo sites early on.

2. XingGuan Building – 7 heavenly floors of photography items. I cannot wait to see this!!!

3. Shanghai World Financial Center – the 3rd tallest building in the world. I’ve been to 3 of the top 10 tallest buildings; my husband has been to 4. We enjoy visiting skyscrapers for some weird reason. So I am looking forward to adding more to my list.

4. Huaihai Road – A shopping area similar to Singapore’s Orchard Road. There were a lot of shopping areas on her list but I’m not into shopping that much so I’ll be contended with just going around this one.

5. Xintiandi – She describes this as Shanghai’s “Greenbelt/Eastwood” Area (to be understood by people from Manila). I’m assuming it means that this area has shops and restaurants that are open till late night. I’m looking forward to this because we might eat at Din Tai Fung!

6. Tianzifang – her exact description is that “old houses are transformed into an arts area with cafes and restaurants”. Hopefully we’ll be able to take lots of pictures here.

7. Bund area – A walkway by the river. This is where we’ll be able to see the Pudong Skyline.

8. Pearl Tower – she says that this is an obligatory tourist spot (and across there is a Super Brands Mall).

9. Jingan Temple – it would be nice to see some of the temples in Shanghai.

There are a couple of more places on her list such as the Barbie concept store, Taobao Building / Hancity (to go shopping for fake goods) and Nanjing West Road. Hopefully we’ll have enough time to visit most of the sites but if not at least we’ll have a reason to come back.

Australia Highs (2010)

My family and I spent 2 weeks in Australia early this month. It was pretty tiring but still amazing since I was able to spend time with my son 🙂 In addition to that I discovered a couple of things that totally made the trip worthwhile…

Favorite Hotel/Apartment

Towers of Chevron Renaissance, Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast (I was pretty set on choosing a beachfront apartment but luckily I was vetoed by my husband and sisters in law. We loved this place! It was close to everything and the our apartment had a spectacular view of the river and docks. http://www.chevronrenaissance.com.au/ — a reminder: check out time in Australia is at 10 am not 12 noon).

Best Dish/Food/Meal

Ribs from Hurricane’s Grill, Darling Harbour, Sydney (http://www.hurricanesgrill.com.au/about-hurricanes/hurricanes-darling-harbour;  Big, TASTY ribs and chips/fries…need I say more? But I need to share my worst/least favorite dish from Sydney – Meat Pie from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels – http://www.harryscafedewheels.com.au. A lot of people will disagree for sure since this is a staple dish but I cannot stress this enough —- I HATE MASHED PEAS!!!!! I actually wanted to throw up right after my first bite but this is just my personal opinion. We were 8 in our group and I was the only one who didn’t appreciate mashed peas).

Favorite Dessert

Deep Fried Mars Bars from Bondi Beach, Sydney (Heaven help me if we had this here in Manila. THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST DESSERTS EVER. http://www.bondisurfseafood.com.au/mars/mars_fr.htm)

Deep-fried Mars Bar Picture from http://grabyourfork.blogspot.com/2009/11/food-bloggers-birthday-and-mountain-of.html


Favorite Snack

Tim Tam Chewy Caramel (I love all Tim Tam snacks but this is my favorite! http://www.arnotts.com.au/our-products/products/arnotts-tim-tam.aspx)

Best Non-alcoholic Drink

Guylian Shake – Prailine and vanilla shake with guylian chocolate syrup from Sydney’s Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe (I’m addicted to sweets and milkshakes. I’ve tried numerous shakes all over and this tops my list – nothing comes close! http://www.guyliancafe.com.au/)

Best Alcoholic Drink

Jack Daniel’s Cola from Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast (I’m a Jack Daniel’s girl. I don’t drink beer but can have Jack Daniel’s for breakfast. So while we were shopping for drinks – my husband always tries different beers from different countries/cities – I found bottles of Jack Daniels Cola. MIXED! SOOOOOOO GOOD!!!!!! Expensive (around 17 aud for 4 bottles) but REALLY GOOD. On that note, I also found Johnny Walker Red Label Cola which sucked and Jim Beam Cola which was surprisingly good as well. One of my favorite discoveries = Jack Cola + Tim Tam Chewy Caramel!!! YUM!!!!)

Favorite Park/Zoo

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast (Staying true to it’s slogan you really “get closer” to the animals 😛  http://www.currumbin-sanctuary.org.au/ )

Favorite Tourist Spot

Sydney Opera House, Sydney (I always remember being a kid and seeing the Opera House for the first time. This was my 3rd time in Australia and my 3rd time to visit this and it always feels like the first time. As an added bonus we were also able to experience vivid sydney – http://vividsydney.com)

Favorite City

Gold Coast (I’m a bit biased but I’m really in love with Gold Coast – specifically Surfer’s Paradise. If I could I would live there!)

Favorite Australian Animal

Koalas (Most people would probably say the same too, I know my husband would – he’s obsessed with Koalas. My son on the other hand adores kangaroos. Even though he’s smaller than them he would go near them and try to pet them and play with them. Totally scary from a mother’s point of view but I’m sure it was fun for him.)

Australia will always be one of my favorite countries to visit. The cities we visited, I have been to 2x before so hopefully the next time around we get to see more of this beautiful country 🙂

Countdown to Australia (1 day to go!)

The day before leaving is always a MAJOR stress day for me. Besides last minute packing, errands and office work there are a couple of things that we try to accomplish before we leave:

  • make sure that we leave behind copies of our passports, visas & itinerary
  • leave duplicates of our house keys and car keys
  • take out the garbage
  • make sure that our refrigerator doesn’t have food that can spoil
  • make sure that all bills are paid
  • notify our building security that we will be gone for a while
  • (before we leave) unplug all appliances except for the refrigerator
  • talk to staff regarding work/payments that are lined up while we’re away
  • last minute preps of ipod, laptop, ebook reader

Before this day becomes a crazy day, I will relish in the excitement of it all! 24 hours to goooo!!!!!! Can’t wait! 🙂 See you Australia! 🙂

Countdown to Australia (2 days to go!)

Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”  ~Benjamin Disraeli

It has been 12 days since my last domestic flight and 54 days since my last international flight. I enjoyed April sorely because it was the only month since October that I didn’t have to get on a plane (and the next month I’ll be able to enjoy staying home will be in August). Our close friends know how much my husband and I love to travel. We actually made a vow not to travel that much this year but there is something about exploring new places and experiencing new cultures (regardless of whether or not we’ve been to a certain place before) that makes us still want to do it. And at this very moment, I cannot think of any other way to live. My husband laughs at me when I say that sometimes I feel like that’s what I was born to do (yes he laughs but I know he feels the same way!)

My son is turning 2 in July and I know sooner than I think we’ll have to lessen our travels considerably (since he will start school soon). It scares me a bit not to have that freedom to travel anymore. We’ll be limited to his summer and Christmas breaks and weekends. But then I think that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Then he’d be able to come with us to some of our travels. At this rate, he would probably be able to visit more countries than me since he’s 2 before 2! 🙂 I would always tell my husband that it would make me really happy if our son would learn how to love travel the way we do (hardly any shopping, hardly any tours – own time, happy with seeing and experiencing new cultures, happy with just eating and eating and eating, etc). I got the love for travel from my parents and I hope he gets his from us.

49 hours and we’ll be off once again. My husband’s excitement is starting to get to me. I’m counting the hours till I get to visit the Queen Victoria Market again, see the penguins at Phillip Island, relax at Surfers Paradise and visit Currumbin and Dreamworld, walk around Sydney and eat at the Sydney fish market. I know that my son is still too young to remember this trip but I hope this will be the start of our many adventures with him.

Countdown to Australia (3 days to go!)

As much as possible, I try to pack light. If I need anything, I could always just buy that thing when I get to my destination. Since I also pack for my husband and son, I bought an Ipod touch application that I use to make things easier (‘I love travel packing” application; I have been using this for more than a year)!  And even though I can pack our stuff with my eyes closed due to our frequent travels, the oc girl in me wants to use this just to be sure. Some people don’t like unpacking but I enjoy that more than packing for a trip.

I usually just pack around a day or 2 before a trip but since this is a long trip with my son, I had to start packing his stuff early this week – he has a completely different list. I will probably start packing mine and my husband’s tonight.

My packing list (autum/winter):

  • tickets
  • passport
  • hotel reservation voucher
  • house keys
  • credit cards
  • cash
  • prayer book
  • rosary
  • wallet
  • jeans/leggings
  • skirt
  • pangbahay/house clothes?
  • shirts (tank tops, sleeveless, polos, etc…shirts that can be used for layering)
  • undergarments
  • sweaters (1 or 2)
  • jacket (2 for this trip – 1 all around jacket, 1 thick jacket)
  • scarf
  • thermals
  • socks
  • belt
  • jewelry
  • eyeglasses
  • sunglasses
  • black flats for me
  • rubber shoes for my husband
  • toiletries (shampoo, soap, facial wash, off lotion, nail clippers, razor, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, tissue, moisturizer)
  • kikay stuff (I hardly have any so this just includes – my carmex lip balm, lip gloss, primer, blush, mascara)
  • medicines (a bit ocd when it comes to medicines -advil, amoxicillin, band aids, betadine, eyemo – 2 kinds, biogesic, bonamin, chloromycetin, claritin, vit c, vitamins, fibrosine, hydration salts, solmux, glucolyte, diatabs, kremil-s, buscopan)
  • gadgets (this unfortunately doesn’t fall under the “packing light” category! cellphones & chargers, cameras & chargers & card reader & memory cards & batteries & lenses (2-3 dslrs & 1 point and shoot), ipod touch & charger, laptop & charger, ebook reader & charger, gps & charger, psp & chargers, *new* portable tv & charger, tripod, filters, headphones (3 – mine, husband’s and son’s), travel adaptor)