• Review – Shangri-La Hotel Singapore

    Since my very first stay at a Shangri-La Hotel I’ve known that they are different to other hotel chains, they’re better! I now refer to it as...

  • SFI

    Top Things to do in Tokyo with Kids

    I’ve been reflecting on my trip to Japan as it is nearly a whole 12 months since we departed! I was so unbelievably excited to be going...

  • SFI

    Top things to do in Rome with Kids

    Nowadays there is a world of opportunity available to families to experience something new. Regardless of the age of your kids, nothing will entertain them more than...

  • SFI

    Top things to do in Langkawi with Kids

    For a short stay in Langkawi, we managed to fit a lot in. It’s a beautiful island and surprisingly they pack a punch with things to do...

  • Langkawi Sunset Dinner Cruise

    On our last night with Naturally Langkawi we were treated to a Langkawi sunset dinner cruise on the Blue Dolphin departing from the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club...

No trip to Borneo is complete without a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, so its number 1 on my to do list for our trip to Borneo in October 2014.

I contacted a couple of travel agents we have used previously for quotes for the day trip to Sepilok & both returned with similar costs of approximately $2,600 (AUD) for 2 adults & 3 kids. That’s more than our flights combined or our accommodation for a week in Borneo & whilst I was really keen to do the tour I just couldn’t justify spending that amount of money on a day trip. Immediately I thought there has to be a cheaper way!

First stop Lonely Planet travel guide, can it be done? Yes it can. The Lonely Planet Guide outlined costs & transportation options for getting to Sepilok on public transport, it looked do-able although I was starting to get concerned about how I would manage it all with the 3 kids in tow aged 9,7,5 years old. I didn’t want to make life more difficult that it needs to be. I felt I needed to look into this more.

Next step, hours spent searching on the internet. I came across a booking site, Viator, they were advertising day tours for $156 if you booked months in advance. Bingo, perfect, I gladly booked & paid, I was pretty happy thinking I secured a massive saving of about $2,000. The confirmation notification was taking a long time to arrive in my inbox. Each time I logged on to Viator my booked was flagged as pending, even though they had already debited my credit card. After 2 weeks I called the 1300 number & was connected with a Viator operator in America. He advised that the booking was still pending as the tour operator had not yet confirmed. No worries, he said it shouldn’t be too much longer. After a few more days I received an email from Viator.

The email advised that my booking had been placed on hold  as the airfares for the tour had not been included in the stated price & if I wanted to go ahead with the booking it would be $2,600! Apparently flights from Kota Kinabula to Sandikan for 5 people cost $1,900……! I promptly cancelled that booking (my payment will be returned in no more than 10 days, meaning they had my $700 for nearly a month).

My husband checked out the flights for me & found that if we booked them direct the return flights for all 5 of us were under $300.  We booked those flights. I then googled ‘private drivers in Sandikan’, a number of different hits come up.

I came across Sabah Trips, they have a Facebook page so I contacted them through Facebook. I outlined that there are 5 people & what I wanted to include in my day trip, Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sun Bear Rehabilitation Centre which has just opened, Probicious Monkey feeding & the War memorial. The reply was very prompt, within half an hour with a price of 300RM (under $100AUD).  That was per day & we could do whatever we wanted to do during that time. Booked, done, so now I have all my transport booked & confirmed for under $400 instead of $2,600. The private drivers from Sabah Trips, pick you up & drop you off at the airport.

The Lonely Planet Guide lists all the entry costs for the places that I wish to visit. My expectation is to allow $100-$200 for entry fees. Even if its a little bit more I’m happy I have still saved $2,000 that I can spend on other things. I will probably take food for the kids as it will be much easier than finding something they will eat. I am sure the private driver will have some favourites he/she might want to take us to.

It continues to amaze me how much money you can save if you do your research & are prepared to go it alone! Lets hope it all runs smoothly, I will repost after our experience with tons of pictures of all the monkeys & bears.

Happy travels.

Sal.

 

 

 

In an earlier post I discussed our flights for our upcoming trip to S.E.Asia & how I managed to travel to 3 different countries for all 5 of us, for under $2,500. In this post I will discuss our accommodation choices.

Travelling with 5 people is very expensive when you have to book hotels, so much so that for us its not within our budget. I have avoided traveling overseas until now for this very reason. Until a girl at work told me about Airbnb.

Airbnb is a website where people rent out accommodation including apartments, private rooms, boats, manors, castles even private islands. It lists 500,000 options in 192 different countries. Each property has a host that you liaise with direct & their profile provides feedback for you to review before booking. The reviews will advise you of any issues to do with location, transport options, cleanliness & lodging that may have been overstated in there advertising. Nothing worse than arriving somewhere & it looks nothing like what you thought you had booked & paid for.

Airbnb has a very user friendly app for iPhones & Android & can also be accessed via a website. I viewed & booked all our accommodation through the iPhone app. All users are required to go through the verification process  which requires you to provide identification & contact details. Hosts will not approve your applications until the verification process is complete.

I started looking at apartments in Hong Kong & Kuala Lumpur. Last year when I had a girls trip to Hong Kong with my mum & sister, we shared a room at the Kowloon Shangri La & it cost us $3,000.  That was for 3 of us sharing a room, it would be double that for 2 rooms to accommodate 5 people. I looked at other hotels that were 3 star but it still worked out to be really expensive, due to the requirement of 2 rooms.

The Kowloon Shangri La Hotel was in a great location in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST), I loved being so close to everything & especially the MTR. When I started looking at apartments on AirBNB my hope was that we would find something in TST. I spoke to a number of hosts of various apartments & prices. I then come across a small apartment with 1 master bedroom & a pull out couch that makes a double bed. The apartment is very small & I am aware of that, I am not expecting it to be the Taj Mahal. We wont be spending much time there as we are going to Macau, Disneyland HK, Ocean Park, Stanley Market & a day to explore Hong Kong Island. Why spend a lot of money when all we are going to do is sleep there!

This particular apartment is in TST & ticks all the boxes for me & best of all its 5 mins walk to TST station. I chatted back & forth to the host & eventually booked this lovely apartment. It has wifi, refrigerator,  bathroom & a lift in the building. All for $680 for 6 nights, yes that’s correct under $100 a night for 5 people in a prime location. I could not be happier.

I then started to focus on Kuala Lumpur, a friend told me the best places to stay is the Golden Triangle or Bukit Bintang as its very central for food & shopping. So again I checked out all the reviews & liaised with the host. I decided on an apartment very central in the Golden Triangle. My application was accepted & the host forwarded me the apartment details. To my amazement the apartment is a penthouse!! Now I’m chuffed.

So I have myself an apartment penthouse in prime location in Kuala Lumpur for $245 for 2 nights, again you would never be able to get a hotel for that prices. These prices also include a cleaner that cleans the apartment on your departure.

So far I’m pretty impressed with everything to do with Airbnb. I will post again with how it went on our return.  I am very positive about my contact with the hosts. Both have provided information on getting from the airport to the apartment. They have advised they will meet & greet us, details to be confirmed closer to the date of travel.

I wont tell you about my accommodation choice in Borneo as this is my little splurge! This is when my big birthday falls & we have gone all out with another Shangri La experience. However I will take loads of pics & post from there.

Happy travels.

Sal.

In July 2013, our family spent a long weekend at Phillip Island. I bought a 2 night/3 days package off Scoopon. Scoopon offers daily deals from various companies offering food, drink, travel & shopping specials. On this occasion the deal was for a 3 bedroom villa at the Ramada Resort for a maximum of 6 people.  I paid $330 for the whole package that included a complimentary bottle of wine & various discounts for sightseeing attractions in the area.

Read More

I have a big birthday coming up in October & I always wanted to spend it in America, take the kids to Disneyland & visit Las Vegas & New York. As the date was getting closer I came to the conclusion that with the kids ages at the moment & the fact that they are exceptionally small for their ages (eg. 7 year old is the size of a 4 year old!) I decided this was not going to be the best option for us. We went to Queensland for the theme parks at Christmas & the kids were not tall enough to go on most of the rides which left me standing around holding bags & watching 1 or 2 of the kids most of the time while Dad & the eldest went on the rides. That wasn’t much fun for all of us.

So with much thought I have decided to delay the big US trip until the kids are teenagers, another 5 years. This will mean that we will all get the maximum out of the trip which is what I had envisioned. Then come the questions ‘What to do for this big birthday that I have always wanted to spend overseas?’ I decided the best option was to go to Disneyland Hong Kong. This means the kids will get the wow factor that I really wanted to achieve & as this park is aimed for the younger kids they will be able to go on most rides & get the most out of it.

I am really excited about taking the kids to S.E.Asia & of course a little apprehensive also. The itinerary is: 6 nights in Hong Kong, 2 nights in Kuala Lumpur & 6 nights in Kota Kinabula with a day trip to Sandikan to visit the orang-utans. As we have a family of 5 the usual options of flying Qantas & staying in nice hotels was not an option. Flights are very expensive going anywhere from Australia but that’s something we are all use to & there are a number of budget airlines coming into the market.

A few years ago budget carrier Air Asia began operating from Australia. I have had many friends travel with them & I have not heard that many bad reports. The resounding advice is its a budget carrier expect budget. I’m good with budget, I can do budget for 8 hours if it saves me $2000 to put towards my holiday. Air Asia have ridiculously cheap flights from Australia compared with all the other mainstream carriers. We booked our flights approximately 12 months in advance (a long time to look forward to something!), we got return flights from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur for all 5 of us for under $1,600! Yes that’s correct, not a typo, under $1,600, I had the main flights booked & paid for. We hadn’t really decided exactly where we wanted to go so we were checking out different places & were happy to be flexible & go with cheap flights. I was looking at Penang, flights from Kuala Lumpur to Penang were $27 return, I was pretty happy with that. Then I thought Borneo, wonder how much those flights are? I looked at flights with Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo & to my utter amazement, the flights were $19 return…. No kidding, all 5 of us return with luggage for under $200, now I had my second leg booked.

I had been to Hong Kong last year & thought that Disneyland Hong Kong would be much more suitable for my kids due to their age & size. So back on the Air Asia site & start checking flights from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong. I was able to book flights from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur for $440, that’s less than $100 per person with luggage. At the time of booking the flights from Kuala Lumpur were expensive so I thought I would hold off booking those until another time, hey I had 12 months to book & surely some cheaper flights would become available. At this stage, I still have not booked those flights but at worst they are going to be $800 for the 5 of us but I still have some time & am happy to wait until last minute.

The total of all flights booked so far for all 5 of us is just under $2,200. Now I think that’s exceptional value for money. Everyone I have spoken to have said they are a budget airline, so are Jetstar & I have flown with them a dozen times & been very happy. I will pre-order meals for the kids as its the cheapest way, meals are dirt cheap, around a few dollars each (I am yet to do that) & we will take the kids iPods & iPad’s for entertainment. This is what I usually do on flights anyway as they are much happier playing with their own things. We will download a few movies & take a few packets of lollipops for the ears & they will be fine. I also booked day flights as my experience so far is that my kids don’t sleep well in cars & I would much prefer to lose a day then keep the whole plane up with them screaming out in their sleep.

Sarah from Fit_Travels recently blogged about Air Asia, her blog discusses the option of pre-purchasing an extra seat for $30. The seat is not guaranteed & if you do not get a spare seat your money is returned minus $1. I’m going to do this for both legs to & from Kuala Lumpur as the extra space will be so handy for us. You can see more about it on the Air Asia website.

I will revisit this post on our return & see if my special birthday trip unfolded as I have envisioned it. I’m really excited & a little bit nervous about our trip. Most of all I am hopeful that our kids will return with knowledge that not everyone is as lucky to live in a country like Australia. Hopefully it will open their eyes to that fact that they are very lucky to have all the things that they have, how better to learn that than to travel to Asia were people are a lot less fortunate than us.

Until next time, happy travels.

Sal.

On the March long weekend we decided that we hadn’t been up to the Murray River for a while. The Murray River divides 2 Australian States, Victoria & New South Wales. Its a very popular holiday spot for Melbournians & Victorians alike. Read More