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.

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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

**Warning – nothing in this post is budget!**

Last year I was lucky enough to get a leave pass from the family to go to Hong Kong with my mum & my sister. I have always wanted to go to Hong Kong & I am a little disappointed about not getting there before they closed the old airport (even though that was many years ago!). It’s been a long time since I have travelled without the kids so to be able to stay out late, eat at expensive restaurants, drink cocktails in sky high bars & shop in peace was just heaven. Not to mention the opportunity to stay at the Kowloon Shangri La, which was a highlight. I feel very lucky to have that experience  & I’m very thankful to my wonderful husband that made it possible.

We were in Hong Kong in May which is late Spring, it was very foggy for the duration of the trip. We were unable to clearly see the tops of the buildings when looking at the view from the Kowloon side. Whilst this was disappointing it didn’t really take anything away from the amazing view. The weather was warm, not overly muggy but the evenings I did require a light long sleeve top (oops, didn’t take anything suitable so had to go out & buy a couple!).

Some friends of ours in Melbourne had previously been to Hong Kong & had enough Octopus cards for all of us. The Octopus cards enable you to travel on the Metro Train Railway (MTR), which is the easiest way to get around Hong Kong. We purchased a train ticket from the airport to Kowloon & then caught the free bus service that drops the tourists to the hotels. We arrived at the Shangri La & managed to get a free room upgrade to a harbour facing room. We went up to our room & the curtains were drawn. I opened the curtains to the most amazing view. It was the first time I had seen Victoria Harbour in the flesh! No picture can explain how awesome that view is. I couldn’t get enough of it. If I was in the hotel room, I was in the window!

The view of Victoria Harbour from our window at the Kowloon Shangri La

The view of Victoria Harbour from our window at the Kowloon Shangri La

First night we hit a local restaurant for dinner (where we were informed that dim sum is really only for breakfast & lunch) then afterwards we hit Temple Market. We bought a few bits & pieces & got a feel for what things cost & practised our bartering! We walked back to the hotel down Nathan Rd. There was still plenty of people around even though we got back to the hotel at 11pm. I was surprised that most of the shops along Nathan Rd were still open.

Nathan Rd, after our visit to Temple Market

Nathan Rd, after our visit to Temple Market

First morning we were up & out early. We walked along the Avenue to Stars, taking in the view that I don’t think I could ever get enough of. We passed the Peninsula Hotel & on to catch the Star Ferry. We decided if we had enough time we would return to do the High Tea at the Peninsula, as it turned out we ran short of time. Put that on the list for next time!

View from our hotel window again!

View from our hotel window again!

My sister & I as we walked to the Star Ferry

Me & my sister as we walked to the Star Ferry

We caught the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island & jumped on the Big Red Bus tour which consisted of 2 routes. We started on the green route which took us to the Peak Lookout, Ocean Park, Repulse Bay, Stanley Market & Aberdeen. We also purchased the red route, the tours also includes the Peak Lookout, Man Mo Temple Lan Kwai Fong, Soho & Lascar Row. The Big Bus is a hop-on-hop-off bus & the buses are punctual & are at 30 minute intervals. It never felt like you were waiting long for a bus.

The Star Ferry

The Star Ferry

The Big Bus allows you to quickly get your bearings on such a fast city. We purchased both the green & red routes in a 24 hour period. If I were to do it again I would allow a day for each, if I had the time. We did the green route first which was wonderful but we didn’t allow enough time to do the red route. We ended up staying on the red route bus without getting off so that we could see all the sites as we were running out of time.

The Peak Tramway & Lookout was our first stop. It was fairly crowded & did take us a good half hour to get on the tram. Its a short but steep ride up, at times I was wondering if the tram was going to roll back down the hill! The view from the top is like nothing I have ever seen before. It was foggy & you couldn’t see across to the Kowloon side but it was still the most amazing city sky line I have ever seen. There’s plenty of souvenir shopping at the lookout & various restaurants.

The Peak Tramway

The Peak Tramway

The view from the Peak Lookout

The view from the Peak Lookout

The 3 amigos! At the Peak Lookout

The 3 amigos! At the Peak Lookout

From there we got back on our Big Red Bus & headed out to Stanley Markets. The drive out to the market takes you past Happy Valley, Ocean Park & Repulse Bay. Once you get out of town its surprising how pretty& green the island is on the other side. The market itself is small & there’s no bartering & there were plenty of tourists around. Most of the markets had similar products & I found the cheapest prices to be a temple market.

Repulse Bay

Repulse Bay

We rushed back from Stanley Market to get on the red route bus as we were running short of time & had paid for both. We stayed on the bus for the whole circuit which gave us a good overview of the island for when we returned later in our holiday.

Stanley Market

Stanley Market

Day 3 included a day trip to Macau. The concierge at the Kowloon Shangri La organised for our ferry tickets, a private driver, dinner at a Portuguese restaurant & tickets to The House of Dancing Water held at the Grand Hyatt. We booked Superclass on the way over & economy for the trip home. Superclass included food & refreshment. My advice, eat before you get on!

The ferry from Hong Kong to Macau

The ferry from Hong Kong to Macau

Upon arrival we were greeted at the ferry terminal after exiting immigration & taken to our driver Mario. We paid Mario on arrival, 1500HKD ($200AUD) for a private vehicle for 6 hrs & Mario dropped us back in time for our return ferry (I have details for booking Mario if anyone is interested, I have booked him again for October 2014).  Mario took us to the main sites of Macau including St Paul cathedral ruins, the Fortress, A-Ma Temple, Macau Tower, The Venetian & various other casinos & to Lord Stows for a famous egg tart. The egg tart was amazing, I could have eaten 10 of them! We were then dropped at the Grand Hyatt for the House of Dancing Water show. The tickets were a little pricey but it was well worth the money we spent. The show is similar to Cirque du Soleil but on water, don’t want to say to much here & spoil it for anyone planning on going. Mario then dropped us at Miramar Portuguese restaurant for a traditional Portuguese meal. After dinner we were dropped back at the Macau Ferry Terminal for our return ferry to Hong Kong. Economy class return was fine, it was very quite as it was 10pm & most people including ourselves had a little sleep.

St Paul's Ruins

St Paul’s Ruins

St Paul's Ruins from the front

St Paul’s Ruins from the front

Macau Tower

Macau Tower

A-Ma Temple

A-Ma Temple

Mum & I in the private vehicle

Mum & I in the private vehicle

Yum famous egg custard tarts

Yum famous egg custard tarts

The Venetian Casino

The Venetian Casino

Show at the Grand Hyatt

Show at the Grand Hyatt

The House of Dancing Water

The House of Dancing Water

Day 4 we spent shopping. We were given a card for a fantastic jeweller in Hong Kong. After picking myself up a pair of diamond earrings (for Mothers Day) & a fairly flashy diamond ring (for our 10th wedding anniversary that was later in the year) my wallet was some what lighter! All three of us walked out with a ring & pair of diamond earrings of some description. The jeweller called & booked us a table at a dim sum restaurant, the food was delicious but the view from the window seat he booked us was just as amazing.

We spent the rest of day 4 shopping at the various shopping complexes on both Kowloon & Hong Kong Island. I managed to get a watch for my husband for our 10th wedding anniversary & got a computer hard drive that he had asked me to look for, from Wan Chai. The Computer Centre in Wan Chai is overwhelming! Its ridiculously cheap but best you know your prices, barter hard & don’t purchase from the first store. I’m going to get myself a GoPro from there in October when I return to Hong Kong.

Trams on Hong Kong Island

Trams on Hong Kong Island

Shoe shopping at Vickies

Shoe shopping at Vickies

That evening we headed off to Wooloomooloo to drink cocktails & watch the Symphony of Lights show from the balcony. The light show wasn’t as spectacular as I had been expecting but this could have been a result of the weather, as stated earlier it was very foggy. You can see from the photos below.

The view from Wooloomooloo balcony

The view from Wooloomooloo balcony

View with the Symphony of Lights

View with the Symphony of Lights

Cocktails on the balcony

Cocktails on the balcony

Day 5 Disneyland!!!! Fighting back my guilt about going to Disneyland without my kids, we arrived early for a full day of fun. My sister & I are, lets say, about late 30’s. As we ended the gates of Disneyland mum says ‘this is wonderful, I always wanted to take you kids to Disneyland!’. I was a first timer & strangely enough I felt like a kid again. Mum & my sister have been to Disneyland California. I went on all the tame rides (I’m not really a rides person) & mum insisted we went on It’s a Small World. You can’t go to Disneyland without going on the teacups!

Disneyland entrance

Disneyland entrance

Inside Disneyland

Inside Disneyland

It's a Small World

It’s a Small World

Aussie Its a Small World

Aussie Its a Small World

Disney Band

Disney Band

Disneyland train

Disneyland train

I waited an hour to have my photo taken with Minnie Mouse, the other characters had queues waiting the same time period so I settled on just one for the kids. I would have loved to get one with Mickey Mouse as well but suppose we can all do that this year when we are there as a family. It was strange that the queues were so long as the park its self didn’t seem at all that busy. The only queues we waited in were for the photo.

All of us with Minnie Mouse

All of us with Minnie Mouse

Mickey & Minnie Mouse, ahh love!!

Mickey & Minnie Mouse, ahh love!!

Late in the afternoon we had a massive storm hit Disneyland. The rain was so heavy, everyone ran to the nearest Disney Stores. This of course forced everyone to do there gift shopping at the same time. The rain didn’t stop so we purchased poncho’s & headed to the train station. Not a great move as nearly every other person was doing the same thing. There was a major crush with all the people trying to get out of the rain & into the train station. Many people were panicking as there kids were getting pushed & shoved. I was worried mum was going to get knocked over so I was holding her hand as hard as I could so no one would get between us. Once through the turnstiles things settled down as everyone dispersed along the platform.

Mum & I in our poncho's

Mum & I in our poncho’s

Day 6 was a real eye opener & a  huge learning curve on bartering.  With a couple of Aussie Expat we know from our employment, we caught the train, 1st class from Hong Hum to Lo Wu & entered China to go shopping at Shenzhen. You are able to get visa’s at Lo Wu & it took us no more than half an hour to organise.  I had heard a lot of stories about people getting mugged in Shenzhen so I think I was a bit over cautious. Luckily I had no issues in regards to that. Luckily we had the expats with us, if we didn’t I think we would have struggled with the bartering. The expats had been there plenty of times before so if they gave a ridiculous price they would tell us to keep moving. There was knock offs in every possible product you could buy. I bought a couple of things but didn’t go made. I had a cashmere winter jacket tailor made, that was posted to me back in Melbourne about 5 weeks later with 3 suits my sister had tailor made. Both Chinese Yuan Renminbi & Hong Kong Dollars are widely accepted in Shenzhen.   The expats left early & we stayed back & did a little bit more shopping, we got ripped off on a couple of things but hey that’s the game! I’m happy with what I paid & they saw me coming!!! We left after dark & I think if I was going to go again I would leave before dark. Nothing happened I just felt a bit uneasy as the train station seemed to have a lot of people just hanging around & begging.

Mum & I at Shenzhen Train Station in China

Mum & I at Shenzhen Train Station in China

On our way back to Hong Kong with all our shopping

On our way back to Hong Kong with all our shopping

That evening the 3 of us went for foot massages at Top Comfort Massage recommended to us by the concierge at the Kowloon Shangri La. After all the walking we had done it was fantastic, I thought I was in heaven with just the right amount of ouch as well!

Mum & I at Top Comfort getting ready for our foot massage

Mum & I at Top Comfort getting ready for our foot massage

Day 7 we headed off to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island. We walked up all the stairs to the Big Buddha & had a look at the all the souvenir shops at the top. The view from the top was well worth the pain of getting up all the stairs. Who I am to moan when my 70 year old mother made it up no worries. Mum was amazing she kept up, no problem, with the cracking pace we set for her throughout the whole trip. There are a few restaurants at the Big Buddha & we had dim sum at Ngong Ping Garden Restaurant.   The quickest way to the Big Buddha is on a cable car & its well worth is as the views are amazing, so green & lush. There’s a walking track that you can take but it would take a good few hours if not more to get to the Big Buddha.

The Big Buddha from the Cable Cars

The Big Buddha from the Cable Cars

Ngong Ping Village

Ngong Ping Village

Mum the trooper coming up the stairs

Mum the trooper coming up the stairs

View from the top of the Big Buddha

View from the top of the Big Buddha

That evening, which was our final night in Hong Kong, I had booked a table at the world renown restaurant  Aqua. Aqua is located on the Kowloon side, its located on the 30th floor at 1 Peking Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui. It has floor to ceiling windows with the most amazing view of the harbour. When booking request a table in the window & book for 7.30pm so that you are front & centre for the Symphony of Lights show.  I booked at least a month earlier via the internet to ensure we got a window table. The restaurant is rather pricey but it was well worth the money that we spent.

Amazing view from Aqua

Amazing view from Aqua

Three celebratory champagnes

Three celebratory champagnes

Best view in town

Best view in town

Day 8, our last day in Hong Kong. I like birds so was looking forward to visiting the Hong Kong Gardens to walk through the open air aviary. The aviary was amazing, there was a large variety of birds, the most amazing thing was listening to the birds but looking up to be surrounded by skyscrapers. It was a great experience. We then returned to Stanley Market to pick up a few things that we had seen earlier but thought we would see elsewhere but didn’t. The bus trip out there was worth the second trip so it was nice to take it in again.

Hong Kong Park Bird Aviary

Hong Kong Park Bird Aviary

We returned to the Kowloon Shangri La & freshened up for our 8.30pm flight, we were able to use the Health Club for showers & changing as we had checked out that morning. Due to the amount of shopping us ladies had done, we had a couple of extra suitcases compared to when we arrived. Ringo the head concierge at the hotel organised for us to get a limousine back to the airport. Ringo was amazing, he was the icing on the cake of our fantastic trip. There was nothing he couldn’t organise for us. When we arrived at the airport, he had also organised for a porter to meet us & help us with our luggage to check in.

Last drinks at the Kowloon Shangri La

Last drinks at the Kowloon Shangri La

As I stated at the beginning there is nothing budget about this holiday & I was very lucky to be able to have had this experience as it would not have been possible if I had of gone with my husband & kids. We cramped as much as humanly possible into 8 days but strangely enough I think there was plenty that we missed. Lucky for me, I am returning to Hong Kong in October 2014 with my family & I will check a couple of other things off my to-do list. I will be returning to Macau & Disneyland but everything else will be new to me also so that we can explore as a family.

Until next time, keep traveling!

Sal.

Sunrise from our Qantas flight

Sunrise from our Qantas flight

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