31 Jan 2016
Posted by: Rajiv in: Travel & Vacation
When the plane touches down in Thailand, the mind is set on 2 things: Thai food & Thai massage! Yes, there is a long queue for the visa, the taxi will overcharge, and the traffic is congested. Yet good food & a hearty massage make for a great day in Bangkok.
In a recent short trip to the land of the free (Thai means free, hence land of the free is Thailand), besides the usual indulgence in the sour & spicy Thai flavours the new experience was the Suki, Thai-version of the Chinese hotpot.
The concept of Thai Suki is simple- Every table has a gas or electrically heated pot of broth & ingredients such as vegetables, meat, sea food, noodles can be ordered to choice. The ingredients are cooked in the broth & dipped in a spicy sauce to make for variety of tastes. The broth turns into a nice soup with flavours from the ingredients such as a tinge of sweetness from the corn, the earthy flavours of the mushroom, amazing aromas of celery… Spring onions, Bok Choy, Pumpkin, Carrots, Lotus Roots, Chrysanthemum were some of other vegetables on offer.
We made it to the MK restaurant around 6.30pm on a weekday & the occupancy was close to the capacity of 30-odd tables, primarily locals. As it turned out later, MK is a popular chain of over 300 Suki restaurants operating in multiple countries. The other option is Coca Suki, who are the original creators of the concept in the late-50s.
On other news from this trip: I was accompanied by a friend who was visiting Thailand for the first time. He violated the basic rule of ordering food in Thailand – “never ask for spicy food”. The chef did bloody well to more than meet the request!!!
Though a long time resident of Bangalore in India, Tamil is my mother tongue. Over the years of travel, a few interesting experiences:
Context: Cafeteria in Paris, France @ Lunch time
With the lunch tray in hand, am standing in the queue to pay at the counter. From nowhere, I heard a voice “Eppadi irukkirikal” (meaning “how are you”). First time in Paris and only a couple of colleagues whom I had just met, for that minute I was sure something was wrong in my head and am listening non-existent voices. As I recovered from the shock, the smiling lady at the counter introduced herself as having come from Pondicherry, India and hence Tamil speaking! Pondy was a French colony.
Context: Hotel room in Paris, France @ 7pm on a freezing Monday
Pizza craving had set in. Just for some kicks, decided to rehearse French to order. After some time of “livraison domicile s’il vous plait” (meaning “home delivery please”) and more practice, called a local pizza place. The patient order taker on the other side worked through my broken French accent and managed to take my order. Towards the end, he asked for my full name. I was in half the mind to question the need for full name yet just decided to give in. The guy repeated my name and then says “sir tamil ah?!!” (meaning “are you Tamil”) Dumbstruck! Turns out he is of Sri Lankan origin, coming from Tamil-speaking Jaffna, north of SL.
Context: Nasi Kandar restaurant in Shah Alam, Malaysia @ Lunch time
Nasi Kandar is Malaysian dish-rice with variety of curries and sides. Typically, the restaurants are quick self-service restaurants. One afternoon, with 2 Malaysian colleagues we headed to one of these for lunch. After serving our plates and paying at the counter, we took our seats. One of my colleagues, called the waiter and requested for something (can’t exactly recall what it was). After a couple of failed attempts, I pitched in and spoke Tamil to the waiter knowing well most of them were either from Tamil Nadu, India or conversant in Tamil. How many times does a foreigner get to help locals communicate!
Tamil is the official language of Sri Lanka and Singapore, besides India.
24 May 2015
Posted by: Rajiv in: Travel & Vacation
Looking forward to the long weekend in May, I was exploring options to head out “somewhere” in the Philippines. After Puerto Princesa, Palawan in December with family and Boracay in February with friends, now was time for a solo outing.
The craving for white water rafting got better off others and it was Cagayan de Oro in the south. CDO, as it is called in short, is part of Mindanao, one of 3 island groups in the country.
Getting There: On the Friday morning, I reached the domestic terminal in Manila for the Cebu Pacific owned Tigerair flight. Cebu Pacific has since renamed Tigerair Philippines to CebGo. The flight was delayed by a few minutes but that didn’t bother me much, I just wanted to relax and go along with the flow. Cebu Pacific is popular for the onboard fun games, probably reflecting the spirit of Filipinos. It seems the Tigerair subsidiary doesn’t share the same culture. However, they did hand out a bag of free samples of some useful cosmetics such as face wash and sun screens.
Picturesque landings are a common affair in the Philippines with runaways close to the waters. Landing at the Laguindingan airport was no different. With only hand baggage, I was out in a jiffy to be welcomed to the cacophony of operators peddling the shuttle to Cagayan de Oro city, a 40km ride for 200 pesos. Private taxis are instantly available; expect to pay about 600 pesos.
Staying: Seda and Limketkai are locally owned luxury hotels. After I discovered Tune hotels had a property, I didn’t look further. Booking it through Kaligo gave the opportunity to earn a few miles. Unlike the Tune hotel in Kuala Lumpur’s low-cost terminal (now shifted to KLIA2) where air conditioning and towels had to be purchased separately, I was pleasantly surprised to have them all packaged in the price of 1500 PHP here.
Going Around: After a quick bite at Mang Inasal, I took a taxi to visit 2 places in the mountains. Mapawa Nature Park and Malasag Eco-Tourism Village. Malasag is visiting home to some of indigenous tribes who seem to have least influenced by the 400 years of colonial rule. They sell hand man crafts and perform tradition dance at 4:30pm. There is small aviary, not the best I have seen. I did manage to see the national bird, Philippine Eagle albeit in captivity. The cafe has some spectacular views of the city, the waters and the mountains in the other islands, reminding of the views of Bergen, Norway from Mt. Floyen
The next day began with yummy stack of pancakes at Circa 1850, independent restaurant yet sorta attached to Tune hotel. Bugsay rafting turned up a hour late to pick me and others from the hotel. I preferred with advance version, after all I can claim to be an experienced rafting junkie with runs at river Cauvery, Sita and the mighty Ganga ;-) I had to settle for the basic version to go with group. So here it was, my first Jeepney ride from the hotel to the starting point on the Cagayan de Oro river.
The 14 km rafting with about 13 rapids of maximum grade level of 4 guided by the pros was fun, leaving ample time for small talks and soaking in the views. Living in this country, you realize the role of volcanoes and see plenty of evidences dating back millions of years, not in museums but in the outdoors.
City of golden friendship is title given to CDO just as Bangalore is city of gardens which it is not anymore! I usually don’t believe in such tags but guess what! A couple from Zamboanga was on a road trip around the island. I met them at the hotel and we were together in the rafting group. They were really nice to invite me to join them post-rafting for a drive.
Philippines is the second largest exporter of Pineapples in the world. Del Monte has an entire civilization built around Pineapple farms with golf courses and an air strip for private planes. I did have an inclination to visit the place and the Dahilayan Adventure Park in the area. However, I had saved it for a future trip with the wife and little one or friends since a drive were the only viable option. Thanks to the warm Filipino couple, I had the opportunity to visit these places.
Dahilayan Adventure Park is an amazing fun place creativity done with tons of activities for all ages. I was amazed somebody made up such a business so far from the city in a not so prime island group of Mindanao. But then it seems to be working well, the place was bubbling with activity.
After a good night sleep and another nice breakfast, it was time to fly back to civilization.
Blame my phone crash, no pictures!!!
28 Feb 2015
Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines form a political & economical association referred to as Association of South-East Asian Nations i.e ASEAN.
AirAsia has a launched pre-paid ASEAN pass for about Rs 10,000 ($160) valid for 30 days and 10 credits. The 60 days/20 credits version is Rs 18000 ($290). Taxes and add-ons such as check-in bags need to be paid when you book the actual flights.
A one-way flight between any 2 destinations in these countries will require either 1 or 3 credits. The way it works is you buy the pass & redeem the credits to book the flights
The details are well-laid out here.
From India, AirAsia flies to Kuala Lumpur from 6 cities (Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Trichy) and a return ticket should be anywhere between Rs 10,000-15000. If you are flexible with dates and patient to book way in advance, look out for the periodic sale for some sweet deals.
Adding up an additional Rs 5,000-10,000 for taxes/add-ons + Rs 5,000-10,000 for visas, one can fly around South-East Asia for just about Rs 30,000-45,000.
This is a great product from AirAsia leveraging its wide network in the region.
30 Dec 2014
One of the travel highlights of 2014 is the surprise family vacation to The Leela, Kovalam. The experience surpassed all our expectations and even inspired a friend to plan along the same lines.
Now, the carpet is being laid out for 2015 with The Leela Luxury sale 2015
- The 5 city properties in Bangalore, Chennai, Gurgaon, Mumbai & Delhi are offering a 20% off on basic rooms (including breakfast) & 30% off on the higher end suites.
- The 3 resort properties in Udaipur, Kovalam, Goa are offering a free night on bookings of 3 to 7 nights. The free nights in Goa & Kovalam have been matched along with the season & off-season periods.
Details are available here. Bookings have to be made by 5th Jan 2015 using the promo code LEELA2015. The booking engine did not seem to work as expected when I tried.
Important to be aware that this offer comes with breakfast only. At the The Leela Kovalam & Goa, lunch & dinner buffets typically cost Rs 1300-1900 for adults and half of that for children. I am not aware of any worthy restaurants around them so you will depend on the restaurants inside the resorts. Alternatively, The Leela Moments (here & here) offer is all meals & airport transfer inclusive. If you are on the fence, our 2014 experience was booked under this at ~Rs 11k including taxes.
As always, don’t forget to call the hotel desk for more. You may discover something more or interesting as I have in the past.
For points aficionados, The Leela group is part of GHA, Global Hotel Alliance that can earn you loyalty points. The staff at Kovalam had no clue about this though!
Many years back I happened to visit the office of a travel agency. One of the posters caught my attention. It was a long shot composed of lush green mountains with a water-filled deep & narrow valley. A ship in the long spanse of still waters that looked tiny from the distance. The picture stayed with me forever. It was such a mystic, as if it could never exist in real.
Along the way, I somehow figured that was Norway. Yet I never explored online or looked up travel opportunities even after I had got travel savvy: hunting travel deals & doing vacations on a steal. Such was the feeling.
Earlier this year I happened to visit Sweden on a solo business travel. Just a month later, we were a feet above the ground when we figured an opportunity. Out came a 10 day itinerary covering a part of Scandinavia – Stockholm, of course Norway & Copenhagen. I had written about the itinerary & how we made it a few months back.
After a few days in Stockholm, we entered Norway by SJ, the Swedish national train operator. Without seat numbers, insufficient air ventilation & a coughing & sneezing co-passenger, it wasn’t the best few hours inside the black and rugged coach but lovely countryside outside.
— Rajiv Renganathan (@rajspace) July 14, 2014
Bottom line? Norway exists! More to follow…
Meanwhile, enjoy this funny take on Norway by stand-up comedian Daniel-Ryan Spaulding
I and my family & friends are enjoying the plethora of discounts & free rides that Uber has been offering. The technology is disruptive i.e it can break existing economics of the transportation business. Much as been said and written about Uber so I am not repeating them.
What triggered this post, in the news that a women was alleged sexually assaulted by a Uber cab driver in Delhi last night. It is suspected the driver was not the same person registered with Uber. This incident, irrespective of the outcome, is going to bring up questions & debates on the Uber model. Arguments will fly in both ways. Uber will probably have to:
- Tighten the relationship with drivers
- Authenticate that the driver is “actually” the same person registered with them. Probably, a finger print reader attached to the app used by driver.
- Let users decide the minimum expected rating of drivers who are assigned
- Start phone-based customer service
In my experience, most of the drivers have been disciplined. In a couple of instances when I was not very happy & shared a feedback with Uber, I got back a canned response that did not instill confidence.
These are the learnings in the journey of an emerging business.
(If you want to try Uber, you can use this link that will get both us some free credits)
My tryst with Accor hotels began in the early 2009 in Paris with stays in Novotel & then switched to the preferred Suite Novotel. While Novotel is good for short stays of less than a week, Suite Novotel is cosy for long stays. Also, a couple of times in Ibis when I wanted to stay inside the awesomeness of Paris with the wife. Ibis Styles Jarva in Stockholm was colorful while Novotel Barcelona City was classy. Ibis Bencoolen Singapore was awesome value for money. More recently, the stay in the long aspired Accor’s luxury chain, Sofitel by the Manila bay in Philippines was a memorable experience.
Along the way, I moved up the status levels in Accor’s loyalty program called Le Club & accumulated a lot of points.
The stay in the contemporary Mercure Stoller in Zurich during our short vacation to Switzerland was a cool redemption. Lovely stay & champagne breakfast while making the vacation sweeter on the pockets.
It is a well-known fact among seasoned travelers that just staying & paying hotels like a goodie boy isn’t enough! Following and signing up for promotions makes the big difference between a decent balance & an awesome stash.
- I managed the highest platinum status from a promo and not from the “loyalty”!
- One promo “earn 3x the points” in June 2012 added 20% to the overall collection
- Accor has no hotels in Norway & Denmark while the thought was to burn the Accor points in the Scandinavia trip. The negative surprise didn’t mean staying in hostels! A status match from Accor Platinum to Club Carlson Gold Elite did wonders
13 Aug 2014
Travel: “Fly to Singapore for Free” by Tiger Airways
Stay: Not big deals on the table. For now, Avoiding early-mover’s curse in hotel bookings & wait to catch the last-minute deals. Subscribe for updates on hotel opportunities as they emerge
Window of opportunity:
Bangalore, Hyderabad Kochi: Available now
Chennai, Tiruchirappalli: Hopefully soon
Book air tickets online on TigerAirways
- On booking a return ticket, the onward journey is free but airport taxes to be paid
- Travel from 16-Sep-2014 to 5-Dec-2014 and 26-Jan-2015 to 25-Mar-2015
- As per the official announcement the offer is only for HDFC credit, debit & prepaid card & prices starting Rs 7,499. I don’t find those fares yet & the available prices do not seem restricted to HDFC cards!
- 10 Best Free Things To Do in Singapore by Shivya Nath
|What is this: Based on ongoing or upcoming travel deals, I design & share a “travel opportunity”, an exciting travel experience that doesn’t pinch the wallet. The intent is to seed a travel idea in your minds & give you a little headstart. You will have to make your own bookings. If this indeed helps, I will be happy to hear to a word of thanks on Facebook or Twitter. Questions are welcome too.
What is this not:This is NOT a package tour. This is NOT a sponsored post. I am NOT a travel agent or tour operator.
While this is how it all started, flying is just one of the many ways to earn miles. Credit card spends are the most lucrative ways to earn miles today. Picture this: Among the 72,000 Emirates miles that went into redeeming the Copenhagen-Bangalore award ticket, only half of them came from flying. The other half from the SCB Emirates credit card spends.
Airlines have a whole host of partners. Spends with these partners are another avenue to earn miles. New avenues have emerged such as miles for hotel bookings that I wrote a few months back.
For some reason, we have come to believe that it is criminal to pay for a credit card. A credit card is a product and just as any other product, paying for it means better benefits. Simple number crunching indicates the benefits far outstrip the cost. Picture this: The Citibank Premier Miles credit card costs Rs 3000 and comes with 10,000 welcome miles that translates to a minimum value of Rs 5000. Additionally, the card comes with lucrative benefits. Until 31st August, an ongoing promo for new applications offers an additional 10,000 miles that instantly enhances the value. For details, read through Ajay Awtaney’s detailed review of the card and subsequent posts.
A big NO. Airlines compete but they are partners too. That means, you can fly Airline A and ask them to credit the miles to a partner Airline B. This way you can accumulate miles in a few baskets instead of spreading too thin.
To end, here is a little fun graffiti I made of a notification that came across: