Revolutionary Travel

Its the time of the year when the battle for the Singapore tourist dollar begins in earnest. Starting out free entry many years back, the traditional trade fair organized by NATAS of yesteryear became a paid for entry event. Now the new kid on the block has shaken the status quo when it comes to travel fairs. For the 2nd year, we now have a travel fair organized by a separate coalition of agencies held at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS).

Our intent for visiting such travel fairs is mainly research in nature, as we normally plan well ahead and do not wait for these once or twice in a year events. Not having children accords us the privilege of traveling as and when we want to, and not as most parents would no doubt be “hampered” by.

And the fair was busy, considering it was a Saturday. And it was still fun to try the lucky draws, get the free instant photos at the various booths etc. Not a bad haul today as we took home stickers, confectionery, cups and a couple of nice tote bags…

The quest for Russia – mission accomplished we believe!

The most important mission today can be considered as accomplished. We managed to book a package tour that had sufficient sign-on participants for departure on 20-May. So the next step is to make the annual leave application and send the passports in for Russian visa application. Fingers crossed, we should be good to go by end of March!

Product option updates for us

We were so engrossed with interacting with travel agents that I forgot to take photos of two lovely lady boys at the Thailand pavilion. And they were well endowed too!!

We found Club Med’s options to be useful for our intended Harbin winter trip. The Yabuli ski resort can be considered for a stop (of 3 days – minimum stay) after the expected whirlwind itinerary around Harbin and the ice festival. But the pricing remains challenging at approximately S$290/night/pp.

Sashaying by the Maldives pavilion, we found a resort that is located 15 minutes’ speed boat ride from the capital Male. They were offering the 2nd person free for every first paying guest (note this is the land offer only, flights own arrangement). Bundled in was a complimentary fishing trip and an introductory dive lesson. Prices are quite reasonable given our own experience and research. And judging from the comments at Tripadvisor, probably a good bet for an excellent introductory first touch of the islands.

Within the cruise sector, we found the Peace boat. As an NGO, the voyages are usually around 3 months with between 17-26 port of calls. They have an event planned on 22-April where you can register to visit the ship berthed at the Singapore cruise centre.

We got to speak with a Taiwanese lady at one of the booths, who helped us to know more about how to book Palau packages from Taiwanese travel companies. We found out that there could be surcharges for foreigners booking with Taiwanese travel agencies. We now have a shortlist of reputable agents to engage with.

As usual, Suan had a field day looking at all the brochures for Japan. The Japan pavilion had been a vital source of information for Suan’s own itinerary building. The booth pro-offers nuggets of information that would otherwise be harder to mine from the websites. Appears the next project for Japan will be a foray into the north coast using Kyoto as a base. Perhaps this can be part of a “bleisure” trip in 2017.

In the package tour arena, we chanced upon a new Europe focused travel company with quite a few really interesting itineraries for us – specifically the viewing of the aurora borealis. There are three itinerary routes, two of which utilizes the Hurtigruten cruise. This may save us the effort of trying to book direct with the cruise line and arranging the flights, transfers etc.

There seem to be more offers of in-depth/focused European itinerary products. Folks these days are so lucky. Ten years ago, it would have been run-of-the-mill packages that attempt to bring you to see a melange of sites across many European countries. With these pin-pointed itineraries, it is now possible to gain intimacy with the destinations as the touch time is lengthened.

While it is all good to see how there has been progress on European-focused destinations, we have found that there remains gaps for South/central America and Africa. At this stage, it appears that products remain mired in the standard “do-it-all” in a very short time kind of products. It remains a challenge for anyone trying to establish a real credible handprint in these two continents from here. There was no country pavilions from these two regions at this fair. Perhaps we can find them at the NATAS one in March (as they had come occasionally in the past).

Fair ends tomorrow. We achieved what we set out to do.

Hurray!

How long will the journey be with S$9.5m?

Singapore Toto recently had two multi-million dollar lottery draws. One of them saw a single winner of S$9.5mln. Just last Friday, yet another two persons shared S$13.9mln. While it is “miniscule” compared to the lotteries in Europe and the US, the winners here take it all. No “annuity” draw down of the win.

Obviously we were not the winners, otherwise would not be spending time blog posting.

The thought here is not about not winning the vast amount of money, rather what amount of traveling one can do with it! So let’s scenario make:

  1. Suppose it takes ~S$5000/person to have a reasonably luxurious 1-week long trip. And suppose also that you take a partner with you. The first winner would be able to make 950 trips. In weeks, it will be the equivalent of 18 years. This is not considering you can deposit the balance in a bank while you are on the road and earn the paltry interest, compounding some of it! But then think of the laundry that you’d need to do at the end of it all…
  2. And consider if you’ve won and wanted to do a round the world trip for S$50,000/person with a cruise line like Cunard. An example of a 118-day cruise costs S$41k/person for a cabin with balcony. Queen Mary2Take a business flight to London for the balance to top up to S$50k and you can circle the globe with your partner 95 times. That would be 3,800,000km. You know it is ‘only’ 384,000km if you want to fly to the moon.
  3. Then there is space tourism. Real people had to sign up US$250k for a seat on a sub-orbital flight. You’d still enjoy the zero gravity and the window view is probably great (hey the guy who cleans the window had better do a good job here – no fingerprints ok). Your best bet would be Virgin Galactic, and with the money take 37 other passengers with you. Would be such a great family trip. Maybe next lunar new year?

Alternatively you could be philanthropic and donate half of the lottery winnings and still fly to the moon only 47 times (or fly a smaller party to sub-orbital space). Does Frank Sinatra’s song inspire you now to play amongst the stars and find out what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars? Happens to be one of my favourite songs.

The practical ones will probably take up a combination of the three scenario options, come back to do the laundry and off again. I guess I’d do that too. And I’d still need to wash the toilet every Friday. So, this is NOT a bad way to live for the next 15-18 years! Why worrywart over how to invest the money. You know there is no way to bring it along with you when you expire.

So why not do some good while starting a long journey? I’d look forward to advising these three individuals. Pity they do not publish the names of the winners here. Unlike elsewhere, where it seems telling the world you have won a lot of money is a sport.

Murphy’s law

If there is anything that seems to be a universal law – it’s Mr Murphy.

We have been planning for the Russia trip since 2014. The intent had always late spring/early summer (kind of the May-June timeframe in our view). The assessment had been and remains that we (with limited time and opportunity) needed the help of operators to fulfil this journey.

Last year, no groups form and we were stood up, and ended instead in 张家界. That’s the UNESCO world heritage site in China that was supposed to have inspired the landscape of the Avatar movie. We were lucky to have found something quick.

What happened?

It seems that the International Ice hockey world championships are being held in Russia (games start 6th through to the 22nd) in both Moscow and St Petersburg. All the hotels are apparently booked full and the operator cannot let the tour itinerary run for lack of accommodations. Ice hockey fans should be thrilled. Aargh!

We just added a milestone widget on our blog to count down to the HIGHLY anticipated journey. A real bummer. Seems we’d need to defer this into June if the dates work out for us. However imagine the operator trying to convince 12 other folks to change their plans. And we had not made any payment yet (can’t tell about the other 12).

Alternatives?

At this stage a few from the bucket list are promising:

  1. Tibet – taking that high altitude train. Remember to take the tablets Tibet Qinghai rail
  2. Scenic Guilin (桂林) in the southeast of ChinaGuilin

Its coming to the end of 1H of this year and it will be cyclone season in the pacific soon (Fiji already had one, wow that’s early!).

Further work needs to be done here. What a dilemma!

Sunday reading & musing

Multiple sources from last night, having concluded all my reading (you gotta let the western hemisphere complete its turn too!).

Two things struck me : Rajasthan and Scotland.

The land of Rajasthan has always been an intriuging idea to explore. As the name suggests, it is the land of the kings, perhaps lords will be a better translation? One of my loves in life is history, and if it weren’t for the words of a teacher in school I would have become a historian. Perhaps those are the kinds of turning points in one’s life when you make a decision that brings you “off tangient” and into a wholely different spectrum of experiences.

Rajasthan
5 places to visit in Rajasthan

So, back to Rajasthan.

Queen Victoria was once the Empress of India. As one reads the Cambridge history of India, by the 1820-1830s most of the sub-continent nation of India today had been “subjucated” and adminstered as part of the empire that does not see the setting sun. Wikipedia listed 19 princely states in Rajasthan (22 cited by here).

Famed as warriors (Rajputs) and never really subjucated by the Mughals, the princely states emerged as the Mughal’s power waned. Locally, each of these princes came to control political, economic and social life, extracting the same privileges as their predecessors (the Mughals) had done. And they built wondrous monuments in a display of profligance. Many a movie in the west would have depicted a maharaja and his retinue in all of his richness.

Today we are all fortunate to have been left these legacy of grandiose as Martin Fletcher romances the idea of travel. All the negative publicity over acts of violation against women, makes it an uphill battle to wrest share of mind to the hidden gems Rajasthan has to offer. But I digress. You see many of the forts, if they are not turned into hotels, are either left to ruin or sold off to the government (and left to ruin). Martin’s article tells of his forays further into the rural thickness only to find that even there transformation had forever changed the fabric of what was once thought to be the very essence of life in these parts.

Will I make my own foray into Rajasthan? In all fairness, No. Not yet, perhaps when I am done with my bucket list, I shall create a new one and surely Rajasthan will be on it. Where would I want to go? That is the next thing that struck me last night.

Scotland. This is what I see when I think of Scotland

Scotland

Yep, cold wet & windy (gale is probably a word you can only use for Scotland), but really nice eh? I think am going to follow Karen Thorburn. Thanks to Michelle, I now have a source of photos and a person whom I think I can reach out to to plan trips to Scotland.

Of all the places I had been in Scotland, I had only set foot in Edinburgh (Dunedin is it for some?). You know the castle tour, the military tatoo etc etc. Fancy the fact we have traveled across Wales and all over Ireland, yet only touched the tip of Scotland. And so it is on my bucket list.

Now I only need to plan.

Creeping infringement on freedom of travel or paranoia?

This post was inspired by what I read yesterday about Singaporeans needing to register themselves with the Canadian authorities before travelling or transiting there. Now Singapore is one of ~50 visa-waver nations to Canada. Starting in mid March, these nations need to apply for Canada’s “electronic travel authorisation” (eTA) at a cost of C$7, which is valid for 5 years’ entry. Well the website for application was said to have been in preparation since last August.

According to the Telegraph: “A spokesperson said: “The new process will allow the Canadian government to screen all travellers before they enter the country. The authorization is electronically linked to your passport and is valid for five years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Therefore, you must travel with the passport that you applied for your eTA with, you can enter Canada as many times within the validity of the eTA.”

Strangely this applies only to air travelers and not to those coming via sea or land according to the Singapore Straits time article. Especially in regard to screening “all” travellers. Probably need to verify that one. You know with all government implementations, confusion is a must at least at the onset.

canada eTA visa

US ESTA visa

The US has its ESTA. Now Canada wants it own eTA (although it exempts Americans). Will the Europeans come up with something next? Or will Japan do the same?

For the sake of trying to screen out a tiny minority, it appears the majority now have to pay the price. Some say that the world has shrunk and flying is now like taking a bus for some. Perhaps. Not so for more than 6 billion people! Perhaps you might not want that too!

Is this about money? After all, the initial C$7 can be raised later. Really, can they really raise that much money from blokes like me flying through? No matter what the reasons are (conspiracy or not), this development if it perpetuates to more countries is just one more barrier being put up for cross-border travel.

 

Planning starts for our Russia trip

Now that Japan (and shopping) is over, it is time for the serious travel stuff. As one of our dream destinations, Russia holds a special place for me in terms of the history and geography of the Slavic peoples. You probably should be told, I am a history buff (my collection of history books is significant).

While living in Europe (Amsterdam specifically) we had not made the trip to the ‘great  Russia’, preferring to drive across France & Germany etc. It is with a pinch of regret now more than 10 years later, to be reminded that it is much more challenging to find time and opportunity to do so from Singapore!

So, what do we (Mel and Suan) consider?

  1. Getting the visa (while Mel does quite a bit of business travel).
  2. Check out who offers to bring us there.
  3. What will we do and see there??
  4. Do they have good hotels along the way?

First up, apply for the visa. Most agencies and the official Russian embassy website will tell you it takes approximately 2 weeks to apply and obtain approval. Ok, what if you are frequently out of town on business and cannot have you passport stuck at the embassy? Fastpass of course (I mean fast track, too much Disney…) at a price – possible 3-5 days? Quotations vary, but then no money, no visa (not honey).

Ok, that settles the visa bit. How will we tour Russia? We had entertained the remote thought of getting our own way in Moscow and onward to St Petersburg. Afterall, those are the usual tourist traps right? For those who are geography buffs, you’d know that the land of Russia (and we talk here only about “European” Russia) is immense. Our copy of Insight guide on Russia may show a lot of possibilities to sightsee your way from Moscow to St Petersburg (and so will lots of folks on the web), but trust me that the distances are way too large even for Napoleon or Hitler’s armies to conquer (not to mention King Charles XII of Sweden in the early 1700s).

Ok, so we cannot plant the Singapore flag on more places in Russia as we would have pleased.

Europeaan Russia Map.jpg
Information according to Google

Look at the map. Do you really think you can cover 38% of Europe in detail over a period of 10 days? Do chickens have lips? This rules out “free and easy” for us with limited time. Considering that we want to have a good view of the major tourist traps, travel packages come into play.

Like Japan or many other countries we have travelled, initial forays were with package tours. And as the experience builds, we begin to strike out on our own. This is truly the beginning of a long journey.

We looked up the following agencies that offer variations of the same package:

  1. Dynasty travel
  2. ChanBrothers
  3. Super Travel
  4. Universal travel

Next post, we will dive deeper into the itineraries and hotels that these travel packages offer as we move to the selection phase (this is so procurement…).