Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kuala Lumpur 101

Kuala Lumpur Travel
There are many questions regarding a DIY travel to Kuala Lumpur so here is a trip report with the hope that this can help the first-time visitors of KUL.
Plane tickets
First things first. Going to KUL, you need two things: your passport and a roundtrip plane ticket. TIP: Note though that if you want to visit Singapore, it is strongly recommended, especially if you are flying Cebu Pacific, TigerAirways, or AirAsia, to purchase just one-way ticket/s from either MNL or CRK – KUL, and then from KUL to SIN, and then SIN to Manila. This can be done only if you choose said airlines because if you are taking PAL, Malaysia Airlines, Silk Air or Singapore Airlines, it is NOT recommended to split the tickets since this does not translate to 50% reduction in fare price=).
Now, notice that I opted to go to KUL first, then to SIN last before going to Manila. The reason is simple enough: there are MANY flights from Singapore to Manila than Kuala Lumpur to Manila. In Singapore, there are 4 airlines that have many flights to Manila. Cebu Pacific has 5 flights to Manila, 1 to Clark, and 1 to Cebu. Even Air Philippines has 1 flight to Manila and 1 to Cebu. Tiger Airways has 1 flight to Clark and 1 to Manila. Jetstar has 2 flights to Manila. For those who have lots to spend, Singapore Airlines has 4 flights to Manila while PAL has 3 flights to Manila. Unlike in Kuala Lumpur, your options are Cebu Pacific (1 flight to Manila only), AirAsia (1 flight to Clark only) and Malaysia Airlines (1 flight to Manila and Cebu only). And this is the reason why I advocated for flying to Manila in Singapore because of so many flights to choose from. This is crucial because when it is already time to go home, we need to have the flexibility of either going straight to the office from the airport, or going arriving at around 8 am and doze off before heading back to work in the PM, or if you simply wanna enjoy to the max and take the evening or late PM flight.
Now, it is perfectly alright to purchase one-way tickets as long as you can establish and show the tickets for your onward travel. The checkin agent in all airports will surely look for your return or onward travel so printout all the tickets to facilitate quick checkin. Also prepare your hotel bookings as they might be asked by the immigration authorities.
Now that you have the tickets, airports where these planes depart and arrive are crucial as this can have an impact on your travel plans.
From Manila, AirPhils and Cebu Pacific leave at NAIA Terminal. PAL departs at Centennial Terminal 2 while Jetstar, Tiger, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines depart at NAIA T1. AirAsia, Tiger, and Cebu Pacific also have flights that leave from Clark Airport. 

This is a pic of Clark Airport
If you take AirAsia or Cebu Pacific, this is how LCCT looks like:

This is where you will buy tickets for buses to KL Sentral

If you are taking Malaysia Airlines or Jetstar (from Singapore), you will arrive at KLIA, the modern and better looking terminal of KL. This is also where you will find  the KL Ekspres, the express rail transport from KLIA to KL Sentral in 28 minutes.

In whatever airport you choose to leave Manila, expect to be questioned by the Immigration Officer (IO). TIP: always make sure to completely fill out the Departure Card and DO NOT leave any blank, especially on the ADDRESS ABROAD and OCCUPATION fields. Leaving this blank will surely be a red flag to the IO and he will ask you where you intend to stay in KUL. For hotel reservations, I highly recommended to use www.asiarooms.com as they do not charge your card until the day you check in, which means you can cancel your reservation until the very last day=).
Note to government employees and DOST scholars. PHL immigration law states that if you are a govt employee, you should have an authority to travel or mission order with you or any written permission that your bosses know that you are leaving. Note though that the IOs will only know that you are a govt employee if you declare it in the departure form under occupation or you write your plantilla position item in the OCCUPATION field, e.g., Administrative Officer III, Clerk IV, Accounting Clerk I, etc. My suggestion: just put there a generic job like a teacher, office worker, etc and lie like a criminal if asked if you are a govt employee=).
As to the DOST scholars, your names are automatically added into the list of those that need to have travel clearance so if you are a DOST scholar, have your name removed by getting the removal letter from DOST and give it to Bureau of Immigration. Don’t forget to bring the slip of paper that will come from DOST that you are free to travel.
Note: there is NO visa requirement for Pinoy holders going to Malaysia or Singapore.
Actual Flight
If you are taking Cebu Pacific, better have some baon with you as the flight is almost 4 hours. If AirAsia, don’t forget to order online some hotmeals so you wont be hungry for a kinda long flight. For Malaysia Airlines, no need since they have lots of food onboard.
AirAsia arrives KUL in the afternoon and this is ideal as buses are still available at the arrivals counter at LCCT and it is better to be lost in KL in the light of day than at night. For Cebu Pacific, the flight arrives past midnight but you can still get a bus if the flight is not delayed. Hence, it is advisable to checkin at Tune Hotel in LCCT as this is just walking distance from LCCT and a regular shuttle services the LCCT and Tune Hotel area.
Taking the cab from the airport is NOT recommended because the airport is far from downtown KUL, about 80 kms, and with NLEX-type highways, expect a fast and furious cab driver cruising the very well paved highway at 200-250 kph. If this is your thing, then hop on a taxi when you arrive. Be warned though that Malaysia drivers are like pinoys, they will try to rip you off so better prepare to haggle should you wanna take the taxi. The normal taxi fare should be RM 50-70 for the trip downtown KL from the airport.
If taking Malaysia Airlines, then you will arrive at KLIA. There is an express train that connects KLIA to KL Sentral in just 28 minutes (the usual travel time is 1.5-2 hours, traffic permitting). To those who are staying at Bukit Bintang, upon alighting at KL Sentral (where the bus and express train ends), just cross the road and take the monorail to Bukit Bintang Station. See map below


Monday, December 27, 2010

Budget and Shopping Tips in Taiwan

The third and fourth day were spent on shopping and actually touring the city of Taipei (you know the usual, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, Sun Yat Sen Memorial, and other parks located in the bustling metropolis of Taipei. Also visited Taipei 101 via the City Hall MRT Station. All these can be reached via the MRT so it's actually a no-brainer to go there. Here are some pics

I guess it's time to focus on the shopping part! I decided to visit my usual fare of Carrefour at Mingde Station (this is right after the Shilin MRT Station). There is a factory outlet there of Adidas and as usual, I was able to buy a pair of rubber shoes for only NT 800 (the price of that shoes in SM is roughly at Php 3200 so it's really dirtcheap there). I also bought my usual fare of "relief goods" aka big 30-packs of Carrefour Macchiato instant coffee and some tea for only NT 85. I used credit card for this so this will not be part of the NT 3000 budget =). For those asking how cheap laptop prices are in Taiwan, you got it right! It is cheaper than Singapore. The Acer Aspire One, being sold at Villman here in Manila for Php24,999 is only being sold in Taipei at only NT 8999! That's roughly Php 13,500! Almost twice the price of the laptops here in Manila. Of course, Acer and Asus, being Taiwan-made products, are cheaper here than anywhere in the world.

For the souvenirs, and keychains, I bought them at Yeliu Gift Shop right outside Yeliu Geopark for only NT 100 for 12 pcs of keychains. These are clear keychains shaped like the island of Taiwan with a 1-NT coin embossed in the middle. This is the place where I bought them:

For the budget, here is a detailed breakdown so that you will have an idea:
Accom: 3000
Easycard: 900 (includes 4 topups of NT 100 at their card reloading stations in the MRT)
Entrance to Yehliu Geopark: NT 50
Entrance to Taipei Floral Expo: (NT 162, using Easycard with 10% discount)
Souvenirs (keychains and some other stuff at Yehliu geopark): NT 350
Bus from Taipei to Airport NT 125

Day 1 lunch, 7-11 bento boxes of breaded pork chop, steamed veggies, and dessert: NT 65
Day 1 dinner, McDo chicken burger meal with iced milk tea and large fries, NT 59
Day 2 lunch, Family Mart noodles, NT 50
Day 2 dinner, local resto at Shilin, NT 50 for a big bowl of noodles
Day 3 lunch, local resto near Taipei Main Station, NT 75 for rice bowl toppings
Day 3 dinner, Carrefour takeout food, NT 50
Day 4 lunch, Taipei Main Station local resto, NT 75
Day 4 dinner, resto at the 3rf floor of Taipei International Airport, NT 150 for a big bowl of Wanton Noodle

TOTAL = NT 4,961
Note: Does not include items in Adidas Outlet Store and Carrefour relief goods as these were purchased using my credit card:-) 

RT Cebu Pacific Fare: Php 2100
Travel Tax: Php 1620
Terminal Fee: Php 750

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Taiwan 101 - Surviving Taipei

Time to give back and report what happened in my Taiwan tour=).

Took Cebu Pacific from Manila to Taipei.I made lots of preparations for this trip especially on the visa part. I made my research on getting a Taiwan visa here: http://www.taiwanembassy.org/ph/. This is where I learned that Taiwan visa is very expensive, costing Php 2400 per application. Since I always travel on a budget, I decided to make things a bit difficult BUT less costly. My decision: get a Japan visa for only Php 1200 at Reli Travel (http://www.relitours.ph/) in SM Megamall since walk in applications for Japan visa are no longer allowed. The reason I chose Japan Visa over US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or Schengen in lieu of Taiwan visa is because Japan visa is cheaper and it is more realistic for me to go to Japan than to the other visas that can replace the Taiwan visa requirement. Good thing I was given a visa 3 days after I passed my application so this is it! Planning started for the Taiwan tour.

Upon checking in at NAIA T3, i noticed that almost 90% of the pax are Taiwanese and unlike my experience in HKG, these Taiwanese guys are talking in soft tones, very unlike the people of Hongkong na parang magkakagalit pag nag-usap. In fact, these Taiwanese peeps seem to be always smiling and warm people.

True enough, I realized na mas ok nga ang mga tao dun unlike any other Chinese city. When we arrived at Taoyuan Intl Airport, medyo na-late yung dating nung susundo sa amin from our hostel.

Pic of Taoyuan Airport Arrivals

The guy from the Hotel Concierge Counter in the Visitors’ Area approached me and said that if I can give the number of the hotel, he can call them up and check the status of the driver. Indeed, after talking to the hostel, he approached us again that if the driver wont come in 10 minutes, he will accompany us to our hostel just to make sure that we will get there. Good thing dumating naman yung driver who picked us up .

TIP: It is NOT advisable to bring PHP and exchange in NTD in Taipei since in downtown Taipei, FOREX or money changers are very few and very far between and they do NOT accept PHP, unlike in HKG or SIN na bawat kanto meron napapalitan. This is crucial since when we arrived, I had USD 200 tas the rest in PHP na so I kinda panicked when I realized that I cannot change my PHP. I tried to withdraw money at ATMs using my BPI pero not accepted yung card.

 At that time, I decided that this is a sign that I should work around the USD 200, so that’s only NT6000. With only NT 3000 left since I paid NT 3000 to the hostel, I decided to scrap the plan on hiring the taxi and just take the public transpo to go to the places. I also came up with the plan that if worse comes to worst, I can go to the airport the following day since dun lang nag-aaccept ng PHP to NTD. (it was only in my last day that I tried sa ATM sa 7-11 and I was surprised na tinanggap naman and was able to withdraw money).

TIP: How will you know if your card will be accepted by the ATM machine? One logical thing is to look for the Mastercard/Maestro/Cirrus logo combo BUT when I tried withdrawing at the Taipei Floral Expo, it failed. I tried once more at Taipei Main Station and it failed again. Thinking that my card will be blocked, I did not attempt to get money again until my last day. When I tried it during my last day at 7-11 (all 7-11s that I saw had ATM machines inside), the transaction was successful. My observation: if after entering your PIN and encoding your amount to be withdrawn and the machine will not ask you to select whether Union Pay, Mastercard, or International Credit Card, then your transaction will be successful. In my first attempts kasi, the machine prompted me to select one of those instead of the usual dispensing of cash after entering the PIN and amount.

The first business of the day is to get EASYCARD for NT 500. Easycard is like Octopus Card or EZ Link Card of HKG or SIN.  After eating free breakfast (bread lang and lots and lots of coffee), I walked from the hostel to the Taipei Main Station. This is like Hong Kong Central that can get one really disoriented upon entrance. Sobrang daming arrows, exits, spots, shopping malls, hotels, etc that it can overwhelm someone. This is where their High Speed Rail, MTR, Bus, usual Train, and other public transpo converge so finding the MRT can be a challenge. After purchasing the Easycard, I went to the platform of the MRT and I was surprised to see Taiwanese peepz falling in line to enter the trains and even in the escalators. And they do not push people to get in the train and patiently wait for their turn (to think na single line lang sila pag pumila so tlagang sobrang haba ng pila but they do not mind. Very orderly sila, as they will not block the train door and rush for the train when it arrives as they will let the passengers alight first and once nakababa na, that is the only time sila papasok).     

I alighted at Yuanshan station to visit the Taipei Floral Expo and ang haba ng pila=(. TIP: when I arrived there, I was about to buy the ticket when I noticed that for Easycard holders, no need to fall in line and just tap the card for NT 300. Then I saw a post that if I enter after 1 PM, NT 180 na lang so I decided na 1 PM na lang ako babalik and just head to Xinbeitou since they are both on the same MRT line (red) to Beitou then transfer to Xinbeitou station. I then took the MRT to Beitou and went straight to Xinbeitou.

Upon exiting Xinbeitou station, you will see many arrows directing you to the many resorts and hot springs, including the Thermal Valley.

Here are some pics of the Xinbeitou and the places that you can see once you exit the MRT station.

One of the interesting shops that you will see on your way to the Xinbeitou Thermal Valley.
After exiting the train station, you can see many arrows that point you to the location of Thermal Valley (770 m but a bit inclined road) so pwedeng pwedeng lakarin. There are many interesting things along the way that is picture-worthy so the walk is OK. Along the way, you will pass by the Taipei Library and Plaza where there are many good spots. There’s also a stream where hot water gushes so you can actually soothe your feet by dipping them. The walk from Xinbeitou is like walking from the SM Annex of SM North all the way to The Block, though the roads are uphill=)

^^The entrance of Thermal Valley

Thermal Valley
Taipei Public Library, you will see this on your way to the Thermal Valley

Around 1 PM, I returned to the station but since my feet were aching, I decided to ride Bus 288 from the Xinbeitou to Yuanshan, where the Taipei Floral Expo.

Another TIP: If you use your Easycard, not only will you escape the long lines, you can also get a discount of 10%!

Here are the pics:

After that, went to Shilin for the night market and tried some food and bought some pasalubong.

The following day is spent for the Yangmingshan and Yehliu Geopark. I have to cancel my booking with the cab and just take the public transpo to get to Yehliu due to issues related to my inability to withdraw money from ATM and the difficulty of looking for a money changer in Taipei that accepts Php. From my hostel, I walked to the Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A to take the Kuo Kuang Bus 1815 for Jinshan.

VERY IMPORTANT TIP: The Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A is DIFFERENT from the Taipei Bus Terminal which is located just across Taipei Main Station. The Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A is located just across Shin Kong Mitsukoshi / K Mall.

Another TIP: inside the Taipei Main Station, you will see signs that say Taipei Bus Station but this station does NOT have buses that go to the Taoyuan Intl Airport and Bus 1815 to Yeliu. You need to look for the signs inside the Taipei Main Station that says Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A (this is Z3 exit). Likewise, it is not recommended to use the underground to go to the Taipei Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A  as it involves going through many stairs and extremely long walks which can be a real problem if you have heavy luggages with you. My recommendation: just walk outside and look for the Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A.

To help you out in going there, just print out this picture that I took of Taipei West Terminal A and hand it to the taxi driver to avoid confusion that you want to be conveyed either to the Taoyuan Airport or Jinshan:

This is how the Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A looks like from the outside:

I used my Easycard in paying my fare to Yehliu since meron sya discount as opposed to lining up and paying the ticket at the counters. Armed with a printout of Yehliu Geopark, I approached the driver and asked to drop me off at this spot. The driver smiled and after that, it was a 1.5-hour bus ride from Taipei West Terminal A.

VERY IMPORTANT TIP: Though the bus drivers here are really very nice and eager to help, it is important for you to bring a printout of the stop where you wanna get off to go to the Yehliu Geopark. Simply show this to your driver and then just tell your driver to inform you if its time to get off. The fare to Yehliu is NT 90. Also, this landmark can be seen if you will sit on the right side section of the bus. Also, make sure that you sit near the driver so he can easily inform you that this is your stop. 

Here are some images of Yehliu. The walk from the picture above to the Geopark is actually near, distance is like the walk from Ayala MRT to Manila Penn. You wont miss it as there is only one main road and just go straight. Here are some images.

The entrance fee to the geopark is NT 50 so its really very cheap. Here are some images of the geopark.

From here, we took lunch at 7-11 in front of Yeliu Geopark. The rice boxes there are cheap for only NT 50, you have pork tonkatsu, rice, steamed vegetables, 2 pcs of dumplings, and some local dessert and sweet ham. Of course, you can buy the milk tea for only NT 20 for a 600-ml drink=). During my stay in Taiwan, this is where I get my meals: either from the street food or from 7-11 or Family Mart since they have the best offer in town=).

From Yeliu, I boarded again the bus to Jinshan and checked out the old street. there is a Visitors Tourist Center in Jinshan so you wont be lost. From there, I returned to Taipei to go to Yangmingshan via Bus 260. While going there, i sorta experienced deja vu. Turned out, the bus is going towards Xinbeitou since Yanmingshan is near that area.

Oh, and my camera battery died on me so no pictures for this leg.  Will try to post some more detailed budget and items on the second part of this Taiwan tour:-D