Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Long Weekend in Bali: Bali to Penang


Singapore Airlines flies three flights daily to and from Singapore. We were flying out of Bali on the morning flight and would have preferred the afternoon departure giving us more time at the Conrad but could not get award availability on that flight. We left for the airport after a quick last breakfast at the Conrad and got to the airport with plenty of time left since there was no traffic.

There were no lines at the business class counters which we used thanks to my Star Gold Status. With bags tagged all the way to Penang and boarding passes and lounge invite in hand, we paid the 150,000 IDR departure tax/fine before proceeding through security and immigration.

Singapore Airlines uses the "Premier Lounge" in Bali. The lounge was spacious with adequate seating and an outdoor/smoking area with views of the ocean and tarmac. Even though they were serving breakfast with cooked to order eggs, we just had a couple more cups of coffee since we already had a substantial breakfast at the Conrad. One major disappointment was that there was no free Wifi in the lounge and you had to purchase Wifi time from the lounge desk.

View from the lounge
Cooked to order eggs
Outdoor area

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Long Weekend in Bali: Food in Bali


As expected, the food in Bali was great and in some ways, pretty similar to Malay food we got back in Malaysia. There were some dishes that tasted new to me as I couldn't recognize the spices being used and some were spicy and definitely packed some kick which I always enjoy.

One of our favorite restaurants that we tried was Bumbu Bali. We liked it so much we ate there twice. It is nearby to the Conrad and in spite of being only a 10 minute walk away, they do offer pick ups which we did use when it was raining during our first visit. What I particularly liked about Bumbu was the quality of food served. I would summarize it was perfectly cooked Balinese cuisine. For example, the seafood that we ordered on one night was perfectly cooked with tender squid and shrimp. It was almost fine dining without the "frou-frouness".

Satay and appetizers


Friday, February 17, 2012

Long Weekend in Bali: Exploring Bali


We could have just spent the entire trip just relaxing and lazing around the Conrad but we didn't since it was our first time in Bali and we wanted to see the major spots. We hired a car and driver for a day to take us around. We found the driver from tripadvisor and pre-booked him for ~$40 USD for ~6 hours. He was responsive to my queries over email and we were very happy with the level of service received. He unexpectedly even acted as a guide in walking together with us and explaining the the places we visited. Needless to say we left him a pretty good tip. Let me know if you want his contact.

Our first stop of the day was visiting the temple at Uluwatu, which was a temple situated on a picturesque cliffs.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Long Weekend in Bali: Conrad Bali


The Conrad Bali lived up to the hype and reputation. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and it is now one of our favorite hotels. The hotel was well kept with lush green gardens, multiple pools and amazing views.  

Main Entrance

We were greeted with a cold refreshing towel and iced drink during check-in. We were provided the welcome letter at check-in and told that we were upgraded to the next level room and breakfast was complimentary in the main restaurant due to my Hilton Honors Gold Status. I was disappointed that there was no mention of the usage of the Executive lounge so I asked before we left. The guy helping us at check-in told us it was either the upgrade or the lounge usage. In that case, I informed him that I would have gone with the lounge usage instead and went to check with this manager for a couple of minutes and came back and told us that they've made an exception for us this time and would grant us lounge access and provided us with a new welcome letter stating that benefit.

The Conrad Bali Monkeys

We were upgraded to a corner garden view room that was pretty large. Waiting for us in the room were the infamous Conrad toys that Lydia has now made her personal mission of collecting. Our favorite part of the room was the huge bath tub that could fit both of us in it. Sorry, no pictures with us in it to share.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Long Weekend in Bali: Penang to Bali


We were dropped off at the airport two and a half hours by a friend on his way to the office. The Tiger Airways counters were not opened yet when we got there and we met other passengers who were similarly trying to find the correct check-in counters. Thankfully, the contract check-in agents for Tiger Airways finally arrived soon after and we were the first few to get checked-in.

Surprisingly, the Tiger Airways plane from Singapore arrived to Penang more than an hour before scheduled departure. It looks like we were going to be departing on time or so we thought. Boarding didn't start until thirty minutes before departure and when finally everyone was on board, there was not enough overhead cabin space for hand luggage. This caused some bags to be checked in and for the flight to get delayed for thirty minutes trying to sort the mess out. I was thinking to myself at this point on why we didn't start boarding early so that we might have departed on time. It was another 30 minutes after doors were closed before we finally departed for Singapore. Point here to Air Asia for on time departure!

We got to Singapore with an hour delay and parked at a pretty far parking bay. Similar to the LCCT in Kuala Lumpur, there are no aerobridges at the Singapore Budget Terminal. It took us a good 15 minute hike before we made it through immigration. Our bags were soon out and we hoped on of the free buses that would take us to Terminal 2. Here's where the Singapore Budget terminal beats LCCT - the transfer from LCCT to the main terminal building is via some dingy bus service that costs RM5 per person.

There were no lines at the business class check-in counters and we got our boarding passes and bags checked in to Bali. After going through security and immigration, we decided to head over to the Silverkris Lounge in Terminal 3 first since we've never visited the one in Terminal 3 before and we needed to be back in Terminal 2 for our flight later.

Main Food Area

Long Weekend in Bali: Introduction


This trip was a "semi-continuation" of our winter adventure in Beijing and China. Instead of routing our BMI redemption directly back from Penang from China, we did a virtual stopover in Singapore, flying back to Penang on Air Asia and ending the redemption with a Singapore to Bali business class flight a couple of weeks during a long weekend in Malaysia. We figured we could use some sun after freezing our butts off in China.

Instead of our usual short hop on Air Asia to Singapore, we decided try out Tiger Airways instead for the first time.  The flight on Tiger Airways was also slightly cheaper and we would visit the Budget Terminal for the first time as well.

For our four nights in Bali, we decided to stay at the Conrad after reading great reviews on the hotel. We split the stay with a cash booking on the first three nights and a points+cash redemption on the last night.

Lydia had some expiring Krisflyer miles that were just enough for a economy class redemption on Singapore Airlines after the 15% online booking discount. I decided to join her in economy using some Krisflyer miles as well thinking that the extra miles in business class would not be worth it for the relatively short flights to Singapore and Penang.

Finishing up my BMI miles: Taxes and fuel surchages suck

Just almost wiped out most of my BMI miles in anticipation of the demise of BMI after the merger with BA. Booked a trip in May to attend my best man's wedding in Melbourne. Can't take too much time off work especially with a pending move to the states around the corner so decided to just "hop" around Australia and New Zealand for the weekend:

Out going trip: PEN-BKK-SIN-MEL-AKL in business class on a combination of TG, SQ and NZ
  • There was availability on SQ A380 but the BMI agent couldn't book it. I'll just call back closer to the date and see if I can try get on that flight. 
  • Looking forward to trying out NZ 773 International Business Class
Return trip: AKL-SYD-BKK-PEN in business class on NZ and TG
  • Nothing too exciting on this trip. Decided against paying more for first class on TG since I've already tried it multiple times. Would have paid for it if it was on the leased Jet Airways 77W. 
The not so fun part about this redemption was the close to 350 pounds worth of taxes and fuel surcharges per person! Ouch! I was going to use this miles for our Bora Bora but we ran out of time since BMI is going away and we're moving to the US soon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Excapade Sushi: Driving to another country for good sushi

Good and affordable sushi is lacking in Malaysia. Yes we do have places like Sakae Sushi or Sushi King but the sushi quality in those establishment is severely lacking. One thing we always do when we visit Lydia's family in Miri is to take a drive across the order to Brunei to get our sushi fix at Excapade Sushi. They have several branches in Brunei but we always visit the branch at Kuala Belait which is the closest one to Miri.

The first time Lydia's family suggested to do it, I was skeptical. Good quality sushi in Brunei?!? We have to drive for almost an hour? You gotta be kidding right! Apparently, many in Miri do this and the customs and immigration in Brunei don't even blink an eye when we tell them that we're going to Brunei for sushi when asked of reason of visit.

I was glad I was wrong as it reminds me of sushi places in Los Angeles I used to frequent when I was in college. The fish was fresh, plenty of different rolls and more importantly, very affordable. We usually end up spending about $70 for a meal for 4 persons.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winter in China: Conclusion


This trip report ended up being longer than I expected..

As usual, this trip would not have been possible without the miles. Too bad BMI Diamond Club will be gone pretty soon as this would have made a pretty good yearly redemption. Booking for so many people on the same trip using miles ain't fun. Loving a challenge, we're now looking to see if we can plan another trip but with First Class experience instead. Visiting the FCT in Frankfurt together would be a ton of fun!

Freezing our butts off especially at Ice & Snow World was totally worth it. The memory of those ice sculptures will be cherished in time to come.

The only slight miscalculation of the trip was were the number of days we spent in Harbin. If I could re-plan the trip, I'll just have stayed in Harbin for 2 nights and used up the stopover somewhere else in China on the way back home.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sights and food in Beijing and would love to go back again. I wasn't expecting the huge and properly kept parks. I would love to visit another less touristy part of the Great Wall.

From the flight experience, Singapore Airlines continue to be Singapore Airlines. The experience with Thai Airways and Air China were mixed. The massage offered by Thai in Bangkok for premium passengers is still a highlight although the food was just okay. I would not want to fly Air China on any of their older cabins but would like to try their newer business and first cabins that they fly on certain routes like to Europe and the US.

Finally, an unexpected gain on this trip was also the appreciation of the weather in Penang. Lydia has almost stopped complaining about the heat and humidity in Penang after experiencing of living in super cold weather. Wearing that many layers of clothes to protect oneself from the cold is troublesome and annoying.

Next up, Bali...

Winter in China: Shanghai to Singapore on SQ


We were parked at a pretty far gate and took at least 15 minutes walking at a fast pace before we got to luggage claims. We had an hour or so to go before our Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore and was worried we might not make it. Thankfully the bags came out pretty quick even without any priority tags and we managed to make our way to a deserted Singapore Airlines check-in counters.

Singapore Airlines uses the Shanghai Airlines lounge in Shanghai. It's also used by a number of other airlines but the lounge was pretty empty when we were there. After working a slight sweat from the long hike, we took a much needed shower.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Winter in China: Harbin to Shanghai via Beijing on Air China


We were thankful we got to Harbin airport in one piece. The cab driver taking us to Harbin airport was probably a retired race car driver. He was speeding the whole way to the airport and there was even a moment when we both gasped for air when he squeezed the cab between a truck and car on the two lane highway.

Check in at Harbin airport was also chaotic due to lack of signage. Air China, which we were flying on, outsourced their check-in and similar to Beijing, there was no Star Alliance Gold signs. We learned from the experience in Beijing and just tried checking in at the generic First Class counters.

We were flying to Singapore via Beijing and Shanghai and the agent could only check the luggage through to Shanghai. He made a few phone calls and made up some excuse that the luggage tags only allow routing to two destinations which we knew was bogus. Our bags were already on the scales and he quickly tagged them and push them down the chute trying to get rid of us as fast as possible. We were now worried on whether we would be able to check our bags through to Singapore in time since we only had about an hour and fifteen minute layover in Shanghai.

We made our way through security and then to "First Class" Lounge that was operated by the Harbin airport. We got access thanks to my *G status even though we were flying in economy for the flight to Beijing. The lounge itself was not anything spectacular but was better than having to hang around outside. I enjoyed my last couple Harbin beers while trying to surf the web and check email on the very slow internet access.

Friday, February 3, 2012

More Saver Awards coming to Singapore Airlines

Looks like it's official. Singapore Airlines is adding more flights that will allow Saver Awards in Business and First. In the past, only Standard and Full Awards, which cost a TON more were allowed on the "new" business and first cabins on aircraft like the A380, A345 and B773ER.

There's also some changes in the award chart which increases the number of miles required for some zones. I have not look into too much detail into it but overall, the fact that I can use my Krisflyer miles for A TON more flights in business/first makes the miles much more valuable.

It's about time SQ!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Winter in China: Harbin Ice & Snow World


The famous ice sculptures that people visit Harbin to see is found at Ice & Snow World. Similar to Sun Island Park, it's located across the Song Hua River and is a 15 minute cab ride away. Ice & Snow World is the most expensive of the three parks costing 300 Reminbi per person. There also are various organized tours to Ice & Snow World offered by most hotels in Harbin that costs the same as an entrance ticket but includes transportation to and from the park. Unless you are concerned about transportation because of language, I would not recommend using the tours as they only spend about two hours at the park.


Ice & Snow World is recommended to be visited at night to see the colorful lights from the numerous sculptures that are lighted even though it is actually open for the whole day. They usually turn on the lights to the sculptures around four in the evening when it is about to get dark. We got to the park way early by two in the afternoon with the cab driver who took us was questioning our sanity for getting there so early.