Singapore Trip with the kids

A vacation with the kids was long overdue. I had visited Singapore for work a few weeks ago. The place seems feels like a big garden with trees and green cover everywhere. So I decided to take them to Singapore.

We discovered some challenges only after we landed there. This post will help you figure out a way around those.

Connectivity: If you’re with Vodafone, get the iRoamFree plan. We paid Rs. 2500 for 7 days for this plan, and this allowed us unlimited calling domestic or international, data and messages when we landed.

Insurance: Do take an travel/medical insurance policy. I trust Tata AIG with it for all my international trips. I’ve never had to use my insurance so far, but feel warm & fuzzy considering that it’s a Tata brand.

Flights: We took a red-eye Jet Airways flight to Singapore. It departs at 1.30 am from India, and we landed there early morning. Singapore is 2.5 hours ahead of India. On the way back, our flight was at 11.15 am Singapore time. So this worked out perfectly well.

Currency: Before you go, make sure that you get enough Singapore Dollars – while your credit card will work in Singapore, much like India, many businesses only accept cash.

Stay: We had booked an AirBnB for our stay there.

So this was our itinerary –

Day 1

Landed early morning. Had the Singapore famous Kaya toast and coffee for breakfast at the airport itself. Booked a luxury limo to our apartment, as we were five passengers and had a lots of luggage.

On the way from the airport to the apartment, the driver took us to a Indian travel-agency shop which sold tickets to popular tourist destinations at discounted rates. We got up to 10% discount in some cases. We bought tickets for the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park, the Cable Car, Aquarium & Gardens by the Bay.

Apart from the Night Safari for which you need to plan the exact date you will go, the rest of the tickets were open ended.

We took a cab to the Marina Bay Sands area in the evening, and walked up to the Singapore Flyer. It’s a huge ferris wheel that is 165 meters tall and offers a birds eye view of the entire city.  Each round trip takes about 30 minutes. This was totally worth it.

Then we walked back to the MBS shopping mall, and started looking for a place to eat.

We had dinner at Punjab Grill. It’s a bit expensive, but the service was fantastic and the food was delectable – much better than their outlets in Mumbai.

We came back to our apartment late in the night.

If you’re staying in an apartment do stock up on basic grocery items like fruit, bread, cheese, milk, coffee etc.

Two important realizations on Day 1:

  1. There are very few pure Vegetarian options in Singapore, outside of Little India. Most of the seemingly vegetarian food (bread, pasta) items have egg in them. Even the mushroom soup at the Singapore Zoo had chicken broth in it.
  2. A typical cab strictly takes only 4 passengers. We were 5 people as I had also taken my 8 year old niece along. So either we took two cabs where ever we went, or booked a 6-seater cab. Grab taxis (that’s like the Uber of Singapore) were easier to find than Uber here. There’s an app for Grab, make sure you download it before you land in Singapore.

Day 2

The next day we took off for the Singapore Zoo. When we reached the zoo, it began to rain heavily. So we bought ponchos and umbrellas from the Zoo gift shop. The ponchos aren’t expensive, and are good for a couple of uses.

The Zoo was fantastic. We didn’t take the tram, rather preferred to walk it all out. The Singapore Zoo is huge and amazing experience, but all the walking will surely tire out the kids. When we reached the food court at 3 pm, they had run out of vegetarian food. The smoothies were over too. So we shared a couple bowls of fruit. The kids reluctantly ate some fruit.

The zoo closes at 6 pm. We headed out to Phoenix India restaurant on Phoenix Road (about 15 mins from the Zoo), and had a hearty dinner (lunch?) there.

Then we came back to the same Zoo area for the Night Safari. Don’t miss the “Creatures of the Night” show where they bring out the nocturnal animals. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Then we rested our tired legs by getting in to the tram which takes you around the entire park.

We got done with the Night Safari by 11.30 pm.

Both the Zoo and the Night Safari are a must visit.

Day 3

On Day 3 we decided to take the Cable car to Sentosa Island. We went up to Mount Faber which is one of the hop points for the Cable car. This is again a must-do experience. We got off at the Sentosa station. Then we walked to the Imbiah station (5 mins from Sentosa station) and boarded an internal cable car to the Merlion station.

From the Merlion station, we took an MRT (monorail) to reach the Waterfront station. From there, we walked to the S.E.A. Aquarium. The Aquarium has some really good exhibits. Plenty of pictures were taken.

After the Aquarium visit, we walked back to the Merlion station. From Merlion to Imbiah, and then back to Sentosa. From Sentosa it was back to Mount Faber. The restaurant at Mount Faber station served us some good vegetarian aglio-olio pasta, margherita pizza and a salad.

After our meals, we took a cab to Gardens by the Bay. We checked out Cloud Forest and Flower Dome. You can literally spend a few hours there admiring the variety of flora and fauna, unless you have kids – because they get impatient.

The Cloud Forest Dome has one of the biggest indoor waterfalls. We took a Cloud walk which is a stroll on an elevated bridge across the dome. Must do.

Then we stepped out of the dome to catch the 8.45 pm light and sound show near the super trees. I think this was a little overrated, but the kids enjoyed it.

After the show, we headed to Little India for dinner.  We went to a place called – Bikaner Express. Okayish food, and pedestrian service. Avoid.

Then we called it a night, and took a cab back to the apartment.

In Singapore there are designated pickup and drop-off zones for cabs. So find the designated spot, then call up on the cab. All of these zones show up when booking a cab, so it makes coordination with the driver easier.

Instead of calling the driver for last mile logistics, we used to chat with them via the app. It worked out well each time.

Day 4

This was our day to go to Universal Studios which again is in Sentosa Island.

We headed out early to queue up outside the Universal by 9.30 am. We took a cab to Sentosa Island. The cabbie dropped us off near the Casino entrance.

A few pointers for those visiting Universal Studios with kids –

  • Queue up by 9.30 am max. Universal studios opens at 10 am.
  • Get the Express pass if you can afford it. We didn’t get them, but should’ve on second thoughts. Without the express pass, we ended up queuing for close to 45-60 minute per ride/show.
  • As soon as you enter the gates, head to the USS Store on the left and buy ponchos. You’ll need them later in a few rides.
  • Figure out timings for these shows – Waterworld, Monster Rock & Madagascar Boogie (for kids).
  • Go right away to Transformer and then Jurassic Park Rapid Adventure. Both of these rides offer an amazing experience. Don’t miss.
  • Do Waterworld (1:30 pm) – sit in the splash zone, followed by Madagascar in afternoon.
  • Walk towards Far Far Away to enjoy the must see show-Shrek 4D.
  • Try and have lunch during off-peak hours to optimize time
  • Don’t waste time taking pictures. You can take all your pictures post 5 pm, when your legs have given up.

Once we were out of Universal Studios, we had our dinner at Tino’s Pizza Cafe. We had the Pizza Margherita and Garden Verdure the only veg  pizzas options.

Day 5

Woke up a bit late, then headed out to the Jurong Bird Park. This is one fantastic place. Don’t miss it for anything else. Do check out the Lory Loft. The kids will have fun at the mini water park. A Jurong visit takes ~ 4 hours.

Jurong Bird Park has a proper South Indian restaurant right at the entrance. So we had some good dosas and idlis.

Then went off for some shopping to Suntec City, Tower 5. Suntec City has brands like – Uniqlo, H&M, SuperDry, Gap, CottonOn, Charles & Keith etc.

After our retail therapy, we went to Little India but now empowered with deep knowledge of where to eat, thanks to a school time friend I met at the mall.

Murugan’s Idli. That’s the go to place in Little India. Their food was an amazing experience, although the service left a lot to be desired.

At 11.30 pm, after we had satiated out stomachs, we noticed the presence of Mustafa store right across the road. It’s humongous, and it’s open all 24 hours. So we jumped right in, and shopped until 1.30 am. Get all your souvenirs, chocolates here.

Day 6

We went to The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands to do some window shopping. Had a sumptuous lunch at Punjab Grill, and then headed out to Suntec city to round off our shopping.

Had a quick dinner at Kurry Korner in Suntec city. It’s a hole in the wall, and is good for a pitstop.

Went back dog tired to our apartment, then spent the next few hours packing our bags.

Day 7

Had pre-booked the same limo for the ride back to the airport. Headed out to the airport at 8.15 am to board our 11.15 am flight.

All in all a very enjoyable though tiresome visit. I think I need another vacation.

Some pointers to help you –

  • If you’re a pure vegetarian then carry some theplas or fruit, or even bread+cheese will help.
  • Eating out is expensive as compared to India. Outside of Little India, meals for a party of 5 will set you back by ~200 SGD. Drinks are expensive.
  • It was rain time in Singapore in May, and the weather is unpredictable. So always carry umbrellas or ponchos.
  • Get the Grab or Uber app. Don’t travel without it.
  • As a tourist, you can get the GST tax refund from the airport. They might ask you to show the stuff you’ve purchased. So do visit the GST refund counter before you check in the luggage.
  • Taxis strictly seat 4 people, unless you have an infant who can be accommodated on a lap.
  • All places are always 10-20 minutes away. That was awesomeness for us. In Mumbai even going from Lokhandwala to Juhu circle takes 40 minutes during peak hours.

 

 

Things to do in San Francisco – one day

Here’s what I recommended to a friend visiting San Francisco for a day –

  • Visit the Ghirardeli factory – they’re an institution, renowned for their ice-creams. Pick up the 80% cocoa dark chocolate. Recommended time evening around 7ish.
  • Visit Pier 29 – Take a boat to Alcatraz (the kala pani prison like Andaman NIcobar wala). Take the audio tour there. Recommended time 10ish. Very touristy thing to do.
  • Visit Fisherman’s Wharf – again a very touristy thing to do.
  • Take a ferry to Sausalito – tourist town, very scenic. It’s a half-day affair, so do at your risk.
  • Visit the Embarcadero – (a boarding point for the Sausalito Ferry). Scenic area, right by the ocean. Also a boarding point for the Street Car. Again very touristy.
  • Take a cable car. Must must do.
  • Visit the crooked street (Lombard st.) – overrated.
  • Visit the Twin Peaks at late evening to get a raat wala marine drive kinda view of the entire SF city. Only difference is it is top of a hill and you can see pretty much the entire SF.
  • Visit the Golden gate bridge, drive to the other side and go all way up the Marin Headlands. Must must do.
  • Take the 49 mile scenic drive which will take you through most of the above stuff – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/49-Mile_Scenic_Drive
If you have more than one day to spend there in the bay area, do SF for one day and the next day drive down to Yosemite. You’ll thank me. Nature and beauty at the best I’ve seen so far in my life.

The air ticket booking state of affairs in India

Booking an air ticket online in India, these days, is a very tricky affair filled with minefields. One wrong move and the thing blows up on you.

Recently I’ve booked travel tickets online for some of my upcoming trips. The first thing to do is to unselect Kingfisher & Air India from the options the online booking sites show. I have no confidence that these airlines would even fly their planes on the day I have to travel. So these two are best avoided. That leaves us with the remaining options – Jet Airways, GoAir, Indigo & SpiceJet.

Jet Airways – I don’t think they focus on a pleasant customer experience as they used to in the past. The service in the airplane is mediocre. The crew ain’t even smiling these days. However, to give them credit, they don’t suddenly jack up the rates from one page to the other when you’re booking tickets on their website. They keep the insurance check-box selected by default. If you forget to unselect it, the Rs. 200/passenger insurance charge gets added to your final amount. The way the website works, if you notice the charges and want to go back and unselect the insurance option, you’ll have to fill up ALL your passenger details again. Not worth it.

GoAir – Mumbai to Delhi roundtrip fares for 2 adults shows up as Rs. 19034 on page one of booking. That page also has an option of purchasing some domestic insurance. Unselect and go to page number two. Voila, they add Rs. 200 as “Services” and the airfare now has a grand total of Rs. 19430. Figure out the math. I couldn’t.

Indigo – Mumbai to Delhi roundrip fares for 2 adults shows up as Rs. 19030 on page one of the booking. These geniuses have clubbed seat selection and meals in a combo package. Unselect the meals and you can’t choose your seats too. What an idea! They magically tack on Rs. 100 per passenger as a convenience fee.

Spicejet – I haven’t had the pleasure of booking anything on this one yet.

I’m sure they’re all thinking overtime too on how to rip off the poor unsuspecting passenger.

The trip to Bordi

Last weekend I went to Bordi with my family and friends. Bordi is a small beach town located about 150 kms from Mumbai, near the Maharashtra-Gujarat Border. We hired a 15 seater A/C Tourister mini-bus to take us to Bordi and back and it cost us about Rs. 10,000. Not bad.

Before I talk about Bordi, let me take a detour and talk about my hunt to zero in on a destination to go to. I went online to find some good weekend retreat – some hill station, beach town or a resort. There is no such site that would present you consolidated info. There are portals out there, but most of them seem like amateur efforts. Sites like Nivalink do a decent job of organizing stuff, but yet don’t  provide enough pictures or reviews of destinations, places to stay or information about travel or help with travel arrangements. If I am taking my family for vacation, I want to make an informed decision. Reviews or experiences of other people who have been there before would surely help. There is no such site in India. I looked at TripAdvisor – they’ve got content for bigger destinations but nothing substantial for off-beat or lesser known places. Random googling about Bordi threw up one review, but nothing significant. Finally, I took a leap of faith and decided to go to Bordi.

Now back to Bordi – The place is pretty chilled out for a beach town. Considering the throngs of people that you see in Alibaug and such other beaches, this place was nice and quiet. We stayed at a place called Tapovan. The place was a house converted into a “retreat”. They have a kitchen where they custom cook anything you might desire for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The place was decent enough – but obviously don’t expect a JW Marriott experience here. The cost was staying was very reasonable also.

Bordi beaches are very peaceful. Other than my family there was only one other couple.

The trip was fun and I would surely go there again soon :-)

The trip to Alibaug

We started off at about 8 in the morning from Andheri. Till about Uran the drive was decent, then somewhere I took a wrong turn and ended up in a townish village. When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade. So, we halted there for a grand breakfast of sandwich, tea and some thepla that we had got from home. On our way out I asked the restaurant owner for directions to Alibaug. He rattled off a go to naugadh shortcut … make a right blah blah blah … it’s a shortcut. The shortcut part stuck in my mind. We hit the road and literally took the path less traveled. Not only was it less traveled, it was also very bumpy. That might be the reason of it being less traveled :-) And no, it was not that big of a shortcut.

We finally reached Alibaug at noon. The one thing that struck me during the journey was the lack of a one-stop place with a food court, clean restrooms etc. There was just one called Food Max. They had a variety of food stalls – South Indian, Ice-cream, Chaat etc. I kept on wondering why hasn’t this model been replicated. Create a one-stop food court area with restrooms, gaming zone etc. Build one either near a gas station or right across from it. A guaranteed instant hit.

Anyways, back to Alibaug. All the beaches that we went to were clean. While we stayed right across from the Alibaug beach, the Versoli beach was the place were we had all the fun. You can literally drive right up to the beach. There is no commercial activity near the beach, except one guy who sells some sherbet/soda. It wasn’t crowded either. Perfect :-)

On our way back, we stopped over at Karnala hoping to spot a few birds. They allowed us to take the car with us into the sanctuary. While we didn’t spot any birds, we did see a few monkeys jumping around. The place was packed with people. Some kids were behaving worst than monkeys. A girl was howling, jumping and making funny faces at a monkey. The monkey looked bored. Shouldn’t the parents be asking their kids to behave. A few were playing cricket, one guy was kicking around a soccer. Hello! we are in a bird sanctuary. The birds be damned, let’s play cricket. Idiots.

On the way back, we just followed the directions to Mumbai. The overhead directions on the highway were good and were very helpful. The roads were mostly good, the drive very scenic.

I am looking forward to a return trip to Alibaug but without the exploration agenda. Just go there and chill.

Off to Alibaug

Heading off to Alibaug in a short while for a much needed break. Unsurprisingly there is much info available on Alibaug on the net. Will try and publish a photo blog when I return back. Am taking my Canon S2 IS and a tripod. Used to do several road trips when I was in the US, but unfortunately couldn’t keep it up here when I moved back.

I am now adding this post under a new Category – Travel. Hopefully, I’ll have enough to write about in that section.