Where to find cheap food in Aguas Calientes [#FoodFriday]

menu at aguas calientes market

Aguas Calientes is the town nearest to Machu Picchu. This is where you will likely stay a night before you visit the site or having a meal before you take the train back to Cusco or Ollantaytambo.

Most of the infrastructure in Aguas Calientes is targeted at tourists. This means jacked up prices.

In Aguas Calientes, I had eaten a 45 soles (S$21) set meal where the rice was as large as the head of my fork and a 67 soles meal (S$30) that was actually pretty tasty.

Of course, not every meal in Aguas Calientes has to exceed 50 soles. I can show you a place where you can have a meal plus a fruit juice for just 10 soles (S$4.50).

Where to find cheap food in Aguas Calientes
Where to find cheap food in Aguas Calientes

This little piggy went to market

Go to Aguas Calientes market for cheap food
Go to Aguas Calientes market for cheap food

On the second floor of the local market (not the “craft market) is where they sell cooked food. At lunch time, a lot of the stalls write their dishes of the day on a whiteboard. Just order off the list and you will have tasty, freshly made food.

Second stall in Aguas Calientes market
Second stall in Aguas Calientes market

The second stall on the left gave me a good vibe so I had both my meals there. The stall is run by a family of women. The first time I went, the elder sister cooked while the second time, the mother cooked.

Bistek frita
Bistek frita

The beef steak meal was lovely but the Milanese chicken (breaded chicken cutlet) wasn’t as good. I love how they have rice along with the meal. I also requested that they only give me tomatos and not greens as the salad.

Milanesa pollo
Milanesa pollo

After your meal, you might want to have a drink. At the market, juices sell for 5 soles. For this price, you get about 2 glass-full of juice. That was enough to stretch my stomach.

Fruit juice stall at Aguas Calientes
Fruit juice stall at Aguas Calientes

I will definitely miss the generous servings of fruit juices in Peru.

Special fruit juice
Special fruit juice
Mixed fruit juice in Aguas Calientes market
Mixed fruit juice in Aguas Calientes market

More about Aguas Calientes:

Who likes Aguas Calientes? I kind of do

Finally, the day I visit Machu Picchu [YQrtw Day 109 Jul 27]

Hot springs at Aguas Calientes [YQrtw Day 108 Jul 26]

Cost of travel in Dubai

futuristic Dubai

After Sri Lanka’s cheap living expenses, I reached Dubai. The place was rather expensive so I skipped touristy things like sand duning and desert trips, spending most of my time reading.

Dubai’s travel costs

In April 2013, Dubai’s exchange rate was around 3 dirhams to 1 Singapore dollar.

I changed my dirhams at Changi Airport before flying out to Singapore.

I figured that having some Dubai cash in hand before landing is a good idea since my plane arrive past 11pm.

Summary

Total spent (dirhams) # of days Daily average
1166.50 5 233.30

By Category

Accomo Transport Food Museums/ sites SIM
820 70.5 163.25 15

Stat

Duration: 5 days

Photos taken: 451 photos

Books read in Dubai: Several books from Song of Ice and Fire

Random

Best dish: Shawarma! [I didn’t expect to see that many reincarnations of this dish for the rest of my trip but I did in Greece and Istanbul.]

Chicken shawarma

Favorite part about Dubai: Air-conditioning

Biggest surprise: Dubai felt very familiar. It was like Singapore but with a lot of heat and sand. The place was eerily clean and the buildings in the CBD were shiny metallic.

Worst experience: Receiving a note under my door on my first night. I didn’t mention it in my blog posts because it felt too scary then.

Biggest rip off: Dubai 3G price. It was so expensive that I refused to buy 3G for my phone.

Biggest regret: Staying in Dubai for so long. Accommodation price in Dubai was really crazy. I booked an AirBnb accommodation and that took up 70 percent of my total spending.

Related posts:

Round-the-world pre-trip expenses

Sri Lanka: Travel costs & summary

Condensing 72 hours of Istanbul museum visiting into 24 hours [YQrtw Day 49 May 26]

Istanbul Shores

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Yesterday, I did a bit of research on the Museum Pass. On the web site, a lot of museums in different regions of Turkey were listed so I had the impression that the Museum Pass would cover all those sites. That’s perfect for us since we’re visiting Cappadocia where there is the Goreme Open Air Museum.

So while queuing for Haghia Sophia, I told mom that we should just buy the Museum Pass. I forked over 144 Turkish Lira to the man in the van and received our two black passes.

I was rather devastated when I read the pamphlet. It only listed a few museums in Istanbul and none that were out of the city. I looked at the pass again and realized that it’s actually Museum Pass Istanbul.

Worst thing was that we would be leaving Istanbul almost 25 hours after the pass’s first use. *sad music*

Anyway, I decided to make the most of it and cram 72 lira worth of sites into 24 hours so we wouldn’t be wasting our money.

This is also a list of “How to see the most of Istanbul’s museums in 24 hours

Site 1: Haghia Sophia (Day 1 5pm) [25 lira]

Haghia Sophia interior
Haghia Sophia interior

We checked off Haghia Sophia around 5pm on Day 1. This is the one site that everyone must visit while in Istanbul. It was even featured in ARGO where Ben Affleck’s character walked with an U.S. agent who worked in Turkey.

This church/mosque/museum will take about 1.5 hours of careful looking and posed photographs. When inside, the space looks smaller than it does from the outside.

Some renovation work was going on so we saw a bit of scaffolding on one side of the hallway.

The mosaic on the second floor was probably the most impressive among everything on display. You could see each tiny mosaic tile when you stand close. When you stand further, the tiles blend together into a stiff representation of Jesus and gang.

Unfortunately, by the time we finished Haghia Sophia, most of the other sites included in the museum pass was closed so we ended today’s sight seeing.

Bonus site: Blue Mosque (Day 2 8:30am) [0 lira]

Exterior of Blue Mosque
Exterior of Blue Mosque

We learned the hardway about the Blue Mosque’s visiting hours. It’s best to visit here in the morning as visiting hour streches from 8:30am to 12 noon. The timing’s much shorter in the afternoon and evening.

Heading to the Blue Mosque earlier means it won’t take up the time for other paid sites that uses the Istanbul Museum Pass.

Unlike the other sites, the queue for the Blue Mosque is much faster as there is no second queue that you need to go to. Just be sure to wear modest outfits.

What to wear to the Blue Mosque
What to wear to the Blue Mosque

Site: Istanbul Archaeological Museum (Day 2 09:40am) [10 lira]

We needed to check out of the hotel by 11:00am so I scheduled a visit to the Archaeological Museum in the morning and Topkapi Palace later in the day.

The museum is not very big so it’s easy to fit this place in an hour’s visit. We did it in less than that.

One of the best exhibit in the museum is the Alexander Sarcophagus, which wasn’t Alexander the Great’s actual coffin but one that had carvings of the guy at war.

Alexander Sarcophagus
Alexander Sarcophagus

There are a few mummies around if you’ve not seen one.

BONUS TIP: There is a free shuttle service on a golf kart from Gulhane Park (the beginning of the slop to the museum and Topkapi Palace). The service is FREE and saves a bit of time walking up or down the slopes.

SIte: Cheap boat ride across the straits (Day 2 11:30am) [extra 4 lira not included in Museum Pass]

After we stored our luggage at the tour agency, we head out to explore. As we weren’t hungry, I suggested that we take a boat ride (since mom seemed to desperately want to ride the boat).

There are packages for 2-hour Bosphorous Boat Tours which cost about 10 euro. We didn’t have 2 hours in our day’s schedule so we took the public transport boat from the Old City to the Asia part of Turkey.

With our Istanbulkat (public transport value card), we paid about 2 lira each for each way. It’s not exactly a long tour by the coast but we did see parts of the shores and the many houses and buildings crammed on the small land.

Istanbul Shores
Istanbul Shores

Across the straits, food seemed to be cheaper as we bought a doner for 2.50 lira (while it’s usually 4 lira at tourist places).

Site: Topkapi Palace and Harem (Day 2 1:45pm) [25 lira + 15 lira]

We waited for the Topkapi Palace shuttle but it didn’t come in 5 minutes. As we walked up the slope, the shuttle went past us. We waited at the Archaeological Museum for it to come back up. There was only a seat so mom got in and I walked up to the top. It was torturous.

The Topkapi Palace was bursting with tourists. It was a Sunday so it seemed like many locals were there as well.

The Palace has nice exhibit items. The most memorable was Prophet Muhammad’s multiple beards in multiple small beautiful cases. There was also a really really big diamond that was about the size of a chicken egg.

Besides the exhibit, the palace’s gardens is great for relaxing. Roses were in full bloom while we were there.

Attack of the Topkapi Palace roses
Attack of the Topkapi Palace roses

The museum pass also covers the harem so we headed there last. I had read that it was the best building in the Palace but I thought it was a little underwhelming since some walls of the palace were decorated more lavishly.

Eunuchs' dorm
Eunuchs’ dorm

Remember, the Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesday, as noted by an angry user on Foursquare.

Did fitting 72 hours into 24 hours work?

By the time we finished Topkapi, we were quite tired. If I was travelling alone, I might have forced myself to walk to the Mosaic Museum. Since I was with my mom, we took it easy and went for a tea break instead.

We only used about 75 lira of entrance fees in the end but the pass was still very helpful since we did not have to queue for tickets.

If you are in Istanbul for a similarly short period, the pass is helpful to help you cut down on queue time. Think of it as Time Equals Money and the few minutes count as 1 lira, or something like that.

Do you purchase Museum Passes?

YQrtw: Round-the-world pre-trip expenses

old timey receipt

Get ready for an overload of posts on my round-the-world (RTW) trip the whole week [#YQrtw](minus Friday where I will be sharing food from my East Coast trip). During the week, I’ll be writing about the destinations I am going to and a special post on cruising.

Today, I will be talking about my pre-trip expenses.

old timey receipt

Receipt for “Confederate States Court” Upholstery, 12/1861
Photo credit: National Archives at Fort Worth, TX.

The most frequent question I get from people when I tell them about my round-the-world (RTW) trip is: “So, how much will your trip cost?”

I look sheepishly back at them, “I’m not sure.”

“How much are you saving?”

“I’m thinking S$10,000 but I’m not sure.”

So, to be open about my expenses, I will share the cost of RTW.

Since I’ve not been on the trip yet, I’ll list down my pre-travel expenses.

To be honest, I was a little shocked when I saw how much I’ve spent even before leaving. However, this also means that I will have less in-trip expenses (is that even a word?)

I also want to note that I have paid for everything myself. My parents do not have a trust fund for me and they are not paying for the trip (at least not yet. haha).

Let’s get back to the topic: Here is the spreadsheet of expenses and detailed explanation of each price.

Pre-trip expenses

Air tickets (Total: S$4,436.10)

Air tickets took up more than half of my pre-trip expenses (~60 percent). I have a split of budget airlines and full-service airlines.

For my budget flights, I booked them myself through the airlines’ website (AirAsia, Tiger Air and Easyjet).

For the rest of the flights, I didn’t get one of those RTW tickets sold by airlines. The first time I tried cobbling up a route, I was very shocked about the price. I sort of gave up on it in the end.

Instead, I booked the flights though Airtreks which specializes in multi-destination flight routes. I did a mock booking and sent my purchase query to the company. Later, an agent (mine’s Justin) set up a time to call me so we can book the tickets together.

One good thing about using Airtreks instead of looking on my own was that I didn’t need to look at different routes on my own. Also, I wouldn’t have known about South American airline TICA if I had booked on my own. I managed to add in a week in El Salvador since Justin told me there was a layover there (US$60 extra).

After my booking, Airtreks also sent me e-mail updates on some of the flight timing changes which was a nice touch. Another great thing that happened with Airtreks was that they had an offer of either a night in a fancy hotel or US$100 Amazon vouchers (I chose Amazon!).

The down side was that the tickets were about US$400 more than what it would have been if I booked them separately on my own. Of course, if I booked the flights on my own, I would have to religiously check if there are any flight changes.

Even though the flights are pretty expensive, it’s actually about the same as a Singapore-Brazil roundtrip flight (according to people who told me about it).

Cruise (S$1429.9)

Before you go “What on earth, you are taking a cruise? Are you old or something?!”, I want to tell you that I will have a separate post on why I chose the 15-night repositioning cruise during my RTW.

This time, I want to talk about the expenses. This cruise to Italy wasn’t my first booking with Royal Caribbean.I made another booking for Dubai to Barcelona since the Italy route wasn’t open when I first booked.

I found out about the Italy cruise later and cancelled Barcelona to buy the new cruise. Even though I had to forfeit S$100 of my deposit, I still managed to save S$50 because it was slightly cheaper.

I paid for the full ticket in February (S$2,030). However, I found out that the price for the cabin of my class had dropped significantly in March. I think it’s because the cruise had very low booking and they had to slash the price to about S$1,500 per person.

I was rather angry. My friends advised me to call up the cruise line to complain. I did and I managed to get a verbal agreement that they will refund me the price difference. (I asked for an e-mail update but I haven’t received it yet.)

The cruise does seem expensive. S$1,500. However, you must remember that it’s for 15 nights of accommodation and all-you-can-eat buffets. Plus, it stops in Egypt which would cost quite a lot if I had decided to fly in and out to visit the pyramids.

I still need to include the tips which will probably be around S$200 for the trip.

Insurance (S$582.00)

I bought a 22-week insurance from Chartis during the Natas Travel Fair. It was 40 percent off which was a very good offer.

I did consider getting World Nomads (which is popular among the long-term travellers) but I decided that I want someone in Singapore whom I can talk to in case (touch wood) anything bad happens.

Yellow fever vaccine (S$188)

I still have a few vaccines I need for the trip but I decided to get the yellow fever vaccine in Singapore, just in case they didn’t have any in Sabah.

I went to Singapore General Hospital’s Travel Clinic. Even though I told the nurse that I only wanted the yellow fever vaccine, she gave very detailed explanation about what other shots I will need. She also checked if I needed to bring any malaria tablets. She figured that if I skip a few of the high-risk areas, I wouldn’t need any tablets.

She also advised me to cover myself up with long sleeves and trousers. I also need to use repellent with high DEET. Gulp.

The other vaccines I need are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhiod, rabies. I’ll probably skip rabies and refrain from touching the cute cats on the trip.

The rest of the expenses are small change compared to the above but here they are anyway:

Train tickets in Italy: (19 euro per trip)
I bought train tickets for Civitavecchia to Pisa and Florence to Rome. They were on promotion and were only 19 euro each way. I still need tickets from Pisa to Florence but those weren’t available online yet and can be bought on the spot for less than 9 euros anyway.

Backpack: S$63
I bought a new backpack that was larger than my old one (which was breaking down anyway). I haven’t figured out how to pack neatly so I can stuff more things in the 20L bag.

I will only bring the backpack as my major storage unit. It’s just too difficult to bring too many things. Also, mom’s coming to Turkey too so she can pass me winter clothes for South America.

Feature phone: S$89
My old 3-year-old Nokia broke down last month. I have an iPhone as my smartphone/portable map/Whatsapp device but I really need a feature phone for local SIMs. I bought a new feature phone when I passed one of the phone shops. It has two SIM slots which mean I can use two at a go!

Visa for Sri Lanka S$38.22 (US$30)
I bought this visa before I found out that AirAsia cancelled the KL-Colombo route. At first I thought about giving up Sri Lanka because the alternative flights were too expensive. Luckily, Tiger Air was selling cheaper budget tickets. Even luckier was that the flights were shifted to an earlier time and I will be able to reach in the morning.

I still lack the visa to the United States. I didn’t have time to get them while in Singapore so I plan to apply in South America before my plane leaves for the transit. Even though I will only be transiting to 4 hours, I still need to pay US$160. WTF.

So these are my pre-trip expenses. I’ll be writing more as I go.

Do you think I am paying too much? Share them in the comments below.

Cheap eats: Changi Airport Staff Canteen (Terminal 1)

changi staff canteen

It’s Food Friday here at YQ Travelling. Today, I will share where you can find the staff canteen at Changi Airport Terminal 1.

Usually, food at airport is expensive. However, among all the airports that I have been, Singapore’s Changi Airport has the relatively cheapest food.

If you don’t fancy fast food or restaurants at Changi Airport, I suggest visiting the staff canteen. Today, I will introduce the staff canteen at Terminal 1 because this is where I usually leave when I take AirAsia.

I find that the canteen can only be accessed from the second floor’s lift. Somehow, I could not find the elevator on the first floor.

Sign to Changi Airport Staff Canteen Terminal 1

Look for the toilet nearest to the AirAsia counter. Around the corner, there is a set of elevators to the basement. Head to Basement 1.

You will reach a large staff canteen such as this.

Changi Staff Canteen

I find it surprising that many Indonesian tourists know of this relatively secret hideout for cheap eats. Every time I go, I see a table of tourists from Indonesians with their large luggage.

The food in the canteen is very similar to what you can find at normal hawker centers.

Duck stall at Changi Staff Canteen

For example, this bowl of duck porridge is S$4. The same price as at the food court.

Duck porridge at Changi Airport Staff Canteen

A normal cup of kopi (local coffee)

Have you been to the staff canteen at Changi Airport? Which is your favorite stall?

Tips to maximize your trip to Genting

Genting First World Hotel

First World Hotel, Genting

Genting Highlands is a hill resort located about an hour away from KL Sentral. It’s popular among gamblers who visit the casino and families who visit the theme park.

[Note to Singaporeans, Genting is not pronounced “jen-ting” like “generation”. It’s more like “guh-n-ting”. Here’s an audio clip here.]

Purchase Genting Go pass at major bus terminals

Go Genting Pass

If you are heading to Genting for a day trip or for even for an overnight stay, do consider getting the Go Genting Golden package.

The package is sold at various important locations: KL Sentral, Pudu Sentral, 1Utama, Terminal Gombak and Hentian Kajang. (The package is RM58 for the first four departure locations and RM63 for the last.)

The package gives you same-day return bus transfer, same-day return cable car and either an Outdoor Theme Park ride pass or buffet lunch.

Considering that the 1-Day Unlimited Ride Pass for Outdoor Theme Park is RM54 for adults, the package is really bang for your buck (or ringgit, in this part of the world).

Plus the cable ride is amazing.

Cable ride to Genting Highlands

Be flexible with Go Genting pass

Even though there are various time slots, the Go Genting packages can be sold out for certain timings. (Most likely the early morning slots from popular departure points such as KL Sentral.)

This happened to us. We were at KL Sentral before 8am and there was a sign saying that the next bus will leave at 12.30pm because earlier tickets were sold out.

Instead of heeding the taxi drivers’ advice to take his car, I called up the Pudu Sentral ticket counter and checked that they have tickets for 8.30am. We bought a taxi coupon from the official point and zipped to Pudu, with plenty of time to spare for our ride.

Go early and get back before last bus

Queues at the theme park can get long on weekends. To be sure that you can test out all the rides before sundown, go as early as possible.

Similarly, you don’t want to be stranded up on the mountain with no bus back to KL. Check the bus timing!

Book a room on Saturday

If you are staying at the hotel for a night, choose Saturday because the park closes at 10pm then.

I didn’t know of this when I booked the room and found out only when we were there. It was a very pleasant surprise. We ended up leaving only after 9.30pm.

Check in early

First World Hotel check in kiosk

IF you do book a room, you don’t have to wait until 3pm to check in for First World Hotel.

The self-check in kiosks allow you to check in rooms that are available. They even have a sign with the number of available rooms.

Bring your own food or instant noodles

Hot water for instant noodles

Food at Genting is expensive. If you want to save money, bring your own food.

Consider bringing instant noodles. You can get hot water when you go up the hotel room floors.

Eat at food court

Kopitiam Foodcourt

At First World Hotel, head to to 2B where there is a Kopitiam food court.

The claypot stall sells fairly reasonably-priced food that is quite tasty.

Do you have other tips for Genting? Share in the comments.

How to beat AirAsia’s b***s**t extra charges

airasia booking

AirAsia revamped its Web site in November, changing all of booking pages. This is a refreshed version of the original “How to beat AirAsia’s b***s**t extra charges” with new screencaps and new step-by-step instructions.

Update: Feb 23, 2014. I’ve shifted some of the steps because AirAsia changed their sequence.

Update: Jan 13, 2013. Changing publishing date so the post will be higher up, ready for this round of Free Seats.

AirAsia Booking
AirAsia booking first page

AirAsia has revamped its whole Web site. Good news is, some of the sneaky charges in the previous booking procedure have been taken out.

However, there might be still some confusion with the booking, I’m doing up a new version of the guide too.

For this money saving activity, you will need

  • Internet connection
  • Browser
  • Direct debit e-payment method (save RM4 per journey)

I am using a return flight from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu as an example. Please ignore the exorbitant flight price.

Step 1: Pick a good price

Unless you are flying within the month, I recommend that you wait for a while for the promos to roll in. The AirAsia Facebook puts up updates about the sales frequently. I haven’t figured out the promo fares’ cycles but they come quite quick.

Plan as far in advance if you can and do not buy tickets at full price. If you are booking during the promo period, remember that a lot of people are doing the same so you need to strategize your booking.

Step 2: Beat the charges I–Luggage

When you have selected the flight with the best price and time combo, you are ready to eliminate those sneaky fees.

At the page where you fill in the passengers’ details, you will come across the first extra charge–baggage fee.

AirAsia lists the 20kg as default. You can select 0kg if you are hardcore.

Get rid of AirAsia Baggage Fee
Get rid of AirAsia Baggage Fee

I’ve been travelling with only a carry one for many of my trips now. It takes some getting used to but it is possible to stuff a laptop, two dresses and other things into one backpack.

Be careful, you will need to deselect luggage twice on the same page if you have booked a return trip.

Money saved with 0kg: S$17 one way (for default 20kg price).
Total saved: S$34

Step 3: Beat the charges II–Insurance

With the revamp, AirAsia has made it much easier to skip buying insurance. But it’s still a bit sneaky.

To remove insurance,

  1. untick the box
  2. click  [Cancel]
  3. click [OK]
Cancel AirAsia Insurance
Cancel AirAsia Insurance

A word of caution: I do not recommend having no insurance when travelling. I have an annual travel insurance by another company so I do not buy from AirAsia.

Money saved no insurance S$12.
Total saved: S$46

Step 3: Beat the charges III–Seat allocation

Hurray! There is no sneaky extra charge here.

Just head straight to Confirm on the lower right.

AirAsia seat selection
AirAsia seat selection

I was given the “Hot Seat” once (for free) but I didn’t feel that it was any better than the rest of the seats. Maybe the red faux leather was prettier than the boring black, but everything’s the same.

Unless you and your darling are two lovebirds who cannot bear to be apart (nice ad by the way, AirAsia) or you need to take care of your child/elderly, please be sensible and do not add any seats.

No sneaky charges. Hurray!.
Total saved: S$34

Step 5: Beat the charges IV–Processing fee

We are almost there!

The last fees that you will encounter is very much like the Boss level in video games. You will need that “Direct debit e-payment method” I prescribed up there.

If you pay using a credit or debit card, AirAsia will charge you something they call a “processing fee” for each flight that you take.

It doesn’t mean that you can buy 10 person’s tickets in one transaction to even out the processing fee. It means it’s 10 x [processing fee]=A lot of wasted money.

[Update Sep 16, 2013] Since a month ago or so, AirAsia has started charging processing fee for direct debit payments as well. However, you will still save a measly RM4 if you use direct debit.

In Singapore, we can use ENets as the direct debit payment option, which eliminates the processing fee. Just change the currency to Singapore Dollar to get the ENets function.

AirAsia Direct Debit
AirAsia Direct Debit

For other countries, there are other ways so please research before you start your payment.

If you are buying tickets departing from countries without your Direct Debit option, change the currency to the one your account is based to see if they have the option for you.

Money saved with no processing fee S$16 return trip.
Total saved: S$62

Step 6: S$62 richer (+pre flying tip)

So by being careful, I just saved myself S$62 for a single person return trip–enough to fund for another trip to a closer location! The amount also adds up if there are more travellers.

Also, remember to use Web check-in because they might charge you extra at the counter.

My tips are targeted at AirAsia. At my favorite money saving site: UK-based MoneySavingExpert, there’s extra tips on how to save money on budget flights with a focus on inter-Europe cheap flights.

That is all I have to impart. Go on your money saving journey, my friends!

Related posts

Do you like budget flights? What was your cheapest ticket?

#FoodFri Cheap breakfast at McDonald’s Singapore

McDonald Sausage McMuffin $2.50

Singapore’s not the most budget friendly destination in Southeast Asia. But it’s one of the most popular transit points so it means that you, as a traveler, might need to spend a bit of time here.

If you want to save money in Singapore so that you can stretch your penny in Thailand/Vietnam/Laos, look no futher. I’ll be featuring a few cheap meals that can save you money while in Singapore.

For today, I recommend the S$2.50 breakfast set from McDonald’s.

McDonald Sausage McMuffin $2.50
McDonald Sausage McMuffin $2.50

The set includes a Sausage McMuffin without the egg and a coffee or tea. If you are eating in, there’s free refill at the corner where they put the sugar.

Whenever I have morning duty which requires me to reach the office around 8am, I usually buy the set. It’s quite filling. The coffee also gives quite a good jolt for the morning.

But beware that the set is only available on weekdays, until the end of breakfast hours which is 11am.

Stay tuned for #FoodFri next week where I feature another cheap breakfast in Singapore

Follow me on Twitter or share a thumbs up on Facebook.

Hidden treasures on the road: Second hand bookstores

I know books don’t make the best souvenirs:

Little Prince, Beauvoir
Little Prince, Beauvoir

Despite that, I always feel a sense of euphoria when I stumble upon second hand bookshops overseas.

The musty smell of the shop, the yellowing pages and the cheap price of books give me more thrill than shopping for clothes unless the garments are second hand and cheap.

Here are a few of the hidden treasures I’ve found during my travels:

BOOK OFF, Japan

BOOK OFF, Tokyo
BOOK OFF, Tokyo

BOOK OFF is one of Japan’s second hand book store chain. I was introduced to it by my host family in Fukuoka. At the end of my summer school, I sent home a heavy box of Japanese manga.

Popular manga usually go for 200 yen for a book while older manga are 100 yen. Foreign language books are not cheap though.

When I visit Japan (which is not often), I always have my eyes peeled for a branch of BOOK OFF on the streets. (There’s even some BOOK OFFs in Paris, if you are ever there.) When I see a BOOK OFF, I can’t help popping in to see their collection.

During my last trip to Japan, I had a free day waiting for the evening to come so I could go to Gintama Land. I found a BOOK OFF on the second floor of a building and spent hours in the shop, thumbing through comics.

Books in BOOK OFF are always in pristine condition. They look even better than most of the books on my shelf back home.

The Japanese usually read books stores while standing (it even has its own phrase “tachiyomi“). On weekends, it’s quite a sight to see everyone standing, reading while facing the bookshelves.

Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes

Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes
Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes

I was looking for a place to have lunch in the center of Nantes when I came across a second hand bookstore “Bouquinerie du Centre”.

The selection wasn’t a lot but it had titles which weren’t easily available in Singapore.

Trying to look smart, I picked up a few Simone de Beauvoir’s books which looked easy enough to be read. Le deuxième sexe wasn’t available, unfortunately.

But I must confess that the books are still in the suitcase since my move to my new rented room in August 2011.

Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco

Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco
Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco

While in the Mission District looking for lunch (again!), I found Adobe Bookshop. The shop was in a state of orderly mess with stacks of books arranged alphabetically according to author and genre.

I browsed the rows and rows of books, squeezing through bookshelves and found a man snoozing in one of the armchairs.

While I was looking for something to buy back home, a man came into the shop. He said he accidentally bought the same book and asked if he could exchange it for another. The shopowner agreed.

The old gentleman came to my aisle and was looking up and down for the author’s row. When he asked me if I knew where the author’s book was, I helped him in his search. We found it.

He then asked if I had my lunch as he was going to grab a bite. Although he didn’t feel threatening, I pretended that I just ate because I don’t think I should go around having lunch with strangers I’ve just met, even if it was in a book store.

Bridget Jones
Bridget Jones

While browsing, I overheard the shopowner telling a customer that the shop will be closing down as the landlord wanted to increase the price of the rent. I looked at the price of the books and wondered how the shop manage to stay open in the first place.

When I paid for my books, the shopowner asked if I was from overseas. I answered, “Singapore”. He then said that he was collecting foreign currency and if I had any money from Singapore to exchange with one of the foreign money in the plate.

I did have a S$2 note and I chose a pre-Euro coin from France. I said my thanks and left with my books.

I think the shop would have closed down by now. I feel sad.

This post was inspired by this week’s #Travel Talk on Twitter (#TTOT): Hidden treasures.

Have you stumbled upon hidden treasures when travelling? What was it?

Follow me on Twitter or share a thumbs up on Facebook.

How to book AirAsia Free Seats

airasia free seats

It’s that time of the year when AirAsia has its “Free Seats” sale. This time, the sale will be held on the coming Monday, Oct 29 at 0:00 GMT +8.

Unfortunately, I probably won’t be able to book those Free Seats because I am still travelling at the start of the sale.

However, I’ve whipped up a few tips so you can successfully book those Free Seats* (airport tax and service charge not included).

Before you go around saying, “Hey, why do I still need to pay if it’s a Free Seats sale?”, remember, the plane ride itself costs nothing but you pay the usual airport tax, service charge. You can beat secret extra charges too if you know where to find them.

These RM0 sales was once a really rare event. But AirAsia had two of these Free Seats sales just this May and September. It’s great that it’s getting more frequent. This also means that if you cannot book your flights in this round, the other round will come soon.

Are you ready to book those Free Seats? Let’s go! (PS The following tips are adapted from a guide by AirAsia. Even if you have read the guide, I have a few tips based on my booking experience so please read on.)

Preparation before sale day

You should prepare for the sale by following the list below a few days before the sale. Doing it on the day of booking will cost you time and even make you lose your Free Seat.

Step 1: Sign up for an account
Even if you will only book from AirAsia once, sign up for an account as this will cut down the time you make bookings later.

You will be able to save your travel information (such as passport number, passport expiry date, phone number etc) to the account as well. You will need these information when you make the booking.

Step 2: Register your Family and Friends list
Once you have an account, register your travelmates’ names and travel information in the Family and Friends list.

This list saves the travel information of your Family and Friends so you can add them into your booking with only a few clicks. (Similar to Step 1, you will need the personal information of those travelling with you.)

Tip: If you or your travelmate’s passport is expiring around the dates you want to book, just give a pretend expiry date. You can change the passport number and date later after you’ve made the booking.

Step 3: Figure out the routes and dates you want to fly
There are only a few “Free” tickets for each flight so if those RM0 tickets are snatched up, you will get slightly more expensive tickets. This is why you need to be quick and plan really far ahead.

As the tickets are usually for dates that around half a year earlier, you have to figure out which are the best dates to travel. This includes finding out if there are long weekends or public holidays which you can take advantage of.

Also, it’s not worth going on trips where you reach too late or leave too early because you will waste half day’s leave (or your precious holiday time) going to the airport or flying back.

Step 4: Have two or three backups
Even if you are clever enough to plan your trip around public holidays, other buyers are thinking the same. That’s why it’s important to have a few backup destinations or dates.

Without backups, changing dates while booking might be easy if you are a solo traveler. But if you are travelling in a group, make sure everyone is fine with the backup dates.

Step 5: Familiarize yourself with AsiaAsia’s booking system
Practice makes perfect so go ahead and pretend to book a few tickets until you’ve reached the page where you actually need to pay money.

This way, you will also see where the tricky extra charges are laid out. My post on how to beat AirAsia’s b***s*** charges tells you how to avoid those fees.

AirAsia also has a nice guide on how to book tickets for novice bookers.

On the date of the sale…

Tip 1: Book early or at a weird timing
I don’t think I’ve been lucky enough to book a Free Seat in the first hour of launch because the servers are usually too busy.

But I’ve had success booking at strange timings like early in the morning, in the office (don’t tell my boss. Shh…) or some days after the initial craze.

For the last few sales, AirAsia has implemented a “Waiting Room” system where you wait for the servers to be less busy before you are brought to the booking page. Make sure you have enough time to wait for your turn when making the booking.

Tip 2: Book through mobile site
There was a year when I booked my free seat through the mobile site and managed to snag one or two free seats. Unfortunately, I could only pay by credit card so there was the extra credit card processing fee.

Tip 3: Be patient!
This tip is actually targeted at myself. I run out of patience when trying to book and that doesn’t really help with the booking experience.

Do you have any tips to share?

That is all I have for now. I’ll update this page if I think of any new tips. If you are a AirAsia veteran, please share your tips for booking Free Seats.

Until my next post, have a safe trip.

Further reading: How to beat AirAsia’s secret extra charges