23 hours to Arica [YQrtw Day 87 Jul 5]

chilean road

Location: Arica, Chile

Bus to Arica from La Serena
Bus to Arica from La Serena

Arica is a town near the Chile-Peru border, about 2,073.5 km from Santiago. After my very expensive flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago, I decided that I will take the bus for long-distance travel.

For me, while sitting on the bus for 23 hours is torturous, it is not as torturous as forking out a large chunk of the remaining of my savings. That was how I found myself on seat 20 on a semi-cama bus.

I broke down the journey into two: Santiago to La Serena and La Serena to Arica. Somehow, 23 hours of journey felt better than 30 hours straight on the bus.

I decided not to do a post similar to 31 hours of travelling because I get motion sickness when I try to read or write on a vehicle with wheels. I wish I didn’t have this problem since I would be able to read a lot more books when travelling.

I was seated next to a Chilean guy with large arms. I still had the aisle to put the rest of my arm and my feet so it wasn’t that bad.

On the bus, I managed to watch A Good Day to Die Hard and Hitchcock in Spanish. The first film didn’t require much listening skills since it’s all about blowing things up. Thankfully I’ve watched Hitchcock on the plane before.

Tur-Bus has a built in warning system that rings whenever the bus goes more than 100km/hour. There is a beeeeeep and the bus would slow down a little.

The bus was had air conditioning, which was great since I believe we passed through many places where the temperature was really cold. At one point, we were driving among the fog/clouds on a windy mountain road.

Condensation on the window
Condensation on the window
Road to the North
Road to the North
One way road
One way road

When we stopped at terminals to pick up people, I would go off the bus to breathe some of the cold fresh air. Ventilation on the bus wasn’t fantastic.

Some shiny town
Some shiny town
Some small town
Some small town

Food on a 23-hour bus ride

Some snacks and breakfast was included in my bus ride. However, the food provided was not enough to satisfy even a sedentary adult.

Breakfast on Tur-Bus: Spaghetti
Breakfast on Tur-Bus: Spaghetti
Snack box on Tur-Bus
Snack box on Tur-Bus
Chilena biscuit with dulce de leche filling
Chilena biscuit with dulce de leche filling

I had 6 green apples from Santiago and munched on them when I felt a bit of motion sickness. The sweet juicy apples helped keep things from coming up my throat.

Arriving in Arica

I figured out we were in Arica when everybody got off the bus. I only had 10,000 notes and 60 cents with me so I broke my note by topping up 1,000 peso on my phone.

Armed with a few 1,000 pesos, I followed the directions from the hostel and went to the opposite side of the road. Bus #8 came, I got on, asking in terrible Spanish if the bus went to the road I was going to. It did.

Using Google Maps [Tip! Save a spot on your app and the map for the area will still be there when you need it.], I found my hostel. I checked in, took a shower, tried to blog, napped and woke up for dinner. I had to walk to the main street for some local fast food but my belly thanked me for putting something–anything!–in it.

I’m now finishing up this post in my 12-bed (beds, not bunk beds, thankfully) in Arica Surfhouse. There’s no heating here but the temperature feels like a nice 17 degrees.

Buenos noches.

Bus to La Serena [YQrtw Day 85 Jul 3]

tur-bus in chile

Location: Santiago -> La Serena, Chile

I woke up at 8:05am and began packing all my things. Back on Day 1, I only had a backpack and my slingbag. Now, besides my sling bag, I have a backpack that is bursting at its seams, a huge Carrefour cloth shopping bag for my laptop and other important things and another smaller Carrefour shopping bag for water and food.

My luggage has gone out of hand. I even had to wear my two jackets simultaneously because there wasn’t space to put them in. By the time I was ready to leave, I looked like a hobo with my three bags and multi-layered jackets.

Thank goodness for the jackets because it was 8 degrees C when I got out. Instead of shivering, I was warm and snug, although a bit tired from my bags.

I initially thought I would reach the bus terminal in half an hour but it took a bit more time than that as there was a bit of traffic jam. Thankfully I left one hour earlier.

The Tur-Bus terminal is pretty good. In fact, the whole place is much better than bus terminals in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru. There weren’t any strange smell of piss or drunk/ drugged people hanging around.

Tur-Bus terminal in Santiago, Chile
Tur-Bus terminal in Santiago, Chile

My bus didn’t come until 10:34am. As soon as I got on the bus, the bus started pulling out of the parking space and off we went. That was fast.

The bus I booked was a “semi-cama” (semi bed) and the seats were quite comfortable. I could lean back about 150 degrees if I wanted to.

Inside Tur-Bus semi cama bus
Inside Tur-Bus semi cama bus

Through out the 6-hour journey, we were treated to three movies and no snack break. Luckily there was a toilet on the bus.

There was a very quirky Wes Anderson movie “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou“, the sleep inducing “Another Day to Die Hard” and the funny “Parental Guidance”. The latter two movies were dubbed in Spanish.

The view along the way was gorgeous. We passed by mountains and even the sea where the waves were gigantic.

Along the Chilean highway
Along the Chilean highway
I didn't know cacti grow on fertile land too.
I didn’t know cacti grow on fertile land too.

I snoozed a lot along the way, mainly during Bruce Willis’s movie.

We reached La Serena on time and most of the people got off the bus. Using a print-screened version of the hostel map, I slowly walked to the place I would spend the night at.

During the walk uphill, the straps of my bag dug into my shoulder. My hands felt like they would rather fall off than carry all the crap. So I decided there and then that I would get a suitcase with wheels.

Where do you find a suitcase in small town La Serena? After putting my luggage in the 4-bed hostel room, I walked back to the bus terminal where I saw what looked like a mall.

La Serena Mall
La Serena Mall

Indeed, it was the local mall. The inside looked exactly like one of the malls in San Jose. I was excited. I haven’t been in a “real mall” since coming to South America!

I walked around, admiring consumerism. My dinner was from a fast food place–a quarter chicken with rice and french fries at the price of S$8.

I managed to find a suitcase I like. At the cashier, I was given a discount for using a foreign credit card. My lovely black suitcase (actually, the only color they had) cost about S$100. I’ll show it to you one day.

The sun had set by the time I left the mall. I felt safe walking back the dimly lit roads because I figured that there would be less crime in a small town.

Now I’m back in my hostel room, in my warm bed. I’ll need plenty of rest for my 20-hour bus ride tomorrow. See you then!

Athens to Istanbul by bus [YQrtw Day 46 May 23]

A long way to Istanbul

Location: Mykonos -> Athens -> Istanbul

When I was planning my journey from Greece to Turkey, I didn’t think of doing a bus trip. I wanted to take the train or even a ferry to reach Istanbul from Athens.

But I found out that there is no direct train from Greece to Turkey. I will need to take two ferries to reach Turkey and take another bus ride to Istanbul.

In the end, I chose to buy a bus ticket from Athens to Istanbul.

Figuring out how to get the tickets was a pain in the buttocks. The web page for Crazy Holidays’s Athens to Istanbul was a jumble and there was no way to figure out how to get the tickets.

In the end, I found out how to get tickets from Athens when I stumbled upon this page. Silver Star Agency’s location was easy to find with Google Maps.

How to get to Al Travel Metro

The directions to the bus terminal was a little confusing since Google Maps couldn’t interpret the full address that was given to me.

The right address to search on Google Maps is Leoforos Athinon 222.

From Larissa station and Metaxougnio, there are buses A15 and B15 which stop at ΠΑΛΙΑΤΖΙΔΙΚΑ‎. Walk with the direction of the traffic and you will reach Al Travel Metro.

Being the scatterbrain that I am, I was too excited about the bus ticket spot check that I did not stop at the right stop.

Instead, I got off at one stop after. I had to walk on a overhead bridge that was parallel to the huge highway. The journey felt a lot longer than it was as the sun was hot and my bag was heavy.

I reached at 4:00pm. My bus was to leave at 5:00pm. I hung out at the stuffy lobby until the departure time.

At Al Travel Metro, there is a toilet behind the lobby. It’s in a warehouse and looks dark and creepy–you never know what you’ll step into.

The 14 hour bus ride

Long way from Athens to Istanbul
Long way from Athens to Istanbul

According to Google Maps, my journey was about 1,000km.

Thank goodness the seats were comfortable and I didn’t have anyone sitting beside me.

Throughout the night, I experimented with different sleeping positions. I was a pretzel, The Thinker with knees to my chin, a cushion with my head on the seat.

I never figured out what was the best position for sleeping. The position I want to experiment was hanging my legs out the aisle having my whole upper body on the two seats.

Bad backseat mates

Turkish shows on the bus
Turkish shows on the bus

I am blessed with a magical ability to attract the worst behind-seat mates. Last trip from KL to Singapore, I had a lady who crossed her legs through out the journey and whined loudly when my seat even reclined that just little bit.

This time, it was a pair of Brazillian buddies. They could not stop talking from across the aisle!

The only time I realized that there was no sound coming from them was at 11:00pm. I peeked at them and found that they were trying to sleep.

Rest stops along the way

Greek rest stop
Greek rest stop

The rest stops in Greece looked more like nice coffee shops that are generous with their toilet.

In Turkey, however, it cost 1 euro to use the toilet. Just as bad as it was in Italy.

Land border crossing and the smuggler

I’ve only entered another country through the borders in two places: Malaysia-Singapore and Malaysia-Thailand.

I was curious how the border crossing was for Greece and Turkey.

Leaving Greece, everyone had to get off the bus, pass their passport to the customer officer who was at the bus lane. The officer asked a few questions to suspicious people (like someone with a Malaysian passport). Those who have suspicious baggage had to take things out and unwrap them.

The passports were later passed back when we all got back on the bus.

For Turkey, the inspection was a bit worse. My luggage inspection was fast since I only had a backpack. The officer still put his hand into my bag and felt around.

There was a man who brought two tall boxes wrapped with newspaper and taped with brown tape, inside which was cognac, at least according to him.

The Turkish customs folks tore open the wrapping. In one of the boxes was a tall alcohol bottle that was about the height of my knee.

The man was detained and our bus left without him. It’s pretty scary to be him.

I drifted in and out of sleep on the bus. Most of the time I had my feet on the other seat and rested my head on the my seat. (Later I took a 2 hour nap when I got to Istanbul).

The bus was surprisingly on time and we all made it to Istanbul at 8:00am.

What was the longest bus ride you have taken?

Dubai bus stops are the coolest, literally

Dubai's air conditioned bus stop

Despite Dubai being in the desert, my trip to the city wasn’t as hot as it was in Sri Lanka. Most of the time, I hid in shopping malls or the freakishly cold buses.

One of the best things about the bus in Dubai is the bus stop. Some of the bus stops here are air conditioned! Inside, the temperature is a chilly 22 degrees Celsius.

Air conditioned bus stops. "We're 22 degrees Celsius all year round."

Bus stop looks like from the front.
Bus stop looks like from the front.

Isn’t it just awesome?!

Less awesome is a video of me giving you a tour of the bus stop. I look like I was very very bored. The truth is, it was rather sunny and I couldn’t open my eyes as wide as usual.

Enjoy!

Video tour of Dubai’s air conditioned bus stop

Should you fly from JB Senai Airport or Singapore Changi Airport?

Senai Airport

When I was in the first three years of university, I flew from Kota Kinabaluto Johor’s Senai Airport on AirAsia. From the airport, I usually take a private cab into Singapore for a princely sum.

Of course I had a choice of flying directly into Changi Airport but it was an expensive choice of SilkAir.

When AirAsia finally flew from KK to Singapore directly, I was ecstatic. I remember saying “goodbye” to Senai Airport, adding, “We’ll never see each other again.”

Unfortunately, I did see Senai again.

I took an AirAsia flight from JB back home to Sabah during the Christmas break. It was more than S$100 cheaper per trip compared with flying directly to or from Singapore. (RM284 [SG$115] vs ~S$250).

Compared to 4 years ago, AirAsia has made it convenient for passengers in Singapore to go to Senai. There’s a 2-hourly bus from JB’s CIQ to Senai. The bus journey is about 40 minutes and a pleasant ride.

AirAsia Sky Shuttle
AirAsia Sky Shuttle

When I was on the way to the airport, I asked the driver about the number of passengers who have taken the shuttle. He counted in his head and said, “13. And that’s a good number. It’s the weekend, you see.”

On the way to the airport, there were 3 passengers. On my way back to JB, there was only me. I have a feeling AirAsia might cancel the shuttle any time.

Since I had the chance to experience flying to Senai and to Changi, I will list down the pros and cons for you to decide.

Pros and cons of Senai and Changi

Senai Airport
Cruel fate

Senai Airport

Pros:

  • Tickets are cheaper than flying directly into Singapore
  • Marry Brown fast food at airport
  • Less crowded at airport
  • Free transport to Senai and CIQ

Cons:

  • Extra travelling time to JB or Singapore (depending on traffic)
  • Nothing much at airport
  • Free transport only available once every 2 hours
Changi Airport
Changi Airport

Changi Airport

Pros:

Cons:

  • Tickets are usually more expensive

If you are still undecided, here are some factors to take into consideration when buying your JB/Singapore ticket:

  • Total price difference (Remember to count in transport fees from Senai into Singapore. It doesn’t make sense if your transport fees are similar to airtickets savings.)
  • Time to travel to airport (You will probably be travelling for an extra 2+ hours depending on your SIngapore location.)
  • Wait for SkyShuttle bus (Buses come 2-hourly)
  • Getting to location in Singapore (Do you have too much luggage? Do you really want to drag them from Malaysia to Singapore?)

Have you flown from JB airport instead of Singapore? How was your experience?

Money saving tips for Tokyo: Transportation

Tokyo is the most expensive city to live in but there are still many ways to make the trip less expensive.

As I was writing this money saving guide for Tokyo, I realized that there is just too many sub-categories so I split the tips into three different posts.

This post is about saving on transportation. There is another on food and drinks as well as accommodation and sightseeing.

Transportation in Tokyo is crazy. A short trip would cost 180 yen (US$2.3) on the train which is very expensive compared to Singapore.

From Narita Airport: Get the Suica & N’EX package

Suica & N'EX package
Suica & N’EX package

I picked up the Suica & N’EX package for 3,500 yen when I reached Narita airport. It includes transport into the city (and slightly beyond) as well as a 2,000 yen Suica.

The package also good value because the N’EX limited express train to Tokyo is 2,940 yen (gasp!).

There’s also a package with return fare.

From Haneda Airport: Get Monorail and Yamanote Line Discount Ticket

Monorail and Yamanote Line Discount Ticket
Monorail and Yamanote Line Discount Ticket

Only available on weekends

If you arrive at Haneda Airport during the weekend, remember to pick up this discounted ticket.

For just 500 yen, you can take the monorail and leave at any stations on the Yamanote Line. If you are exiting at other JR stations, just pay the extra at the counter.

Free one-way day trip with Suica & N’EX package


If you have a day trip planned to either Yokohama or Kamakura, I recommend doing it on the day you arrive if you reach before noon.

I was planning to visit Yokohama but when I found out that the package covers Kamakura, I changed my plans immediately.

A trip from Tokyo Station to Kamakura would cost 890 yen. So in theory, I’ve saved a little by heading straight there instead of taking the day trip on another day.

Transfer rebate with Suica

Buying tickets for Tokyo trains
If you are using Suica to pay for your transport, it automatically gives you rebates when you transfer from trains of the same company.

Stick to the same company on trains

Tokyo Metro
Tokyo Metro

Planning your transport within Tokyo is really tricky. There are just too many lines and too many different train companies.

Many times, I had to transfer from one train line to another to reach my destination. I accidentally took different train lines for a ride and it cost me more than it would if I had transferred from the trains of the same company.

So, I suggest taking trains from the same company when you travel. This might mean an extra 5 minutes, but it’ll cost 200 yen less.

Check the rest of money saving tips for Tokyo:

Why visitors should get the Singapore Tourist Pass

EZ-Link Card

Day passes can save money. I’ve saved plenty in San Francisco.

For transportation, travellers to Singapore can choose between a day pass, the EZ-Link (stored value card used by locals for transport and other small payments) or paying by cash.

Singapore’s day pass is called the Singapore Tourist Pass (which I will shorten to STPass).

Singapore Tourist Pass
Singapore Tourist Pass

When I first read about STPass, my gut feel told me the pass is not worth the money and that a regular EZLink is an even better value for a traveler.

Here is the cost of the pass:
1 Day Pass S$10
2 Day Pass S$16
3 Day Pass S$20

The official site also lists a comparison between the STPass and EZ-Link.

However, I’m not quite sure what this line means: “Hence passes issued in Singapore come with a rental deposit of S$10 which is fully refundable if the card is returned within 5 days from the date of issuance.”

Update: You’ll need to give an extra S$10 when you buy the card. You’ll forfeit the money if you decide to keep the card. (Too expensive!)

The math

To see if my gut feel is right, I’ll do the math of travelling on an EZ-Link card for 3 days.

EZ-Link Card
EZ-Link Card

I’m using Wikipedia’s 3 Days in Singapore as an itinerary and use gothere.sg as my guide for transport cost.

For accomodation, let’s pretend that we’re staying at Raffles Hotel which I cannot afford (but bear with me).

Day 1:
Raffles Hotel to Singapore Zoo $1.89
Singapore Zoo to Orchard MRT station $1.72
Orchard Road to Clarke Quay MRT $0.83
Clarke Quay back to Raffles Hotel $0.88
Total spent: $5.32 + (non-refundable $5)=$10.32

Day 2:
Raffles Hotel to Chinatown $0.88
Chinatown to Little India $0.88
Farrer Park to Raffles Hotel $0.83
Total spent: $2.59
Day 1 + Day 2 expenses= $7.91
+ (non-refundable $5) =$12.91

Day 3
Raffles Hotel to HarbourFront $1.26
Monorail from HarbourFront into Sentosa $3.00 [Micheal said the pass does not cover this charge.]
Sentosa back to HarbourFront (Free)
HarbourFront to Raffles Hotel $0.83
Total spent: $5.09 + $3 Monorail
Day 1 + Day 2 + Day 3 expenses= $16
+ (non-refundable $5) =$21

There’s a small flaw with my calculations though: Most of my transport cost involves taking the bus. I like taking buses but some travelers might shun buses because there are too many routes.

Verdict

[Update (12/6/2012):] If we add the $3 for Sentosa Monorail, it gets a little more expensive.
Turns out, the STPass is quite a good value for travellers. This is due to the unrefundable $5 in the EZ-Link card. But you have to make sure that you will take enough public transport to cover your STPass.

I have to admit that the STPass does look a lot prettier than a regular EZ-Link. So if you are travelling to Singapore, maybe you can give it a try.

UPDATE: As Gurpal mentioned below, the card is only available at selected MRTs and at specific timings. Boo.

Have you bought the Singapore Tourist Pass before? How was your experience?

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Skip JR Pass, take long distance night bus

During my first trip to Japan in 2008, I bought a 7-Day Japan Rail Pass–JR Pass which currently costs 28,300 yen/US$ 367.90–and took the Shinkansen from Fukuoka to Tokyo, stopping in the Kansai region for sightseeing.

While the Shinkansen was speedy and comfortable, I decided not to buy the JR Pass during my last trip to Japan in October for four reasons

  1. JR Pass is really expensive even for one person, imagine splurging for two.
  2. We were in Japan for a 10-day trip and the JR Pass came in only 7-Day, 14-Day and 21-Day form so it wasn’t economically wise.
  3. We only planned to visit the Kansai region. If we were travelling a lot farther, I might have gotten the JR Pass or flew.
  4. By travelling by bus at night, I could save on accomodation but still get to my destination. My cheapest accomodation during the trip was my Tokyo stay at 5,300yen a night while Kyoto’s was 7,980 yen.

Choosing a bus from Singapore to JB

Planning a day trip to JB but don’t know which bus to choose? If you are leaving from Queen Street, Bugis, here’s some tips on which bus company to pick, assuming you already know how to get to the Queen Street terminal. I’ll also list the steps you need to take before you reach Malaysia’s shores.

From Queen Street, there are three bus companies that leave for JB: Causeway Link, SBS and Singapore-Johor Express.

Continue reading “Choosing a bus from Singapore to JB”