Thursday, December 27, 2007

Chapter 2: Take-Off & Touch-Down (MUM-CMB-SGP)

December 29, 2007 – Its 5:30 AM local time in Singapore and I finally got the time to write a post after almost 96 hours of leaving home. Now I’m not sure when I’m going to publish this coz Internet (WiFi) in my room is @ $ 10 SGP for an hour, ya that’s right, that’s 300 bucks INR (also its tiring to come back from a trip and start publishing posts) and therein I want to highlight to all you aspiring Travellers, please save from your skins from wherever you are, coz Singapore does not give you this high class standard of living for cheap

Allright, so here we go, I’m going to keep this section tight coz Travelling is one strenuous activity (sorry, if you think otherwise, you must be Spider-Man) and Travelling overseas is multiplying that by 3 times. Mumbai Airport was pretty much like the film “I am Legend”, New Years eve and hell no people, just some labor crowd heading to Pakistan, Dubai etc…The Immigration, Customs and Security (ICS) clearance took like 20 Mins. Now comes the hard part, thanks to the miserable arrangement of having to alight in Sri Lanka for a transit, I had to end up doing ICS 4 times one way, I’m preparing myself for the pain for the remaining 4 rounds when I head back. Please carry your own pen coz you have to keep filing what is called an Embarkment or Disembarkment Form for the Immigration officials. Every time you board a plane to another country, you fill an Embarkment and every time you land in another country or your own (from another destination) you fill a Disembarkment Form. If you know English, filing these forms and answering ICS official’s questions is simple and easy. Now point to be noted, you also have to read and keep yourself updated on ICS rules and regulations, again for 3 different countries in my case. Phew!! Check out the one for India here.

First stop, Sri Lanka, man do they have a Duty-Free Shop or what??? Anything under the sun and mostly SPIRITS is freaking cheap but that aint gonna help completely coz our dear ICS is waiting to see what you get so they can rip in the name of law back home but still you can get something. 1 INR = 2.7 SR that means Indians can buy more than twice the stuff for the same price

Now yes I did get the facility of Night Stop that I had mentioned earlier in my posts courtesy Sri Lankan Airlines. It was a 30 Min drive to place called Browns Beach. It was dark by 6:00 PM in Sri Lanka and we couldn’t see a thing and the airlines guy said it was a beach resort. That we knew was true when we stepped the in the lobby and wow… we were treated to some cool fresh beach air. The resort is fabulous and every room faces the beach. The rooms are tidy and have sufficient facilities for a pit stop. Dinner was complimentary for us so we helped ourselves but just couldn’t sleep or rest enough. Had a shower and was ready to be picked by the airlines for my night flight. While we were strolling on the beach, my mom called up to check on us and gave me what I thought was a very very sad news for the world over, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. I was shocked but like every one else I knew it was coming to her, you just cant keep playing with death and expect to win. Now that news triggered had its effects and boy, the roads in Sri Lanka had paramilitary troops checking every vehicle and Security at the Airport was very tight, removed our shoes too. What a timing to get a world leader bumped off, I said to myself.

Flight take-off was delayed by an hour and we finally took off. By the way, the flight time from Mumbai to Colombo is 2H.30M and Sri Lanka to Singapore is 3H.40M. The plane from Mumbai is an Airbus 320 and nothing great to talk about but the one from Colombo was an Airbus 340 and apart from all the frills like In-Flight entertainment, it had 2 camera (underneath the plane) views for passengers to see. It was amazing to experience the sky, clouds, sunrise, taking-off and landing from those views. Yea, I know boys what you want to hear when someone flies on an airline, the cabin crew was a combination of uncle+aunt types and then the my-kinda-girl types. They wear the saree in a slightly unusual way but they look pretty. Menu on both planes has something that you can relate to back home. Personally, I’m not a big fan of airplane food.

Allright baby, we touch down at the Changai International Airport (Singapore). It is really overwhelming to see this airport in such grandeur for someone who just saw the reasonable (coz now I know…J) back home. Once again the fabulous choice of good to purchase from the Duty-Free shops. But here nothing is cheap. You can count on me. Stepped out of the airport and got the first shock of my life, the taxis lined up are Mercedes, Toyota Camrys, Luxury SUVs and Vans. What? Are you sure that’s a taxi? I seem to ask myself. We had a large-size Toyota Van for the ride ahead. Let me take a sojourn here and tell you that the Travel Agents claims of a group (Approx 25) going together for this trip fell flat on the face and the only other people accompanying us through the trip was a father-daughter duo.

The city life now starts to sink in slowly, we had a nice taxi guide who kept us informed all the way to the Hotel. And while he was speaking, I got everything around me on my handycam. There was not a single speed-breaker and something else caught my eye, the Toll points, not a single soul, just drive underneath it and a credit-card size card installed in every car automatically gets charged. Whoa!!. I saw every sports car you can recall and every 500+ CC bikes zooming past us. Besides custom made cars, kinda like 2 Fast and Furious – Tokyo Drift.

We were put up at the Golden Landmark Hotel on Victoria Street. Closest railway/bus station is Bugis. Singapore, here I come...

Pictures of Mumbai to Singapore Transit via Sri Lanka:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chapter 1: Planning (Dec 02 - Dec 16)

December 02, 2007 - We took new pictures and this time made sure it was meeting the Visa requirements

December 03, 2007 - We submitted the pictures to the Travel Agent and hoped things will work out

December 09, 2007 - The Travel Agent calls up and informs us that Visas are being "Processed" and that I should make the final payment. Well, I told him that the day I get the passport in my hands, I'll do the needful. Lesson # 6, Be Patient, there is no hurry.

December 12, 2007 - The Travel Agent calls up again and "Voila!!" this time he calls up not only to make the final payment but also to collect the Passport with Visas, Receipts and other relevant docs.

December 13, 2007 - I visit the Travel Agent and collected the stuff, first RUDE shock, I have a connecting flight to Singapore. I have to fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka and then catch a flight to Singapore. Same arrangement while coming back. The transit time in Colombo is anywhere between 5-6 Hours...Lesson # 7, Be ready to swallow your spit, there is nothing you can do about this and ofcourse at this stage. I did try to get the flight details multiple times from the Agent but ke kept deferring it. I think these things are part of their Tour Packages and I did check that if you had to book flights on your own, it will cost you much higher. So, whatever.

Lets not spoil the mood. Yes, one important update, I checked on the Sri Lankan Airlines Web site that they have something called Night Stop, where the Airlines takes care of your lodging, meals and transfers at Hotels, all complimentary, if your Transit Time is >=8 Hours. I dont know, if it applies to me and the Travel Agent was not sure either, I guess I'll have to figure it out in Sri Lanka. Phew! checking the other stuff I see that the Singapore Visa (Tourist) is Multiple-Entry for 2 Years. May come handy next year as well, who knows :)

One more thing on my Agenda in the upcoming Weekend is to get Foreign Currency, the same Travel Agent was also a Franchise of Western Union Money Transfer. Now the prevailing rate for $ 1 SGP = 27 INR. Let me see how much I want to pamper myself in a foreign country, I think I'll go easy for the first time :)

By the way heres another site you should check, if you plan to travel to Singapore, it is pretty comprehensive and has lots of important contacts nos. for credit card companies, banks, embassy, helplines etc...

December 14, 2007 - Today I collected the foriegn exchange from the Agent. I see that it comes complete with a Bill and all. I had to handover copies of my Visa, Passport & Air Tickets to get these. Lesson # 8, Play safe, just for the sake of $ 1 more or less you may end up getting counterfiet currency from unreliable sources and you know how that can land you in trouble in a foriegn country. One more thing, if you need the currency in different denominations, you can let them know in advance. I went ahead with half of my currency in smaller bills.

December 15, 2007 - Another first in my life, visited a Salon to get a uh..well..ah I had no idea what they called it but I figured out it was a combination of Facial + Bleach. It was funny when the masseur asked me how come you decided to get one now (all of a sudden) and I was like you have no idea what I have been up to these days :) Well she was good at what she did and I felt a lot less greasier. Mind you all good things come with a price tag, this was no different :) Whats a vacation without some fresh look huh? Oh yea, got a new hairdo too. Lo'real anyone??

December 16, 2007 - Shopping time, picked out everything that boys will need on a vacation. Lesson # 9, Mind you, not everything you buy or own should be taken along, less baggage, less hassles since its a Holiday time, the Airport Authorities are going to be everything but in a festive mood ;) I have also heard that Singapore boasts of some nice Shopping spots, if you planning to buy there you might as well cut down here. One more item on my Agenda is something called Home Calling Cards from Vodafone. Its an alternative to the expensive International Roaming on your cell phone.

Well, that pretty much wraps up our Planning, next few Chapters will see me Taking-Off, Landing and the moment of truth, Singapore Tour. Oh yea, one more Chapter...Flying Back Home :) Enjoy the ride!!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Chapter 1: Planning (Nov 22 - Dec 01)

November 22, 2007 - I decided to do something I have never done before, plan a Holiday and spent the New Years Eve (2008) in a destination 2432 miles away from home. I zeroed in on the land of the Merlion, Singapore. By the way, there is another thing I havent done before in my life, BLOGGING :)

Why Singapore? Well its something I have always fancied visiting coz of its impeccable tourist spots, city and urban life and ofcourse who can forget the much talked about "CLEANINESS". Besides, its compratively easy getting through some of the formailities as compared to the Western holiday destinations.

Now for those who know me can tell you that I'm such a sorry traveller in and around where I live that it is absolutely impossible to believe I can plan a vacation and that too outside India. Well here I am...

First task was to chose a Travel Agent, after spending all day browsing, reading reviews (almost everyone seemed to be cursing about everyone they travelled with), I mustered some courage and went ahead with my intution and took my pick in SOTC, India. 2 reasons for that, 1 the office was close to my house (yea well I like things close by) and 2 the package seemed to be reasonable. You can check it out here.

Before I go ahead, I want to let you guys know that I'm writing this post not only to share my experiences I'm going to have during the trip but also things I encountered while planning the trip and that could prove useful to you

So then I pick up the phone and call the Travel Agency. Lesson # 1, speak directly to the owner and/or someone whos at the helm of the affairs, there can be some retards hanging out there not knowing what they are speaking about and wasting your time. So I got my man and he shared all that was to be shared about the trip. Lesson # 2, if you dont ask, he wont tell, he is not obliged to tell you everything. Do your homework before you call. Ask him about what the trip covers (no matter how many times you read on the website, it can spring up surprises), visa formalities, previous customer contacts, dollar/exchange rates, etc....I have forgotten the number of times I visited the official Singapore website and Google maps to check out where the travel agents are going to put me up and proposed tourist spots, this is very important, if you dont feel comfortable about their Itinerary, you can seek modifications. Spend as much time as possible on the Singapore website coz I learnt so much about the country, people, food, guides, transport system, night life, its simply amazing and cant wait to land there. I plan to make small notes as my own Itinerary since I'm going to be there for 6 nights.

November 23, 2007 - I decided to book tickets for me and my bro, visited the local photo studio to get snaps for the Visa. We are scheduled to take off on December 28, 2007 and return on January 3, 2008

November 24, 2007 - Visited the Travel Agency and booked my trip officially and gave a signing amount. they took our passports as a part of the process. The personal visit is important to know whom you have been speaking with and what kind of office they operate out of and his accomplices. I got my dad along with me, Lesson # 4, get someone from your family to know the Tour Operators, as it turned out he was someone my dad knew from a previous aquaintaince. This is just to make sure your passports are in safe hands.

November 26, 2007 - In anticipation of capturing some great holiday moments, I decided to arm myself with a sleek, point-n-shoot digital camera. Bought myself the Sony DSC-W55. Obviously, I did my homework before I bought one and I must admit it has blown me away with its ease and picture quality. Check it out here.

November 27, 2007 - We still had our Visa forms to process, the Travel Agent send one of his men to my house and I just had to sign in the right places. Done

December 1, 2007 - The Travel Agent calls me today and tells me that the pictures for Visa are not in the right format (80% face) and the applications were put on hold. Lesson # 5, always check the measurements correctly for the Visa-type pictures when getting them back from the studio. The Travel Agent did pass me on the measurements initially, my bad, didnt check 'em enough when submitting. Plan to visit the studio again tommorow and get new set of pictures taken and re-submit the application. Will keep you guys posted. Hope you have enjoyed the blog so far...Thank you for taking time out to read, I would love to hear your comments :) Ciao