Archive for Travel

Flights from UK to Malaysia

Air Asia XThis October, I'm flying direct from Stansted (Essex) to Kuala Lumpur for £99 one-way inc. tax thanks to Tony Fernandes, the entrepreneurial founder of Air Asia. It's a budget airline with no-frills and it flies from Stansted (a superb airport in a bad location) but for £99, that's an all out bargain. The nearest competitors cost upwards of £250 one-way.

My mate Carl is looking for the best flight price for his trip to Malaysia this summer, so lets point him in the right direction…

The first thing to note is that you must to hunt around. For every one of my last 8 trips to Malaysia, I have booked through a different website. The prices change on an almost daily basis. Sometimes a comparison site has an exclusive offer, other times the airline itself is offering a discount for going direct to them.

I wrote before about how you can get a cheaper flight and see somewhere new with a stopover. Another option for the globetrotter is to fly into Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and out of Singapore (SIN) so that you can check out Singapore for a couple of days.

Now its over to you to start searching…

Airlines:

  • Air Asia – flights from £99 one-way if you're lucky – £180 one-way is more likely. Pay extra for food, entertainment, choose your seats. If you are tall, it is worth the small upgrade fee for a seat with extra legroom.
  • Malaysia Airlines – direct flights from London Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur starting around £650 return. It's a decent airline but overpriced because of a lack of competition. Maybe that will change now Air Asia is on the scene.
  • Emirates – direct flights from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur starting around £650 return. Great airline but pricey.
  • Gulf Air – stopover in Bahrain. Return flights starting from about £500 though they currently have a special offer of £411 if you fly by June 14. Good airline.
  • Qatar Airlines – stopover in Doha. Return flights starting from about £540. Good airline.
  • Singapore – stopover in Singapore.  Return flights starting from about £650. Excellent airline.

Flight comparison sites:

  • LastMinute.com – scans all the major airlines.
  • Ebookers – ditto.
  • Expedia – customer service is poor but hopefully you won't need to contact them.
  • Opodo – often its the most expensive, but twice it's been the cheapest for me.
  • Kayak – great search tools and interesting charts of historical flight prices, but has never found the cheapest for me.
  • Thomas Cook – they don't just do holidays – you can book flights too.

Post a comment below to let us know how you got on.

Comments (1)

Billion dollar bank notes

A family friend from Zimbabwe recently came for a 2 week break in the UK.

He brought some Zimbabwean dollars with him including this note that he was given 4 weeks ago. It was worth roughly US$1. By the 25th July, it was worth roughly US$0.1. By next week, it will probably be worthless.

50 billion Dollar note, Zimbabwe

50 billion Dollar note, Zimbabwe

Click the note to see a larger image. Notice how it has an expiry date:

Pay the bearer on demand 50 billion dollars on or before 31st December 2008.

Apparently people don't want Zimbabwean dollars any more. Instead, they use foreign currency or they barter – exchanging goods with each other. He told us of a farmer that pays his workers in bananas, for which they are very grateful.

It is a classic example of hyperinflation and a sorry state of affairs for this once prosperous country.

Comments (4)

Next-generation sports cars

I just found a new vehicle while surfing.

Here are the specs…

  • Price: $108,000 (£55,000)
  • Weight: 3000+ lb (1360+ kg)
  • 0–60 mph (0–96 km/h): 4 seconds
  • ¼ mile (0.4 km): 12 seconds @ 120 mph (193 km/h)
  • Top speed: 150 mph (240 km/h)

Now visualise what a car with such high performance would look like.

Now go and see what the car is.

If you enjoyed that, you might also like this great looking car and this space age one.

Both the Tesla and Aptera are in production now but have a seriously long waiting lists and can only be purchased in the USA. The Tango has not yet reached mass production.

Update: The Tango is already in production and you can order one from the UK. I just received this email from their President, Rick Woodbury:

Hi Jake,

Thanks for your enquiry:

Yes, you can certainly pre-order one for the UK.

We are shipping one to London with a few months.

The T600 is available now. It is made to order. Orders placed now will take approximately 6 months to deliver. The price is $108,000 in USD, fully equipped including a 10-year unlimited-mileage parts warranty. We can customize the Tango or remove items at cost if so desired.

Lead-acid batteries that have a range of 40 to 80 miles depending on speed and terrain come standard. Li-Ion batteries are also available with a range of 100 to 200 miles or more of freeway driving with prices ranging from approximately $25,000 to $50,000 depending on type and capacity. We are expecting a final quotation and warranty shortly. The Li-Ion batteries promise much more power than even the lead-acid.

We are also taking deposits on less-expensive models which will be designed and built as funding becomes available from profits or investment capital.

There is more detailed information on our web page under the "Ordering" button.

If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Best wishes,

Rick

So you can order a T600 now ($108,000 with $10,000 deposit) and receive it in 6 months, or you can pre-order a Tango T100 ($18,700 with $500 deposit) and wait 2-3 years.

Comments

Cyclists banned from trains

Bicycles - but not on trains thank youI was thrown off a train at Marylebone Station 4.58pm today because I had a bike. I argued with the railway staff, including the station manager, but they enforced a rule that would not let me on their trains between 4.30pm and 7.30pm.

The train was ready to depart and there were plenty of spare seats. But they forced me to wait in London for 2 and a half hours before I could use my ticket.

People should be commended for choosing to cycle, not thrown off and prevented from travelling. Cycling, instead of driving, reduces CO2 emissions and gives people exercise. Climate change and obesity are two of our greatest challenges – cycling to work helps solve two problems in one go.

Encouraging cycling is clearly a good policy, so let's not prevent people from doing a good thing. Let's make more space for bikes on trains or just increase the frequency of trains. It's as simple as that. Yes it might mean refitting some trains or adding a carriage here or there, but if we're serious about climate change and obesity, having bikes on trains is a no-brainer.

The station manager told me that the ban was 'governments rules'. I questioned his judgement and rightly so. From what I've since read online, only some train companies ban bikes on trains, though it is an increasing trend.

The Labour Government harps on about 'integrated transport' and tackling climate but as usual, it is hype and rhetoric. Labour was petitioned 14 months ago to allow bicycles on trains but they declined to help, saying it was up to the train companies. We didn't elect our Government to pass the buck.

The train companies don't get it. The government doesn't get it. So where do we go from here?

  1. We can lobby the Office of Rail Regulation.
  2. We can lobby the train companies.
  3. We can vote Labour out of power in 2 years time. And we will.

Comments (1)

Heeren Inn (Malacca) has bed bugs

If you visit Malacca, never stay in the Heeren Inn.

Bed bugMy family was attacked by bed bugs on Friday night in the Heeren Inn. The hotel owner did not care.

We stayed in rooms 207 and 208. The bed bugs attacked in the early hours of the morning and the itchiness woke us up. We assumed that the bites were from mosquitoes. Later in the day, the bites became inflamed and uncomfortable. When I described what a bed bug looks like, my mother realised she had found one that morning on her bed.

My mother has more than 50 bites all over her body. Her face too – eyes, nose, cheeks, forehead, chin, neck – are red with bites. The feeling is uncomfortable and painful. Sophia and I have about 20 bites. I've taken my mum to hospital twice and she has had one steroid injection, one Piriton injection and has been given 5 days of Piriton tablets to try to ease the pain.

Bed bug bites on the armIt's terrible for this to happen on my mothers holiday. I am torn to even publish the photos here, the bites are so severe. I've since removed the photo of her bitten face because it's too painful for me to share. It's my responsibility to look after my mum while she visits us in Malaysia and staying in this hotel was a big mistake.

I explained the situation to the hotel owner. To my shock, he would not give us a full refund. He claimed he did not even know what bed bugs were, so I showed him photos from Wikipedia and explained that:

  • Bedbugs are normally carried into hotels via guests baggage.
  • They live in dark places such as floorboards or under furniture.
  • The bites are very uncomfortable and last for more than 7 days.

He still refused to refund the 156RM room cost (£25 / $50US). After much discussion, he offered me 56RM saying that we "should pay something for the room". I told him that we would be "paying" for his infested hotel room for the next 7+ days and declined his stingey gesture. The money is not important, it is the principle that matters. You cannot ask people to pay for a room with bed bugs.

The very least he should have done was give a sincere apology and a full refund. But in fact he showed that he does not care what happened to my mother. What a money-grabbing, selfish man.

Now I'm telling other people so they can avoid this painful mistake. You can help me by linking to this page so people can avoid the Heeren Hotel and learn how to protect themselves against bed bugs.

Advice to travellers:

Bed bug bites to the finger

  • Ask the hotel / guesthouse / backpackers what they do to avoid bed bugs. They are a common problem in tropical countries and hotels should have a pest control procedure in place.
  • Bedbugs can live in any room, including clean-looking ones.
  • They are more likely to be found in high turnover accommodation with guests moving from one hotel to another especially backpackers, though they can be found anywhere.
  • As a very rough rule, the more you pay for a room, the lower the chance of bedbugs is.
  • If you wake in the night to the feeling of insect bites and you cannot hear the buzz of mosquitos, then you might be being bitten by bedbugs. They normally feed between 3-6am. Often they bite a few times in the same place – sometimes 3 bites in a line or a ring.
  • They can live for 18 months and they can survive without feeding for up to 12 months.
  • Some people have only a small reaction to bedbug bites.
  • I still have not found an effective remedy to reduce the discomfort of bites. Coconut oil can help. Piriton (injection or tablet) can also help. If you know of a good remedy, please, please, please leave a comment below.

Bedbug bites to the backI have been attacked by bedbugs (and trust me, attack is the correct word) in Australia, Indonesia, and twice in Malaysia. They are the nastiest bloodsuckers of them all.

Please note that the Heeren Inn is not the same as Heeren House. Heeren House is a different guest house in Malacca and looks like a pleasant place to stay.

Malacca is on the west coast of Malaysia and is sometimes spelt Melaka, Melaca, or Malaka. Heeren Inn is spelt just like that and not Heren Inn, Herren Inn or Herron Inn.

Comments (18)

VW Polo running on vegetable oil – no modification needed

For the last 600 miles, my Volkswagen Polo 1.4tdi has been running on a mixture of diesel and vegetable oil.

It's an experiment I've been wanting to run for 2 years but I'd been put off by the antiquated Inland Revenue taxation regime on fuel. That was scrapped recently so you can now put vegetable oil in your car without paying fuel duty. (Check that your car can run on biodiesel before trying this!).

Pouring vegetable oil into my VW Polo
I have done no modification to my 2001-built VW Polo so I was a little apprehensive for fear of damaging the engine. The car is designed to run on diesel, but the handbook states that it can run on up to 50% RME (Rapeseed-Methyl-Esther) mix, so I should be safe. Some diesel engines require modification because vegetable oil is more viscous and puts more strain on the fuel pump. It can also be harder to start the engine in winter.

To minimise the risk, I used a 1:4 mixture in my first tank. My mix is:

  • 80% diesel
  • 20% vegetable oil

55p per litre
The fuel tank capacity is 10 gallons (45 litres). So I put 9 litres of vegetable oil into the car, then filled it up with diesel.

The price of diesel recently rose above £1.00 per litre. Vegetable oil costs about 55p per litre in the supermarket. So, by using a 25% mix, I saved about £4.05 on a tank of fuel. On my next tank, I will use a 50% biodiesel mix, and will save over £10 per tank.

There was no noticeable change in the average MPG (miles per gallon) – I recorded 68mpg which is what I achieve with standard diesel.

Biodiesel is, arguably, better for the environment than diesel. It comes from a renewable source and the CO2 emissions are equal to the sequestrated amount when the vegetable grows, so it is carbon neutral. However, some people believe that it is contributing to the destruction of rainforest as Malaysia, Indonesia and other developing countries cut down their rainforests to plant palm oil, which can also be used as a biofuel.

Seeing as I am burning sunflower or rape seed oil, I don't think I am having a direct effect on rainforests. But if I wanted to run the ultimate biodiesel car, I would copy my mate Adam and collect used vegetable oil from the local fish and chip shop, run it through a filter then stick it in my car. It's free and it's an otherwise waste product. Everyone's a winner!

If you want to investigate biodiesel, there are lots of useful websites. I recommend this one to start with.

Comments (49)

Road pricing – don’t sign the petition yet

Before you sign the road pricing petition that has swept the UK, read what you are signing and do some research into whether you really support it. The petition reads as follows:

The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong. Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel – the more tax you pay.

It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs.

Please Mr Blair – forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion.

Let's disect these statements…

The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong.

The big brother concern is quite right. However, it is up to the UK as a nation (providing the government listens to public opinion) as to how the vehicle usage data is used. I don't like the idea of being tracked everywhere I go, but if I know that the data can only be accessed and used for specific and agreed purposes that I can trust in that, then I don't mind. Obviously we don't want an Orwellian future, but we can avoid that with the proper use of technology. The "idea" of tracking every vehicle at all times is not sinister and wrong – it is how that data may be used that could be sinister and wrong.

Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel – the more tax you pay.

Current motoring taxation is collected through road tax (your tax disc) and fuel duty (the tax on petrol/diesel). The current system cannot be used to affect our behaviour in regards to reducing congestion. It has no way of creating a financial incentive/disincentive for driving at a certain time of the day. Is that a really such a big issue? We would all like to reduce congestion, but if avoiding traffic jams was that important to us, wouldn't we change our behaviour voluntarily and choose to go to work before or after the rush-hour? Also, taxation on fuel is cheap for the government to collect which helps keep the (astronominal) public sector costs down. Plus it is true that the more you travel the more fuel you consume, therefore the more tax you pay. So, it would seem that taxation on fuel is effective plus there is a financial incentive to drive a higher MPG vehicle (therefore, reducing your environmental imapct). Perhaps there is a case for scrapping tax discs and increasing duty on fuel (to make up the difference).

It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs.

This claim is nonsense for two reasons. Firstly, the person can choose when to travel to minimise the price of their journey. Most journeys to visit family will be at weekends when traffic is lighter and travelling at this time will cost less or may even be free. This new system could in fact work out cheaper for low income people if they use it wisely. Secondly, if the government is seeking to raise the same amount of motoring revenue as is currently raised, the overall taxation burden across the UK will not rise. In practice, it may rise because, characteristcally, the government will spend more than it plans to, the system will have technical problems and the cost of raising the tax may be higher than the combined cost of current fuel tax and fuel duty. But as far as I have understood (and a clearer breakdown from the government on its exact plans would be appreciated), the government does not intend to use this new pricing structure to increase the total tax burden – on average we will still pay the same amount each. Pay-as-you-go road pricing is a fair model because you pay for what you use. You pay for how much you travel just as you pay income tax depending on how much you earn and VAT depending on how much buy.

Please Mr Blair – forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion.

We should welcome all ideas and for improving our transport system and should critically analyse every one of them for pro's and con's. The governments' idea of road pricing via satellite tracking is no exception. It should not be dismissed in a whim as this petition does. It should be debated openly with the involvement of the public, planners, scientists, economists and politicians.

Read the research

Other thoughts

Many questions arise from the governments' dramatic road pricing proposal. Here are some of my thoughts. Please add your thoughts below.

  • If under the proposed new system we remove tax fuel, how will we tax farm machinery, lawnmowers and garden machinery, recreational vehicles and how will we deal with the Irish and French who will want to buy tax-free fuel in the UK?
  • How easy would it be to tamper with the black box and avoid paying the fee?
  • If vehicles were tracked, the data could be used to solve more crimes, solve them faster and solve them cheaper.

Comments (4)

Cheaper flights with a stopover + get to see somewhere new

If you are flying to Kuala Lumpur from London Heathrow, you have a range of carriers and schedules to choose from including:

  • Malaysia Airlines – direct to KL. Flying time: 13 hours Price: £550 inc. tax.
  • Sri Lankan – via Colombo. Flying time: 15 hours plus delay between flights. Price: £490 inc. tax.
  • Qatar Airways – via Doha (Qatar). Flying time: 15 hours plus delay between flights. Price: £420 inc. tax.

The prices vary depending on time of year and how long in advance you book but Sri Lankan and Qatar tend to be the cheaper options because of the inconvenience of a stopover.

However, I have discovered is that it can be a pleasure to have a break in the flight. On my most recent trip, I had a 16 hour stop in Doha. Typically, an airline will put you up in a hotel if you are transiting for this length of time which gives you the chance of getting out and looking around town.

I left LHR at 2135hrs on Friday 12th January and arrived in Doha at 0800hrs the following day. I went to the transfer desk and they gave me a free breakfast coupon. I then switched on my laptop and used the free airport wifi while I waited for my transport to arrive. I was taken to an upmarket hotel where I had a room for the day. It included lunch and dinner, both of which were very good.

You could use the stopover to sleep in the hotel, but I wandered around Doha. It's not somewhere you would deliberately choose to visit but the opportunity to spend a day there is worth taking. It probably resembles Dubai 10 years ago – a desert town where oil money is funding increasingly impressive skyscrapers plus and giant water desalination plants. There is next to nothing in the way of entertainment (unless your hobby is visiting mosques) and you may find the lack of women in public eerie but the 'city' feels safe and it is worth witnessing the creation of a modern city where only Bedouins would have roamed just a few decades ago. If you do go wandering around town, you should cover your legs and arms out of respect.

Another stopover option is to fly via Colombo (Sri Lanka) and make sure your connecting flight keeps you on the ground for more than 12 hours so that you can escape from the airport. Unlike Doha, Sri Lanka is well worth a long visit so you may choose to spend a few days or weeks there on route to KL. If you do choose to stay for a while then expect to fork out an extra £100 for the airfare (odd because it does not cost them any extra and they should be encouraging tourism in Sra Lanka).

Comments (1)

Americans and passports

A frequently quoted statistic is the number of Americans who hold passports. I have always questioned the accuracy of this percentage which people quote as it normally sounds unbelievably low – anywhere from 5% to 20%. Travelling overseas is a normal part of life for most people in the west, particularly in Europe where countries are small in land area and have neighbours close by. In contrast, America spans a huge area and only has physical borders with Canada and Mexico. Furthermore, Americans do not require a passport to visit Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Some Americans are too poor to travel overseas and others just don't feel the need – if everything you need is in your own country, why go overseas? So, what is the true percentage…

I recently read that the correct percentage of Americans holding passports is 27% (Kayak). I would prefer to read this statistic from the American home office, but for now, Kayak is as reputable as I can find.

This number will probably rise because on January 23rd 2007, Americans will need a passport to re-enter their country when returning from Canada, Mexico and the Carribean. Perhaps these new American passport holders will also be tempted to broaden their horizons and travel further afield. This would help raise the general level of understanding of different cultures among Americans.

Comments (6)

Martha mine panoramic photo (New Zealand)

Adam just sent me a link to a page with photos of (apparently) the largest hole in the world. It is indeed some hole.

So, I thought I would share my hole photo. This one is from Martha Mine in New Zealand which I took in December 2004. It is an active gold mine and produces most of the income for the town. This hole may not be as big as the one above, but my original photo is bigger at 7257 pixels wide. Hehe. How's that for a photo?

Martha Mine Goldmine
Martha Mine Truck
Rachel and Charlie next to truck

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