Sunday, May 31, 2015

Day 1, Singapore: The heat…and the humidity

We picked a great location to stay—the AMOY Hotel right on the edge of Chinatown and the central business district. That meant we’d be able to walk almost everywhere, and our plan for the day was to stay on our feet as long as possible--that is, until we stepped out and started walking towards Marina Bay at 10 am. It was a sunny morning, and the whole area was buzzing with preparations for the Southeast Asia Games, which start in a few days. There also was a large rowing competition taking place, involving many corporate and university rowing teams. By the time we walked all the way around the bay to the Helix Bridge, we’d consumed all our water (and bought some more), sweated through our clothes, and reapplied sunscreen. Yes, this was going to be a multiple-showers-per-day trip.

Rowing races on the bay
View from the helix bridge

After a quick stop in the Marina Bay Sands mall food court for some very refreshing fruit drinks (one watermelon, one mango, and one star fruit--all consumed at record pace), we headed back out to find our real destination.

Refreshing...and much needed

Gardens by the Bay includes two conservatories for which you can purchase tickets: a “cloud forest” and a “flower garden.” We weren’t sure but thought the cloud forest sounded the most interesting. Great decision! We stepped in and immediately noticed the cool, refreshing temperatures inside this seven-story dome. You take an elevator to the top and then meander down the path with chances to admire orchids and other tropical plants and a variety of exhibits. We were in no hurry to leave.

Inside the cloud forest
Let me tell you, that cool mist felt really good!

Skywalk around the "supertrees"
Oh, and it was during our visit to the gardens that I realized my primary walking-around lens was broken and I was basically carrying around about a five-pound paperweight on my shoulder. This will be more of an iPhone photo trip than I'd planned.

Rather than walk back to Chinatown, we figured out how to buy stored-value cards for the MRT and hopped the train back for lunch at Lau Pa Sat, the food market housed in a Victorian-era arcade. Since it was Sunday, a lot of the stalls were closed. Still, we were able to find and share a nice selection of chicken rice, laksa, bao and beverages (more watermelon juice and Tiger beer) from various stalls and would not need to each much the rest of the day.

After a brief rest at our hotel, we spent the rest of the day exploring Chinatown and Little India. We took the MRT to the latter and walked all the way back via the very quiet Fort Canning Park and eventually rewarded ourselves with some drinks and spring rolls at one of the restaurants (Little Saigon) at Clarke Quay and watched the comings and going along the river.

All in all, we thought we did a remarkable job of staying awake and on our feet all day after 28+ hours of travel!

Link to all of today's photos

Friday, May 29, 2015

Let’s get this party started

So all the months of planning and reading are behind us, and it it's time to go!

This was to be one of our longest travel days ever, at about 28 hours from door to door. 

The trip to Singapore in ANA business class was great (for Chris in ANA first class, even better), although my plan to sleep through most of the first flight did not materialize. Allie and I arrived at our Singapore hotel at 1 am. 

Unfortunately for Chris, traveling on to Singapore on United rather than our ANA flight, the day grew a little longer than anticipated due to a 3.5 hour delay in Tokyo. The staff at the United Global First lounge at Narita wanted to switch Chris to the ANA flight and tried to reach him to do so; however, we'd chosen to sit together in one of the ANA business class lounges, which was quite busy and crowded, and we did not hear the page (if there was one). By the time he stopped in the United Club, it was too late to make the change. Lesson learned: Double check that the travel record has the right contact telephone number and/or make sure to take the phone off airplane mode while connecting.

So, he waited out the delay in the United Global First lounge...and got to experience the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that occurred while he was there. He finally arrived at our Singapore hotel at 4:15 am. 


Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle

After a few months of discussion and research, we settled on our destinations: Singapore and Indonesia. Great! Then came the hard part: Getting us there…and I’m not talking about the 19 hours in the air, plus layovers and such. I’m talking about finding a way to get three people from Chicago to Singapore and then home from Bali. In business class; two on United frequent flyer miles (preferably saver awards) and one on a paid ticket (preferably a deeply discounted business class fare). In a relatively defined timeframe from late May to the end of June. With a total trip duration of two weeks, give or take a couple of days. No problem…

It didn’t help that I was shopping for saver business class award tickets for popular international destinations about seven months out from the dates of travel. That’s kind of a “no mans land” in the world of premium saver awards. We pretty quickly realized that we might not all be flying together. That was fine, as long as we could arrive at our destinations at close to the same time.

After weeks of searching availability for a wide span of dates in late May and most of June, I was able to confirm the following:
  • One on a saver business class award to Singapore via Narita on ANA; one on the same flights on a paid ticket
  • One on standard business class award to Singapore via Narita on United, arriving Singapore 10 minutes before the ANA flight—not a great use of miles, but I had a hunch I might be able to convert that to a saver award closer to travel
  • Two on on saver business class awards from Bali to Incheon (Asiana) to Vancouver (Air Canada) to Chicago (United)
  • One on a paid ticket via Incheon (same Asiana flight) and San Francisco (United), arriving O’Hare 10 minutes after the others from Vancouver
Pretty close to perfect! It felt kind of like finishing a jigsaw puzzle.

As an aside, I started watching award tickets again about five to six weeks before we began our travel. About a week later, I found a global first class saver award on the same ANA flight to Tokyo (we would now all be on the same first flight!) and then United to Singapore—for 50,000 fewer miles than the standard business class ticket. NOW I was done!

We’ll expand on the itinerary along the way—including how/why we planned this trip as we did. For now, I’ll just share the outline of what’s coming:

3 nights in Singapore
3 nights near Borobudur in Central Java
4 nights in Yogyakarta, Central Java
5 nights in Ubud, Bali

We will travel by air (Air Asia) from Singapore to Yogyakarta and from Yogyakarta to Denpasar.

Saturday, May 9, 2015