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August 2011

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Flights can be a huge expense when it comes to family travel. Thankfully these days there are a lot of budget airlines out there that can save you a huge amount of money on flights. Our last 18 months of travel has relied heavily on the use of budget airlines throughout Australia and South East Asia. If Air Asia looked at our intineray from the past few years I think they’d hire us as their official mascots! 

When all things go to plan and the universe aligns, budget airlines are fantastic. However not all budget airlines are created equal and there are a lot of traps that you can unwittingly fall into that suddenly send your joy at finding a $10 flight into a spiral of despair. And a budget flight might not be the best solution in every case.

Here’s my top tips for budget airlines travel.

 

No, the other London Airport!

One way budget airlines keep their costs down is flying out of smaller airports. Which usually translates to a heck of a long way out of town with no public transport connections.

Without cheap pubic transport options to get to the airport, you might find you end up paying not much less than a full fare price if you factor inthe cost of actually getting to your flight. You may end up with a $100 taxi fare (yes in Melbourne Australia this is definitely possible!), an expensive airport bus run by a private company charging prices that will make you wish you took a cab or driving yourself and paying ridiculous amounts for airport parking.

We’re have flights to the UK for Christmas. Planning our travels around Europe are bad enough but it seems that most of the budget airlines are in the process of changing airports. We’re not even sure what London airport we’re currently flying into, let alone figuring out our travel itinerary whilst there. But I am at least thankful that as travellers we’ll be using public transport and I don’t even have to contemplate looking into the cost of Heathrow Airport Parking ? there are just some things in this world I don’t want to know the cost of!

TIP: Research how much it’s going to cost you to get to the airport before booking that cheap flight. If the flight leaves from a smaller airport that’s difficult to get to it is worth comparing the cost of a full fare flight from the main airport.


Can I have leg room with my seat?

Budget airlines also keep their fees low by fitting in more passengers. Translation: smaller seats and less legroom. If you’re over 6ft you can end up feeling like a sardine in a no-brand tin.

Is it an overnight flight? How much comfort do you need to be able to sleep? Or perhaps you have a bad back or some other physical limitation. Is sitting in a cramped, poorly padded seat that doesn’t really recline for 20 hours a good option for you?

Last year we flew with Jetstar Airlines in Vietnam. We’d flown with the same airline in Australia many times and found them to be cozy but excellent. Enter Vietnamese Jetstar with its cabin space that’s obviously been designed with the smaller Asian stature in mind. At 170cm my legs were even crammed against the seat in front.  It was a fully booked flight and the result felt somewhat like a Mexican chicken bus in space.

 

TIP: If you’re tall or have health problems like a bad back, think about how long a flight you can realistically handle. And how important a good nights sleep is to you.

Image courtesy of Le Barran, Paris

Red Eyes

“Wow there’s a $5 flight from Singapore to Bangkok. Lets book it!!! Oh wait, it gets in a 1am ?”

Unfortunately, often the cheapest fares leave or arrive at un-family friendly times. If your not careful, you can book a real bargain only to realize you’re going to be stuck looking for family accommodation at one of the various overpriced Airport Hotels. Or you’ll pay a premium price for a late night taxi into town or out to the airport since there are no buses or trains running.

Suddenly that cheap flight isn’t so cheap.

Not to mention the prospect of starting or finishing your holiday with ridiculously overtired kids.

 

TIP: If a flight leaves or arrives in the middle of the night, add up the extra costs of flying at odd hours before you book that bargain!

 

I’m sorry you were supposed to check-in online. That will be $25 extra per person.

Most budget airlines these days charge fees for everything from checking in a bag to checking in.

Yep that’s right, the newest craze in the budget biz is to charge for anyone that checks in at the counter rather than over the Internet. Which can be somewhat of a problem if you a) don’t realize or b) are travelling without technology during those couple of days pre-flight when you can check-in.

Some airlines are quite reasonable with their fees. Air Asia for instance only charges an extra dollar or two for each add on. Other airlines like Ryan Air and Tiger Airways often charge more for baggage and check-in than the cost of the flight itself.

Some airlines make their fees transparent; others hide it in ambiguous wording in the booking system. Check your booking carefully before hitting the PAY NOW button. Sometimes airlines automatically add extra fees for things like insurance into your booking and you need to manually remove them.

 

TIP: Read the fine print and add up the fees before you get too excited. Check the invoice carefully before hitting pay!

 

Pigs might fly

Don’t forget the taxes

Some of the budget airlines advertise ridiculously low fares but then add in huge taxes that make the price similar to full fare airlines.

This practise drives me insane. I personally choose to only book with budget airlines whose taxes are less than the advertised fare out of principle.

 

Tip: Check the final figures before you start mentally packing your bags. It also pays to shop around – you may just find that fares through another airline that intially don’t look as cheap are in fact cheaper once you factor in taxes.


Don’t be late … even by a minute.

Budget airlines really do mean business if they say they will close their check-in counter a set number of minutes prior to departure. Even being just one minute late can result in being denied your flight.

Get there as early as possible to avoid missing your flight. Not only might you be faced with no refund and booking a second flight, you might find it hard to find last minute seats for an entire family and be forced to spend a night in one of the nearby airport hotels.

 

Find out if the airline really means business with baggage weights

These days even full fare airlines are pretty strict on baggage weights. But there are varying degrees of strictness.  

AirAsia for instance allows a little wiggle room – a kilo or two over and 99% of the time you can get away with it. They also usually look at total weight rather than individual bags. So if you are a family of 4 with each person having a 15kg allowance, Air Asia just requires the total weight of all your checked in baggage to be less than 60kg. Other airlines look at individual baggage weights.

Having overweight bags is a surfire way to attract additional fees. And some airlines take their fees very seriously. Tiger Airways in Australia charge $15 per kilo you go over.

Don’t forget your hand luggage weights either. Some budget airlines don’t care. Others enforce strict weight and size limits, forcing you to pack any additional weight into your checked in baggage, which may just put you over the weight limit. 

 

Tip: Find out how serious the airline is about baggage weights. If they have a reputation for being strict, believe it – weigh your bags, keep each separate bag under the limits and if possible underpack incase their scales are out.

 

You’ll be spoilt forever

Fly budget airlines too often and you’ll find you’ll never be able to justify paying full price again. Which can be fine EXCEPT if you want to go somewhere a budget airline doesn’t fly.

Last year we looked at flying from Penang to Bangkok in Asia. The flights were $USD70 per person including taxes. We refused to pay that because we thought it was too much! We’ve had one too many $2 sales and our total perception of what a flight should cost has been screwed. If we ever have to book a full fare flight we may just end up in therapy.

 

flying high

Call Centre woes

Unlike full fare airlines, many budget airlines don’t have a handy toll free customer service line. Calling a call centre can be an expensive exercise.

Calling a budget airline call centre often also results in an intense desire to bash your head against a wall. Long wait cues, language difficulties, training issues and of course the usual getting passed around between ten different operators before finding someone who can help you.

We’ve had more than our fair share of fun dealing with call centres. Two years ago for medical reasons we needed to cancel a holiday. We wanted to cancel our flights and recoup the money through travel insurance. My husband spent 3 months and countless hours on the phone getting passed from branch to branch before finally resolving the matter.

As I write this I’m listening to a friend who has spent the last three hours on the phone to her bank back home and a budget airline company trying to sort out a booking that’s just not being processed. The highlight of the various transactions is the airline’s booking system providing her with an error message that the airline’s support staff don’t know anything about!

 

Sale Frenzy!

You can get some amazingly cheap flights when budget airlines have sales. The problem is you and 30000 other people are all trying to book these tickets at the one time.

The result – laptop rage. As the airlines server keeps falling over thanks to the extra traffic you’ll be left staring at webpage error messages time and again late into the night. And just when you get in and start booking your flight, the page times out halfway through and you have to start all over again.

 

TIP: Look for a mobile version of the airlines website or check if they have a alternative booking website.

 

Impulse Buying

While we’re on the topic of sales, ridiculously cheap sales can also lead you to booking tickets before you really think it through. If it’s a $10 flight and you end up not being able to go that’s not too bad.

But what if it’s a ridiculously cheap $200 fare from Europe to Asia? It’s a fantastic price but $200 times the number of members in your family and we’re not talking about loose change. So what happens if you book that flight without really thinking it through? Or you stupidly book three months in Europe and then realize that you can’t afford to spend three months in Europe no matter how cheap those flights were.

 

Tip: Actually we’d love to hear your tips because we keep falling into this trap time and time again. While we’re on the topic, if anyone wants check flights from Malaysia to Europe for November we have 4 tickets to sell!!!

 

 

Welcome to the largest paradise island of Thailand known as Phuket. I lie on the western edge of southern Thailand enjoying the benefits of the Andaman Sea: emerald green waters, plentiful seafood, and beaches galore! 

I’ve been known as a tourist trap for those of my visitors that endure the craziness that Patong Beach has become.  But for those that enjoy exploring outside the box and want to call me home I offer the tranquility, beauty, culinary diversity, and a plethora of experiences that will leave my visitors and possible inhabitants crying for more. 

So without further ado, let the Sattvic Family guide you through some basic living costs and details that are essential for those that come on a budget and want to keep their wallets full for as long as possible, for I’ve been known to sap the money out of those poor ‘unknowing’ souls.

Right now the Thai Baht is 30 to 1 for USD, 42 to 1 EU and 48 to 1 GBP.;

And P.S. – High season is November to March. Just about everything goes up in price BIG TIME and remember, in Thailand YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!

 

Phuket – map sourced from phuket.net

HOUSING

Where to live?

Phuket has a different culture and way of living for each of its beaches. There are at least 10 large beaches and numerous smaller areas that one can explore on fun outings about the island. Phuket is about the size of Singapore and actually can seem quite large at times. 

It’s best that you come stay for a week and have some idea of where you want look. Be sure to come during low season when costs are less and there’s more choice!

We love living in the southern half of the island due to its proximity to everything we hold dear; food, Phuket town, and all the activities that we love to stumble upon when turning down a random road.  The three big independent (not Tesco) grocery stores are nearby and that’s a biggie if you want to have a taste from home.

What are the accommodation options?

Currently we live in a fully furnished 2 story 3 bedroom 2 bath house in the central area of Chalong, with a gated covered driveway, a small yard on the side, and 4 AC’s – 1 for each bedroom and the main room.  We have a Thai kitchen (no oven, just a gas stove with high heat for woking – ESSENTIAL!) and whats called a wash area in the back – a small walkway big enough for hanging damp clothing as dryers are pointless in Thailand heat and they are too costly for your electric bill.

Now we are paying 19000 baht a month and have signed a 1 year lease.

Most housing rentals ask for a contract of at least 6 months but usually no more than 1 year, as the price fluctuates with demand.  Currently there are 3 unoccupied semi-detached houses that have been empty since we got here and I assume their asking price has fallen. 

Most rentals in the populated southern part of the island (including Kata, Karon, Patong, Kathu, Chalong (our fav) Rawai, and Nai Harn) are furnished, with varying number of AC units. 

Expect to pay between 18,000 – 30,000 baht for a furnished 3-5 bedroom with equal number of AC’s. Remember, hot water doesn’t come through the tap, so make sure the bathroom showers have hot water units!

Another option is the Townhouse, a popular cookie cutter 3 storey building with a storefront open ground floor

Thai shop owners inhabit these everywhere as they have the whole unit, with a store on the ground and their living situation on the 2nd and 3rd floor.  All are unfurnished and most come without AC, but a little persistence or persuasion can land you a big unit for the house. 

There are several open units near us in 5-10 year old buildings at 10,000 baht per month.  The newer and bigger the building, the more expensive! Expect to pay between 8,000-15,000 baht per month depenging on size, age and whether it’s furnished or unfurnished (unfurnished obviously being cheaper!.

Much like Bangkok, there are serviced apartments and long term hotel rentals.  There is a nearby resort complex close to the popular Muay Thai gyms that offers little bungalows for 20,000 baht a month.  I?m sure there are cheaper rates in other areas as those are mainly occupied by those who come to train.  Expect to pay 10,000-20,000 baht a month.

If you come with just your luggage, this might be a good temporary home until you work out everything else or if you just want to stay in Phuket for a month or two as a rest during your travels.

  • 3 – 5 bedroom furnished house: 18000 – 30000 baht / month
  • Townhouse: 8000 – 15000 baht / month
  • Serviced furnished apartment : 10000 – 20000 baht / month

Utilities

Electricity is the biggie.  We’ve got 2 computers, some external hard drives, and use AC a bit more than the regular foreigner.  All told we spend around 2500-4000 baht a month.

Internet varies upon the speed you choose.  We have upgraded from the 6mb downloading plan that was 800 baht per month, including the telephone line, to the 9mb plan that will cost around 1100 baht.  Of course, we never get the promised 9mbs, but it’s certainly faster than the older plan.  Local calls are around 2-10 baht per minute.

Our water is free and undrinkable.  Sometimes it dries up for 15 minutes, but it’s usually reliable and I can’t complain about free water.  I’m sure in some complexes you have to pay, but most houses are hooked up to local sources.

We have a gas stove that uses a knee-high tank of propane.  330 baht will get you a refill, delivery and installation.  You might want to adjust the release valve after the guy leaves though.

We have local Phuket cable at 350 baht a month and if you pay for the full year, you get 2 free months.  It’s the perfect TV, with multi national stations and languages.  There’s Thai, English, Canadian, BBC, Indian, Malaysian, NHK, Asian food network, Boomerang (old school cartoons with NO COMMERCIALS in both Thai and English – Scooby and  Flinstones in Thai!)  There’s even a few pirated movie channels!  Crazy!

  • Electricity: 2500-4000 baht / month (heavy usage)
  • Internet: 800 baht / month for 6MB download, 1100 baht / month for 9MB download
  • Water: Free but not safe to drink.
  • Bottled water: 10-15 baht / litre (cheaper in bulk)
  • Gas (for stove): 330 baht / refill. Bottle lasts several months
  • Cable television: 350 baht/ month for basic channels (including some English)

 

Nai Harn Beach, Phuket

TRANSPORTATION

Growing up in Detroit and moving post college to Los Angeles has made me forever traffic conscious.  I’m always anticipating everyone’s possible shifts and turns and watching the road for any signs of cautionary behaviour i.e. creepers, cell-phone talkers, random pedestrian crossings? etc.  It certainly has paid off here in Phuket. 

Take the insanity of Bangkok driving and place it on a road half the size with people using the slow lane as a parking space and you have Phuket driving. Throw in a gaggle of motorcycle carts filled with stall foodstuffs, insane tour bus drivers heading back to the airport for the next overpriced fare, and the random 10 person family on one bike and you are ready to begin. 

For these reasons alone, I do not condone motorcycle rentals or purchases and will not even quote you the price here because of the danger.  I am adamant about this.  Even if you were born on the back of a Harley, you cannot fathom the 6:00pm rush hour traffic and how the Thai’s work the road on their bikes. 

It must be a cultural thing that westerners have yet to grasp.  Instead of owning a spot on the road in a lane that we tend to think of (hey he cut me off!) the Thai’s take a shared look at it.  If the guy next to you has to swerve because of a parked car or tuk-tuk, you are expected to move over with him to make up the room, even if you find yourself in the median.

So I’ve scared you enough? so lets look at some costs of other options. 

Car Rental

A car rental is one of the best ways to get around. Just stay off the main roads from 5-7 and you’ll be fine.  And always make sure the car has FULL RENTER’S INSURANCE, and not just regular Full Insurance!

Daily rates – 1200 baht – 1700 baht (hotels get a cut and Patong hikes the cost up big time) for the Honda City (like the Civic)

The rates decrease if you take a rental for more than a few days or even a week.  You can try and negotiate them down big time for monthly fees.  You might be able to get them down to 18,000 – 20,000 baht for a low season month on a Honda City. 

It’s a good idea to talk to some of the locals for help in finding cheaper deals and the more honest companies, but as always YOU GET WHAT YOU PAID FOR! 

Gas is a little expensive, currently 36 baht per litre (5 bucks a gallon).

Taxi

The Taxis in Phuket are among the most expensive in the world.  A 20 minute night taxi from the airport to your hotel will cost you 1500 baht! That’s the same price as a rental car for an entire day. Most rental car companies offer free airport pick up and drop off, so I’d take them up, even if it is for one day of the rental. 

Away from the airport isn’t much better.  I was quoted 1200 baht for one hour of errand running to the local supermarket and hardware store only 5km away! 

Once again, arrive and talk up the locals for the best deals/ideas.  Some might even be willing to take you themselves.

Bus

We do have busses in Phuket, but they are not modern, run only every hour or so and look more like a pickup truck with benches and a roof installed by the owner of the vehicle.  Apparently they are legit, but I’ve yet to try.  40 – 80 baht will get you where you want to go.  Most buses are only for 2 areas like Chalong-Rawai or Kata-Patong.

Bike Taxi

The more widely available and least expensive public mode of transportation is the bike taxi.  For around 10 baht per km you can get where you need to go. And pretty safely I might add.  Granted it’s only for one or possibly 2 people, but they are good at taking on a few bags of groceries if you need to make a quick run to the market for essentials.

The verdict …

All in all, I recommend a monthly car rental.  We have one and couldn’t be happier.  We’ve traversed Phuket Town at midnight, Phromthep Cape at sundown, and done countless spur of the moment beach runs in 20 minutes flat.  Just yesterday the Belgian guy I rent our car from took the car in for a full maintenance check and even replaced the tires, for free!  So the honest merchants are out there, you just have to ask around before diving in head first.

  • Car rental (daily): 1200 – 1700 baht / day
  • Car rental (monthly): 18000 – 20000 baht / month
  • Taxi: 1200 baht for one hour, 1500 baht for a 20min night taxi from the airport to your hotel
  • Buses: 40 – 80 baht, but they’re old and services are limited
  • Bike taxi: 10 baht / km
  • Petrol: 36 baht / litre ($USD5 per gallon)

FOOD and GROCERIES

In Phuket, as in most tourist islands, there are 3 levels of dining:

  • High end touristy establishments owned by foreigners, catering towards those who want wine and a full 3-5 course meal. 
  • The local restaurants that depending on location and fare, the prices can be reasonable. 
  • Then there is the what the local Thai’s eat. Local stalls and restaurants that make some of the best food you’ll ever eat and usually takes going around the block a few times just to find. 

I guess when it comes to eating out, the best food often times is the cheapest and hardest to find, you just have to have your exploring boots on!

High End Restaurants

There are plenty of big time tourist restaurants in every area that prepare any international food prepared exquisitely.  The price is high due to importing the ingredients, but the taste is close to home, wherever that may be. 

Pasta dishes range from 200-350 baht like the hotels, but these chefs know what they are doing, and often times might even be from said country. 

Salads and steaks also apply to the higher price due to the importing of goods, so when in doubt ask yourself where the ingredients come from and most likely you’ll have your answer as to why prices are what they are.

Local Restaurants

The second tier are restaurants that cater towards foreigner’s looking for Thai food or the restaurants off the beaten path.  The owners of the Asian places make sure to have their signs in English and menus waiting on hand. 

For these restaurants, no searching is involved.  Just drive down any of the main roads in your area and look at the signs. Anything saying Asian food, or seafood, with Thai underneath should be a good bet.  These are nice sit down restaurants, and if you’ve chosen a good spot you’ll have a view and perhaps even beachfront access. 

Most beaches, like Nai Harn or Rawai have this style of restaurant all over then place.  Just check out the menu and jump in. 

Just remember, ‘pet pet’ means Thai spicy, so be careful!! 

Prices for noodle dishes run between 120 -180 baht.  Drinks and coffee run close to 100 baht.  Seafood or fish dishes run 150-300 baht depending if you get a plate of grilled squid (amazing) or a whole thai snapper steamed with herbs and lemongrass (also amazing – but pet pet!) 

There are also many farang (tThai word for foreigner) owned places that offer homemade tastes with prices in the 100-180 baht range; amazing Italian food made by a Thai/Italian family at 150 baht for the perfect Gnocchi in cream sauce, Mediterranean food that rivals anything found in metro Detroit, and the best Chana Masala I’ve had at the Chalong Pier, Mr. India.

Local food stalls

The last and usually the best tasting are stalls, Phuket town restaurants, food courts, and generally any wet market where all they do is make one or two dishes ALL DAY LONG. The idea is that they’ve perfected a certain way of cooking a noodle dish or soup or spicy salad so that there ain’t nothing better. 

You can even find food courts in Central Shopping Festival (huge mall in the centre of the island) that blow away any of the overpriced fare offered at the sit-down restaurants.  An amazing Phat See Ew (wide flat rice noodles made with soy sauce and other fixin’s) with seafood costs only 60 baht here.  You can even find 40-60 baht Indian food cooked by an Indian!  Dumplings made by a Chinese vegetarian who’s ethics play a role in all he cooks (no MSG) and his customers know and thank him for it with repeated business. 

These are the places the locals go and if you want real Thai food, follow suit.

Phad See Ew from Central Festival Mall – 60 baht


Grocery Stores

The Grocery stores share the same principle as the restaurants.  Anything imported has a high cost, the local stuff not so much.  My wife and I have met in Los Angeles where we started our journey of good health and with it came eating organics about 90 percent of the time.  Since moving to Asia that number has dropped rather drastically but we still try and grab the best local produce, within reason.  We’ve yet to traverse the wet markets due to the pristine state of the produce that scream chemical sprays, but have found that prices aren’t that much different than the mega marts, Makro, Tesco or Big C.  I’m sure there are plenty of good hard working farmers who don’t spray, but until I have a good source of info from other buyers, I’ll pay the extra coin.

Note that there are no meat products, as we are ocean eaters.  Sorry.

Organic, King’s Project (I think organic? makes sense) or Hydroponics

  • 1 Tomato – 15
  • 1 Apple – 20 – (NewZeland)
  • 1 Bunch of Baby Bananas ? 25 baht
  • Young Coconut ?15-30 baht
  • Soy Milk – 85 (Tesco brand organic – NEVER EVER BUY UNORGANIC SOY!!!)
  • Rice Milk – 130
  • 3 long Eggplant – 45
  • 2 Zucchini – 45
  • Phad Thai Rice noodles -60 baht for 800gs
  • 1 large bottle of beer -45 baht
  • 1 bottle of the best sparkling water ever ? 7 baht
  • 1 bottle of 1.5L water – 10-15 baht  Case of 6 50-75 baht (you’ll be buying lots)
  • 1 Pack Organic Waitrose cheese – 320 baht
  • 1 Pack Thai Cheese – 200 baht
  • 2 Kg Bag of Brown Rice – 85 baht
  • 500g bag of Spaghetti – 65 baht

Schooling

We are unschoolers so the public school system is a mystery to us.  I?ve heard that students start at age 7 other times parents say it?s 3. 

The international schools range in price but the big one in Chalong is rumored to be 30,000 baht a month.  I can’t verify that but I do know that is the highest price.  I’m assured there are cheaper schools, but I’m not interested.  Our daughter has the education of nature, libraries, and the animal kingdom, to name a few, to explore.

If you are looking for an international school in Phuket for your child, here are three that I’ve heard good things about.

Headstart

QSI

British International School

For families with young childrent there are a multitude of preschools in Phuket as well, such as Craven School.

So that’s a general rundown on the basics, food, lodging and transportation for Phuket, Thailand.

If you’d like more information on moving to Phuket, please leave a comment or you can also contact me through my website, holisticdad.net.