Thai-Malaysia Trip – Gotchas to Avoid

While it is entirely possible to arrange for flight tickets and hotel packages online, we found it better in many ways to go with a tour company specializing in outbound travel services. Moreover, our Holyland trip reservation prepared us to better deal with the shortcomings of the tour company personnel. Even so, many surprises lurk for a first-time South Asia bound traveler. Below is a list of gotchas to avoid when reserving a trip to South Asian countries from Kerala:

  1. Travel agents offer vanilla packages that include a city tour and/or one or more attractions, depending on the number of days planned for a particular city. The standard packages are very economical. They are only slightly flexible when it comes to adding/deleting items in the package itinerary and upgrading hotels. Half-day city tours are a given for many of these packages and are worthwhile only for first-time visitors. In general, tour companies do not favor altering packages for it involves more work on their part. We preferred Taman Nagara instead of Genting for the Malaysia wing and it took the tour company a few weeks before getting back to us – the quote was a whopping $2700 compared to the $1000 for the Genting package.
  2. When choosing packages, it is vital one is clear on what exactly is offered. The itineraries provided tend to be on the cryptic side. It pays to ask and verify what the offer comprises of before signing up. Further, it is best to contact the tour providers in the host country directly with one’s concerns as opposed to the tour company you signed up with in Kerala. The local tour company representatives are not the final authority and in many cases can be fairly inaccurate.
  3. August-September is a pretty good time to visit Thailand, Malaysia, and other South Asian countries – though it can be a little bit wet in September. For the Middle East, December through February is the best time to go.
  4. Phuket is a lot more popular that Pattaya as a beach town. Our package offered Pattaya although switching to Phuket was no big deal for the tour operator. That option is slightly more expensive as a local flight is necessary to get to Phuket. From our perspective, Pattaya worked just as well and we have no reservations recommending it.
  5. The tour companies provide visa services at reasonable costs – Rs 1500 and Rs 2400 respectively for Malaysia and Thailand. We didn’t avail this option, instead decided to deal with this at the airports concerned. As per the recommendation for the US consular affairs – there is no charge for visas for US citizens in Malaysia and Thailand.
  6. The tour operators primarily offer packages with full-service airlines. When we approached for a quote, we were routed through Bangalore or Madras in either Malaysian or Thai flights. These options were comparatively more expensive than direct flights through Air Asia. Furthermore, Air Asia’s discounted fares when purchased directly from their website could not be matched by our tour operator even after we informed them about the discrepancy. Finally, we paid around $50 more per person going through the tour operator for our Air Asia tickets – as our credit/debit cards were not getting accepted when trying to purchase tickets directly from Air Asia website, we bit the bullet and went with what the tour operator offered.
  7. Air Asia flight ticket rates can vary vastly depending on the date chosen. So, it is worthwhile to play with the rated quotes, if dates are flexible. Our initial quote from our tour company was with Thai Airways flight via Madras for about $175 more per person compared to the Air Asia flight they first quoted. After playing with the website, we suggested different dates which brought down the pricing further by around $110 more per person.
  8. Online check-in is a breeze and highly recommended for Air Asia flights as otherwise one might end-up in crappy seats – online check-in can be done 7 days in advance. There are pages to sign-up for seat selection, seating upgrades, travel insurance, etc. But, there was no option to purchase meals in that interface. Better to do that via your travel agent or through the website.
  9. US dollars are generally not accepted by retail vendors in both countries. Airport counters are generally not that competitive compared to money exchange counters in the cities. Exchange minimal amounts at the airport and do the bulk of your exchange needs once you are in the city.
  10. The LCC Terminal in KUL is exclusive to Air Asia and facilities are very limited. A new one is being built with a tentative opening date of April 2013. We had a long wait at LCC Terminal and transfer counters didn’t open till 7AM in the morning. Even though we were on transit, we still had to go through immigration and get a 30-day visa. They do have a 120-hour transit permit option, but we were told to go through immigration – not sure why. Departure gates open only 3 hours before the scheduled flight. That is a bummer, as outside there is limited seating while many retail shops and much better seating and food options are available once inside the departure gates. We managed to find seats to spend about 5 hours overnight only to find special waiting room and a premium lounge by the side of the transit counters later – definitely a better option, if only we were aware.
  11. The 7 kg Air Asia cabin-baggage limit is enforced during the first check-in and there were no other checks for the rest of the flights.
  12. It is preferable to ask men instead of women for directions in Thailand. Possibly because of a lack of respect for women, being rude is second nature to many women. Also, it is worth being aware that Thailand is big on white-worshipping.
  13. Alcohol is readily available in Thailand. But, it is very expensive and harder to find in Malaysia – it is heavily taxed and hence it is best to get it at a duty-free before arrival.
  14. Accommodation can be iffy, if the travel agent’s default package is accepted at face value. If one can afford, it is worthwhile to get an upgrade to better hotels – online travel review sites can be a great resource in this regard.
  15. For half-day city tours, marketing stops are mandatory and it is best to hurry through them – their offerings are generally overpriced. Sometimes cabs offer hugely discounted fares, if you volunteer to go inside their client’s retail shop. This can be a good deal, if you can resist buying their wares.
  16. Genting First World hotel can be a frenzied experience although if you know how things work, things can go very smoothly: Check-in counters in the main lobby uses a ticket-based system – take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. Most places you would want to go are accessible via the indoor walkways – sticking to them is preferable to going out into the street and trying to locate the building. Check-out can be a breeze, if the kiosk is used. The bell counters work OK but there can be a big line at certain times of the day. Buffet breakfast can be very chaotic unless you go really early (6:30 AM) – vegetarian section is usually empty.

Related Posts:


  1. Trip Report to Genting
  2. Trip Report to Kuala Lumpur (KL)
  3. Trip Report to Pattaya
  4. Trip Report to Bangkok
 
Last Updated: 10/2012. 

 

British Honduras - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile



British Honduras is present-day Belize located in the North East of Central America bordered by Mexico to the North, Guatemala to the South and West and the Caribbean Sea to the East covering around 8700 square miles. The area was first colonized by Spain in the seventeenth century but became a British Crown Colony in 1862, subordinate to Jamaica. It became an independent British colony in 1884. The colony was renamed as Belize in 1973 and became the last continental possession of the United Kingdom to become independent in 1981.  From 1964 to 1981, the colony was self-governing.

Philatelic Profile:

The first stamps of British Honduras were QV key types issued in 1866. Prior to that, philatelic items of the area consist of certain prestamp philatelic markings and Great Britain stamps used in British Honduras. The first set consisted of three stamps (Scott #1 to #3) in different colors and denominations that ranged from 1p to 1sh. The set is sought after and catalogs in the $800 range for Mint and less than half that for used. Certain combinations in vertical and horizontal gutter pairs are known to exist and they catalog upwards of $30,000 - the distinct combinations exist as the 6p and 1sh denominations were printed only in a sheet with 1p early on. Surcharge varieties of the first set were the primary stamps used in British Honduras till around 1891. Several rare surcharge markings from this period exist and they fetch a premium well into the 1000s. Another QV key type set debut in 1891 (Scott #38 to #46) and that along with some charge varieties and key types ofKEVII and KGV formed the bulk of British Honduran stamp issues during the period through 1937. The only other issues from the area were common design types. Many of the issues from the period are sought after and very collectible.

The first original issue of British Honduras was a long set of twelve stamps (Scott #115 to #126) issued in 1938. The set is valuable and catalogs for around $80 MNH and around $45 Used. The designs show a KGVI head portrait as an inset along with a scene of local relevance: Mayan Figures, Chicle Tapping, Cohune Palm, Local Products, Grapefruit Industry, Mahogany Logs on River, Sergeant’s Cay, Dory, Chicle Industry, Belize Court House, Mahogany Cutting, and Seal of Colony.

Several Common Design Types were the mainstay of British Honduras stamp issues during the period till 1953. The only release outside this theme was a set of six stamps (Scott #131 to #136) issued on January 10, 1949 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Cay. The designs show St. George’s Cay and H.M.S. Merlin. The set is common and can be had for a few dollars. It is however very collectible. A local scenes set of twelve stamps (Scott #144 to #155) appeared in 1953 and that set continued to be sold till 1957. The designs show a QEII head portrait as inset along with local scenes: Arms, Tapir, Legislative Council Chamber and mace, Pine industry, Spiny lobster, Stanley Field Airport, Mayan Frieze, Blue Butterfly, Maya, Armadillo, Hawkesworth Bridge, and Pine Ridge Orchid.

Common Design Types continued to dominate the scene until 1962 when British Honduras started issuing stamps in brilliant colors to promote visual appeal. First was a stunningly beautiful set of twelve stamps featuring Birds issued in April 1962 in the theme “Birds in Natural Colors”. The set is very sought after and catalogs for around $75 MNH and around one-third that for Used. The designs show QEII head portrait as a top-right inset along with the main bird design: Great Curassow, Red-legged honeycreeper, American Jacana, Great Kiskadee, Scarlet-rumped tanager, Scarlet Macaw, Massena Trogon, Redfooted Booby, Keel-billed Toucan, Magnificent Frigate Bird, Rufoustailed Jacamar, Montezuma Oropendola. Another very collectible set is the Fish type, a set of twelve stamps released on October 15, 1968. It uses a very similar design with the British Crown instead of QEII as inset: Jewfish, White-lipped Peccary, Sea Bass (Grouper), Collared Anteater, Bonefish, Paca, Dolphinfish, Kinkajou, Yellow-and-green-banded muttonfish, Tayra, Great Barracudas, and Mountain Lion.


Numismatic Profile:

Several countermarked coins were in use in the area starting around the late 18th century. The ‘GR’ monogram was used in several coins in the early 19th century and crown over ‘GR’ was in use as well. The first such issue was a six shilling 1 penny silver coin dated between 1810 and 1818 with host dates between 1808 and 1811 (Mexico City 8 Reales). The issue is very valuable and fetch upwards of $800 in VF - better varieties are not known to exist.  Several other varieties exist and they generally fetch around the same price.

Decimal Coinage debut in 1885 with the issue of QV headcents in Bronze. They have mintage mintage in the 100,000 range. UNC varieties go for upwards of $75 and Proofs can be had for upwards of $250. Denominations from 1c to 50c exist and the higher denominations are in silver.  Premiums go up to around $1,500 for a 50 cent QV silver proof dated 1894. Token coinage consists of Brass Indian Head Rialsof 1871 and Copper numerals Pence by Henry Gansz of 1885. Mintages are unknown and UNC varieties go for upwards of $500.

Last Updated: 12/2015.

Kraft/Mondelez Spin-off Details

Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) split into two companies as of 10/2/2012. The new entities are Kraft Foods Group Inc. (KRFT) and Mondelez International (MDLZ). KRFT consists of the slower growing North American grocery business while MDLZ is an international food company comprising of the former Cadbury Schweppes products and Kraft's own international food products. Well known brands of KFT include Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Oscar Mayer meats. Well known brands of MDLZ include Cadburys, Trident Gum, Tang powdered drinks, Oreo cookies, etc.

The spin-off worked as follows: Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) was renamed as Mondelez International (MDLZ). As a result, former shareholders of KFT received one share of Mondelez International (MDLZ) for every share of KFT held. Kraft Foods Group Inc. (KRFT) was spun-off based on a distribution ratio of one share of Kraft Foods Group Inc. (KRFT) for every three shares of Mondelez International (MDLZ). As a result, former KFT shareholders also received one share of KRFT for every three shares of KFT held prior to the spin-off.

Using the prior name of the company (most of it anyway) for the spun-off entity while renaming the original entity made the mechanics of the spin-off complicated to explain. But there it is...


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