Making It In (To) Hollywood

We started our great American vacation in Leeds, as with most of our recent trips. We got a taxi to the train station and choo-chooed our way down to Gatwick via Kings Cross and Victoria. The journey ran relatively smoothly until a signal fault at the stop right before Gatwick. This meant we missed the hotel shuttle bus we were aiming for and had to endure a German bloke (who thought we were Canadian) ensuring us that his people carrier was a perfectly legitimate method of getting to our hotel at 11:30 at night. The next shuttle bus showed up and he admitted defeat.

We had a night at the airport Travelodge before heading back on the shuttle bus to whence we came. We checked in nice and early to try and get good seats. We couldn’t check-in our bags in the self-service bit because one was too large and one was too heavy, but they got whisked off on their respective conveyor belts and we loaded up on M&S sandwiches for the 10 hour flight.

The flight was one of the more eventful I’ve been on. After 15 flights on our last big trip without it happening, a few hours in to the flight they asked for any doctors onboard to make themselves known. At the beginning of the flight they had requested no nut products be consumed due to a passenger with a severe peanut allergy and I feared the worst. On walking to the back of the plane I discovered it was in fact an unfortunate young lady with terrible tummy pain.

After myself and another doctor on board examined her and found her to be entirely stable, we then spent the next hour or so rooting through the plane’s medical box, rifling through drug packets written in Norwegian and liaising with the medical agency on the ground as to what was best to do for her and her pain. And assuring her that she couldn’t get off the flight whilst we were over the Atlantic. The captain showed up at one point to see if we needed to land in Canada but in the end another doctor with a personal stash of super strong painkillers turned up and she seemed to settle.

I also got the high score on the trivia game. No biggy.

On landing I downloaded a new (to me) ridesharing app called Lyft. Apparently you can’t exist in LA without that or Uber and since Uber is banned from our lives indedinitely we had one option. It worked fine and we were charged exactly what we were told we would pay and everyone was a winner.

We checked in to our Airbnb in a block of flats in Hollywood. They had written out how to find a few local amenities including a restaurant so we headed there. Unfortunately the one they’d picked only does lunch and closes at 3. So at 8pm we wondered around some semi-dodgy LA streets before finding a lovely cosy taco bar called La Carmencita, with seats made of tyres and shoes on the wall

With our bellys filled and jet lag beginning to win we headed back to our flat and went straight to sleep.

Langkawi to Koh Lipe

Tl;dr – taxi, seating area tour, ferry, longboat, wet legs, super pretty international border, muddy walk

We woke bright and early, well, early at least. Our 7:30 taxi turned up three minutes early, as if it wasn’t early enough, and we were sharing it with another couple who were going to the same jetty. She was on crutches and he seemed unable to do up his shirt buttons at all. Two terrible problems.

We got to the ferry terminal complex with plenty of time. We followed the signs to the jetty but saw nothing for Koh Lipe. I asked a chap who pointed us back the way we came and up a small flight of stairs to the private charter firm we were sailing with. We checked in at the desk, handed over our passports and filled in our Thai immigration cards. We received our passports back a few minutes later and sat in the waiting room for ages with the same generic music loop playing over the boat firm’s highlight reel, slowly driving us nuts. I had ten minutes of relief when I went to get drinks and muffins but Kate hasn’t been the same since!

After this we were directed downstairs and asked to wait. We then found ourselves in the main ferry terminal concourse next to the massage chairs. We had a few ringgits left so I had a go. It was odd but pleasant.

We were then moved on to our third seating area. The distance between all three areas must have been around 50m and all seemed a little pointless. The last seating area was easily the worst of the three, especially as the seat I picked was broken. I therefore had a quick wander to see the big Langkawi eagle.

We were eventually called through immigration and once through we walked through a fourth seating area but unfortunately were unable to use this one. We had to hand in our passports once more, this time to be collected in Koh Lipe.

After being asked if we had passports and tickets two or three times by three different people, with everyone looking rather bemused after we’d already given in our passports and had our tickets ripped, we set off.

Our journey was alright, the water wasn’t the calmest but the boat was a sturdy sea maiden and transported us to our final destination like a majestic narwhale. No film though.

We looked out of our window expecting to see a beautiful jetty that would allow us to stroll to our next hostel. What we saw was the sea, a lot of it. There was some land way out in the distance  but we were definitely not next to it. A wooden longtail boat turned up on the left side and another on the right. We were directed towards them and pointed in the direction of the violently bobbing wooden hull below. Bags were thrown on first, then babies and then us.

After that drama we were excited to pull up to the jetty. We got closer to the beach before stopping just before. Turns out Koh Lipe has no jetty, just a shipping beach. We were therefore directed towards the sea. So with our sturdy flip flops on and our bags held aloft we climbed down from the boat into the sea, which was up to our waists. Some of the smaller passengers were in much deeper. It was a short stroll to the actual beach from the sea and we found ourselves at a beautiful beach that also doubled up as an international ferry terminal and Thai border.

Koh Lipe international ferry terminal

We found the lady who provided us with our passports and we handed these and our immigration cards to a chap in an air conditioned shack on the beach. We got our second round of Thailand stamps and we were in.

We were offered a taxi (a motorbike with wooden pallet sidecar for passengers and luggage) which we refused as we were a 5-10 minute walk from the beach. We set off in the right compass direction (Google Maps had very little road detail for this island) and found ourselves confronted by multiple mucky puddles that needed walking through. We got pretty filthy.

Thankfully the walking time was as predicted and they had an assortment of hoses outside the hotel for us to wash down our muddy, sandy, seawater ridden feet before we checked in.

The stats

7:29 (GMT +8) taxi from Zackry Guesthouse to Langkawi Point Ferry Jetty: 15 MYR (for our share, £2.69), 28 minutes

9:45 ferry to Koh Lipe: 210 MYR (£37.63), 2 hours 8 minutes

11:12 (GMT +7) longboat to the beach: Included, 9 minutes

11:46 walk to A+ Hotel: 8 minutes

Arrived: 11:54 (GMT +7)

Total time in transit: 2 hours 53 minutes

Total travel time: 4 hours 35 minutes

Total cost: £40.32 (£20.16 each)

Bye George(town), We’re Off To Langkawi

Tl;dr – evil taxi company (no beef with the driver though), boat with a film, no legit taxis, legit taxi obtained

We asked the hostel about getting a taxi to the ferry terminal which they booked for us as a flat fare taxi. Turned out it was through Uber… So much for the boycott. But the driver was great and he got us there in plenty of time.

We marched through the terminal and sat down only to stand up immediately to get onto our ferry. We sat downstairs in our seats across the aisle from each other (which was a bit annoying as there were plenty of spare seats) and set sail. Kate didn’t fancy a cheese omelette now she was bouncing around on the sea but it came with wedges which were seemingly ok. I helped her out with the omelette.

During our crossing the TV in front of us showed a safety demonstration before showing us the Kevin Spacey film Nine Lives. An odd choice but vaguely enjoyable.

We arrived into Langkawi and we walked through the terminal with people offering us taxis left, right and centre. We had been forewarned about these diddlers so we sternly told them no and walked through to a taxi rank. There was a taxi information booth the other side of the road so we crossed to find it empty. Next to it was tourist information who told us to go to the taxi information. When we told them it was empty they went to investigate and there was a lady in there. Not sure where she was hiding because her office was a tube big enough for one small person.

We asked for a taxi and named our hostel and we were quoted a price and pointed to the rank. She looked over and realised the taxi rank was devoid of taxis, so she went to investigate. It turned out the taxis were trying to avoid the rank in order to pick up an unfairly raised fare from the main road bit. So this taxi lady stood at the rank entrance and directed these reluctant taxi drivers to come and accept an honest fare.

When our driver turned up he seemed nice enough and he told us it would take around 30 minutes to our guesthouse. This was a flat-out lie. 29 minutes later we were at the door.

The stats

13:20 (GMT +8) taxi from The Frame Guesthouse to Langkawi Ferry Terminal: 5.50 MYR (£0.99), 7 minutes

14:00 ferry to Kuah Jetty, Langkawi: 140 MYR (£25.09), 2 hours 46 minutes

17:06 taxi to Zackry’s Guesthouse: 30 MYR (£5.38), 29 minutes

Arrived 17:35 (GMT +8)

Total time in transit: 3 hours 22 minutes

Total travel time: 4 hours 15 minutes

Total cost: £31.46 (£15.73 each)

KL To Penang

Tl;dr – taxi, train, free shuttle bus, ferry, walk

Our Uber boycott would face its first real test on this trip. Our experience with Grab so far had been slow. We’d tried to get one during rush hour and no-one would accept and, when they did, they were 30 minutes away. We needed to get to the station for our 9:00 train. As breakfast was drawing to a close I started the process. Ten minutes later our taxi was ready and waiting.

After looping the train station a couple if times we were finally dropped at the front door (Grab uses a fixed fare system so it didn’t matter).

We wandered into the giant building and found zero signage. I asked a security guard who pointed us round the corner where we found a throng of people and another security guard behind a rope. We asked him about our train and we were told to wait.

Fifteen minutes later we were ready to board onto our allocated seats. Because the train afterwards were fully booked we ended up booking onto a slightly more luxurious train with food included. Sure enough, part way into our journey they brought round some snack bags.

The train was lovely and comfortable. We were in rows of two and two so there was plenty of space. I don’t know how much of a step down the regular train would have been but for two pounds each extra I probably wouldn’t be inclined to find out.

We arrived on time into Butterworth, the town on the mainland across from Penang. It did not appear to be a happening place.

The train company puts on a free shuttle bus from the train station to the ferry terminal which we were happy to jump in. We got to the ferry terminal and got a bit flustered. We were advised we needed port entry tickets but they only took coins. I rooted through my coins and realised I didn’t have enough. We let everyone go in front of us and noticed that the last guy gave a note to the man. It transpired this ticket guy was not a ticket guy and was a change guy. We changed our smallest note, deposited our coins and were into the jetty building. We noticed the boat was waiting so we strolled towards the sea but were stopped at the gates along with one other bloke. If we had understood the whole change scenario we would have been waving back to that bloke as we sailed across the sea…

Thankfully it was only 15 minutes until the next one so we had time to get sone crisps and a Kickapoo Juice.

Once the next boat turned up, the gate opened and I strolled to the front of the boat to get a first glimpse of Penang.

The crossing was short and smooth and we disembarked into Penang. It was a short stroll from the jetty to our hostel but we got our first taste of the complete lack of pedestrian walkways in Penang. Weaving around cars and scooters we successfully navigated our way to our next home and the first time we’d soent four nights in the same place for a long time.

The stats

08:17 (GMT +8) Grab taxi from Explorer’s Guesthouse to KL Sentral Station: 10 MYR (£1.79), 12 minutes

09:00 train to Butterworth: 158 MYR (£28.32), 3 hours 52 minutes

13:00 free shuttle bus to Butterworth jetty: 8 minutes

13:38 ferry to Georgetown: 2.40 MYR (£0.43), 19 minutes

13:59 walk to The Frames Guesthouse: 17 minutes

Arrived: 14:16 (GMT+8)

Total time in transit: 4 hours 48 minutes

Total travel time: 5 hours 59 minutes

Total cost: £30.54 (£15.27 each)

AucKLand – KL

Tl;dr – world’s most expensive taxi, 13 hours of planes with an Aussie stopover, new taxi app

If you’ve used Uber before you will know that during busy times prices get multiplied wity surge pricing. You will probably remember a time when you could get notified when prices dropped. Uber helpfully updated their app to drop this feature during our trip and so when the surge price was 2x and we had plenty of time I thought I’d wait but had to keep checking myself. It was steadily rising so we were going to call a regular taxi until I found a new prebook feature that quoted us a base fare ($42 – $55 without surge) for ten minutes time, with the promise of notification if the price increased. Sounded too good to be true!

So the taxi turned up with no notice of a surge and as the taxi arrived (and whilst I still had wifi) I checked to see if the price had increased. Apparently not, so we happily jumped in. At this time of day the 20km journey took 50 minutes due to epic traffic so we slept most of the way there. When we awoke we thanked our Uber driver and walked into the airport. As soon as the free wifi was signed into we got our Uber receipt. $162. Oh.

I emailed Uber and we had a few exchanges back and forth but apparently what happened was impossible and the “excellent improvements with the app” have included a price quote so things are now simpler. “No Math and No Surprises!” I couldn’t believe their arrogance. I’m sure it looked to them like I was a customer who had regretted paying £90 for a taxi, but when I was sold it for £20-£30 I felt a bit hard done by. I once bought something that was on offer in Asda but was charged full price. They gave me a full refund and a £2 voucher which I bought two easter eggs with. I left Asda very happy. Instead Kate and I have deleted our Uber apps and have started our boycotts.

We checked-in and boarded our flight, although there was an issue with another passenger after I was let through and Kate had to wait for five minutes or so before she was let on. It was probably something to do with that time she did in the prison she told immigration about.

We were seperated by an aisle but I was wearing my Sabah proboscis monkey t-shirt and a bloke from Sabah was very impressed and moved us to two seats together. With a window!

We landed in the Gold Coast a short while later where we had to disembark, down the waters we’d bought for the trip to go through security and re-embark.

We flew onwards, separated by the aisle once more and actually got a good sleep on this one.

Although we landed at 4:41 local time we had flown 5 hours into the past so we felt relatively refreshed. Nevertheless we had booked an extra night at our hostel so we could get in and go straight to sleep!

We tried out our new taxi app (Grab) that was apparently cheaper than both the airport taxis and Uber. And although we couldn’t find him and he had given up on us and left, when we discovered he had been on level 2 we went up and he came back for us. And we had a great trip to our hostel for a good old post-overnight-flight nap.

The stats

17:34 (GMT +13) – taxi from Uenuku Backpackers to Auckland International Airport: NZ$161.86 (£91.45), 52 minutes

20:24 (4 minutes late) – flight to Kuala Lumpur: NZ$545 (£307.91), 13 hours 17 minutes (11 minutes late)

05:53 (GMT +8) – Grab car to Explorer’s Guesthouse: 73 MYR (£13.10), 52 minutes

Arrived: 6:45 (GMT +8)

Total time in transit: 15 hours 1 minute

Total travel time: 18 hours 11 minutes

Total cost: £412.46 (£206.23 each)

Melbourne to Christchurch

Tl;dr – walk, metro, aggressive ticket machine, pink Skybus, non-budget flight, lift

Our walk to Richmond station had become very familiar by now but this time would be our last. Our time in Australia was brief (I’m sure there aren’t many Britons that pop to Australia for 4 nights) but we had decided to focus our attentions to New Zealand having both spent some time in Australia before.

Being two stops from the humungous Southern Cross Station meant there were plenty of trains heading there and so we didn’t have to wait long until we were whisked away.

At the other end we had to ask for the direction of the Skybus and walk the length of the station, which took a while. We found the ticket office and saw a big snaking queue but some automated ticket machines with none. We put in our request and paid. After a tense couple of seconds where nothing happened the machine spat out two tickets at an insane velocity that meant I had to catch them before they flew out the door. A bit like a much tamer version of when Harry Potter’s Hogwarts letters fly out of the chimney.

Our pink chariot was awaiting and took us straight to the airport.

At the airport we got our bags checked in (we both had checked baggage, one of the many perks of flying with a national airline) and headed through security. We were flying with China Airlines, not to be confused with Air China or China Southern. You see China Airlines are based in the Republic Of China, or Taiwan and our flight had started in Taipei before making a pitstop in Melbourne before winging its way to Christchurch.

On the flight we had food (I had picked a veggie one for Kate this time), blankets, pillows, movies, music, games etc but the most enertaining bit was towards the end of the flight, getting our first view of the incredible New Zealand scenery.

Once on the ground we cleared security, just. Kate managed to accidentally declare she had been recently imprisoned and had to carefully explain that one. But once New Zealand were satisfied we’d cleaned our shoes since the rainforest we were allowed in.

We were met at the airport by Kate’s high school friend, Callum, and his wife, Danielle, who had kindly offered to pick us up. We were going out for dinner that evening but our first stop was to drop our bags at our next hostel.

The stats

10:04 (GMT +11) walk from Punt Street to Richmond Station: 6 minutes

10:15 metro to Southern Cross Station: 7.80 A$ (£4.79), 10 minutes

10:43 bus to Melbourne Airport: 38 A$ (£23.31), 24 minutes

13:03 (7 minutes early) flight to Christchurch: 404.50 A$ (£248.16), 3 hours 5 minutes (22 minutes early)

19:04 (GMT+13) lift to Old Countryhouse Hostel: 23 minutes

Arrived: 19:27 (GMT+13)

Total time in transit: 4 hours 8 minutes

Total travel time: 7 hours 23 minutes

Total cost: £276.26 (£137.13 each)

Singapore to Melbourne

Tl;dr – taxi, T1 to T2 to T1 to T2, overnight flight, taxi

Because we were all flying out of Singapore at roughly the same time, my Dad, David, Alicia, Kate and I all got a big taxi van together to the airport. Despite Singapore charging hefty taxes if you want a car, there was no shortage of cars on the road considering the time.

We were flying out of seperate terminals so we were dropped off at terminal 1 and Kate and I got the Skytrain to terminal 2 to check-in (at the farthest counter of course) before heading back to T1 to meet up the rest of the crew. It turned out that T2 was much newer and arguably better so we went back there with my Dad (David & Alicia were happy staying in KFC).

Once we had said our final goodbyes we set off through security and customs. I went to get some water for our 8 hour flight but Changi Airport has adopted the same process as other airports we had encountered whereby you can’t get drinks for your flight because they put another security checkpoint at the gate.

We had been assigned two seats right at the back. Due to the shape of the plane we had a row of 2 rather than 3 and little cubby for our stuff by the window, which meant I could swing my legs round and get a decent amount of sleep. Thanks Scoot.

At Melbourne we were a bit scared. We have both watched a lot of the programme “Nothing To Declare” which shows the many idiots that fail to declare entire suitcases of food, so we declared everything. Despite this, we were still nervous we would fall foul of the many restrictions Australia has on bringing anything into their country. Because we had hiked in Borneo we had to declare that and our packet of peanuts. When the bloke asked us about our declarations we said we’d washed our shoes and that was that. Turns out some people do get into Australia, despite what that show would have you believe.

Our next task was getting to our Airbnb (well 2nd, after trying out the famous Melbourne coffee). Our options were $38 of Skybus and navigating our way around the metro system or $60 of taxi. The choice was made based on the need to nap and we zoomed our way to our bed.

The stats

20:55 (GMT +8) taxi from The Tennery to Singapore Changi Airport: 16 SGD (for our share) (£9.25), 36 minutes

00:46 +1 (6 minute delay) flight to Melbourne: 488.28 SGD (£282.24), 6 hours 50 minutes (39 minutes early)

12:13 +1 (GMT+11) taxi to Punt Road, Richmond: 65.20 AUD (£40.09), 31 minutes

Arrived: 12:44 +1 (GMT+11)

Total time in transit: 7 hours 57 minutes

Total travel time: 12 hours 49 minutes

Total cost: £331.58 (£165.79 each)