Gateway City: Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is one of Africa’s most beautiful and fascinating cities and there is plenty here to deserve a few days stay before or after heading off into the bush on safari.  This series on Cape Town and the Eastern Cape Province covers a trip we did back in April 2009.

GETTING TO CAPE TOWN

I have a post on getting to South Africa using airline miles with details of the best programs to use.  Cape Town is well served by international flights and most people like to fly here and leave from Johannesburg (or vv) so they can see as much of South Africa as possible.

STAR ALLIANCE

South African Airways is a Star Alliance member and the obvious choice to fly here and around South Africa.  You can also get here on Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airlines & Lufthansa.

ONEWORLD

Comair is part of British Airways and offer good value using Avios to get around South Africa but always check the YQ surcharges as these can be excessive.  Qatar Airways and British Airways also offer flights from the Middle East & Europe respectively.

SKYTEAM

Only Europe has direct flights to South Africa on KLM & Air France.

WHERE TO STAY ON HOTEL POINTS

As a world class destination, Cape Town is well supplied with hotels you can redeem with points for all budgets.

IHG REWARDS

Holiday Inn Express Cape Town City Centre –    15,000 points

SPG

Westin Cape Town (This is where we stayed) – 10,000 Starpoints

Since it was so long ago, I am not doing a full review as updated info can be found on Trip Advisor but I must say we LOVED the view!

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CLUB CARLSON

They have 4 options in Cape Town:

Radisson Blu Le Vendome – 38,000 points

Radisson Blu Waterfront – 70,000 points

Park Inn by Radisson Cape Town Foreshore – 28,000 points

Park Inn by Radisson Newlands – 28,000 points

HILTON

Hilton Cape Town City Centre – 40,000 points

Doubletree Upper East Side – 20,000 points

MARRIOTT

Since Marriott partners with the South African chain Protea, they have a whopping 14 options in Cape Town ranging in price from 7500 – 20,000 Marriott Rewards points.

Or you can go indie and choose from many hotels on PointsHound or Rocketmiles to earn frequent flyer miles for them.

WHAT TO SEE IN CAPE TOWN

Here are a few suggestions for sight-seeing in Cape Town greater city area.  I will make a separate post for our day trip around the Cape of Good Hope.

VICTORIA & ALBERT WATERFRONT

Great for dining, shopping and soaking up the atmosphere.

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TABLE MOUNTAIN

Ride the cable car up and enjoy the view!

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BOTANICAL GARDENS

Nice place for a stroll around to enjoy the flowers.  We didn’t have time on this trip unfortunately but you might!

ROBBEN ISLAND DAY TRIP

The notorious prison island where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 18 years.  Book tickets online to save time and money.

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Chiang Mai As An Eco-tourism Gateway

Chiang Mai is one of the most popular cities in one of the world’s most popular countries to travel in and there are 1000’s of blogs that specialize in travel to Thailand.  I am only going to cover Chiang Mai as the gateway to several fantastic parks in which you can enjoy Thailand’s best birding.  In the map below, you can see just how close you are to Doi Lang, Doi Ang Khang (name not on map, 2nd yellow line) north of Chiang Mai and Doi Inthanon and Mae Ping south of Chiang Mai.

Thai ParksTRANSPORTATION

Arriving at the airport, it is easiest to get one of the flat fare taxis to your hotel.  If you fly straight through from Australia with the Bangok connection, you will arrive in Chiang Mai late at night.  Whatever you do, don’t rent a car if you are spending any time in the city.  It’s very difficult to negotiate the small back streets and you are likely to get lost.  Use taxis and tuktuks while in Chiang Mai

Once you are ready to leave the city and get to the parks, you will need a rental car.  Most car hire companies are located at the airport.  Chiang Mai’s airport also has a variety of fast food places and coffee bars for a quick snack.

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We rented from Hertz and were very happy with the service.  As usual, I took photos of the car and had no problem when returning it.

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ACCOMMODATION

Just about every hotel chain (except Club Carlson) is represented here.  I chose to go indie because hotels are so cheap here I didn’t think it was a good use of hotel points and prefer to save them for expensive countries.  I booked the Lannathai Guesthouse on Hotels.com because it was cheap, well located and counted as one of 10 bookings to get a free night in Welcome Rewards.  This place cost around $12 and was fine for one night pre-birding and 2 nights post birding.  It’s right in the middle of the night bazaar and there are lots of small spas to get a massage.  In a later post, I will go into how we spent our 2  post-birding days.

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Our first birds in Thailand, these little bulbuls on the Spirit House.

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Having a suit tailor made is a good idea while in Chiang Mai.  Order your suit before you go birding, then go back for fittings afterwards.  This Armani shop was the cheapest in the night bazaar and did a good job on my suit.

IMG_9787After ordering my suit, we took a tuktuk to the airport to get the car and headed off to Doi Inthanon.

Hotel Review: Intercontinental Resort Tahiti

Sadly our trip to French Polynesia was over.  We had seen some amazing birds on Ua Huka and Rimatara and now we were heading home.  Our flight left at 7:30am so we needed a hotel near the airport and preferably available on points.  The Intercontinental Tahiti Resort fit the bill perfectly.  Rooms cost 40,000 points which is a decent value and this is a pretty spectacular “airport hotel”!

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It is easily reachable from downtown or the airport on any Outamaoro bus.  They drop you right at the driveway and you just walk down to the entrance.

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My platinum status (courtesy Chase IHG Mastercard) got us upgraded to an ocean view room!IMG_1705 IMG_1704 IMG_1702 IMG_1706 IMG_1707 IMG_1709 IMG_1710

Small turtle pond in the gardenIMG_1711 IMG_1712

Overwater bungalows.  I didn’t seek an upgrade to these as it was only an overnight stay with check out at 4:30am.IMG_1714

Lagoon and overwater bungalowsIMG_1717 IMG_1718 IMG_1720

Watching the sunset by the swimming poolIMG_1722

Happy hour!IMG_1723 IMG_1726 IMG_1727

Planes coming in to landIMG_1730 IMG_1731

Cabana boy with conch shellIMG_1733 IMG_1735 IMG_1736 IMG_1738 IMG_1739 IMG_1740 IMG_1743

The next morning we were up at 4:00am and checked out around 4:30-ish.  The one thing I don’t like about visiting French Polynesia is the uber-early morning flights!  We walked out to the main road, prepared to walk with our backpacks to the airport.  A bus came along and we flagged it down.  No need to pay $25 for a taxi to go a couple kilometers!  Check-in wasn’t too crowded so we quickly checked in and passed security.IMG_1746

We were in economy so no lounge for us, the main terminal is pretty comfortable anyway.IMG_1747 IMG_1748Goodbye French Polynesia and keep looking after your birds!

 

Motel Review: Tahiti Airport Motel

Tahiti Airport Motel isn’t an eco-lodge by any sense of the word, however unless you have enough IHG, SPG or Club Carlson points, you will will probably find yourself staying here in between flights to the amazing Polynesian islands where you find the rare birds.

This is how close it is to the airport – literally right across the street and up a short hill.  I have to admit giggling over the Trip Advisor reviews where people say they paid over $20 for a taxi to come here!  In this photo, we have just come out of the terminal and there it is, you can’t miss it!

IMG_9761 IMG_9763Follow this little side street (note the mural) up the hill to the reception.

IMG_9766 IMG_9774 Since I always want to earn more miles if possible, I used Rocketmiles to book this hotel.  There was a promo running last month and I got 3000 bonus miles which posted very promptly so I am am very impressed with the service!  If you join using my links (the 3000 mile bonus one may not be working when you read this), then you and I both get 1000 miles bonus!

Prompt point posting from Rocketmiles!

The rooms were in nice bright colours, clean and had free wifi so I quickly caught up my emails.  I was so paranoid about missing our expensive flight to Ua Huka, I set 4 alarms – my phone, my husband’s phone, the clock in the room and the wake up call from reception!  All went well, actually my iPhone woke me but I can confirm that the reception was within 5 minutes of the time I requested the wake up call.

IMG_9767 IMG_9769Breakfast officially starts at 6am but they will let you have it early if you have to check in very early to your flight.  Our flight to Ua Huka left at 0630 am!  It’s a simple continental breakfast but fills the spot!

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Gateway City: Bangalore, India

I briefly touched upon Bangalore as a gateway to Coorg but this will be a more comprehensive guide.  Bangalore is India’s third most populous city and is known as the Silicon Valley of India because of its role as the nation’s leading Information Technology (IT) exporter.  But once you get out of the urban jungle into the lush Western Ghats a far more beautiful jungle awaits you!

BANGALORE AIRPORT

Kempegowda International Airport Bengaluru is a large modern structure.

IMG_3048 IMG_3049But nothing wrong with starting your birding a bit early at the food court!  These photos were taken in the domestic terminal.

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GETTING THERE

Bangalore (as well as all Indian cities) requires a Central Asian award.  There are no direct flights from the USA, Canada or Australia so you will have to travel via Europe or South-east Asia.

STAR ALLIANCE

Thai flies from Bangkok

Lufthansa flies from Frankfurt

Singapore Airlines flies from Singapore

ONE WORLD

Sri Lankan flies from Colombo

Qatar Airways flies from Doha

Malaysian flies from Kuala Lumpur

Dragonair (Cathay Pacific affiliate) flies from Hong Kong

British Airways flies from London

SKYTEAM

Air France flies from Paris

Saudia flies from Damman, Jeddah, Riyadh

NON-ALLIANCE BOOKABLE WITH MILES

Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi (AA partner)

Emirates flies from Dubai (Qantas partner)

Air Mauritius flies from Mauritius (Air France partner)

DOMESTIC

Air India (future Star Alliance), IndiGo, SpiceJet, Jet Airways, Jet Lite

WHERE TO STAY WITH HOTEL POINTS

As one may expect, India’s 3rd largest city is well supplied with chain hotels you can book with points.  Pay close attention to the location as you can get stuck in traffic for hours!

Best Western3 hotels ranging from 12,000 – 16,000 points

Choice 2 hotels ranging from 8000 – 12,000 points

Club CarlsonPark Plaza  – 38,000 points  My review

HiltonDouble Tree Suites – 40,000 points

HyattHyatt Bangalore MG Road – 12,000 points

IHGCrowne Plaza – 30,000 points

Marriott4 hotels ranging from 7500 – 30,000 points

Starwood5 hotels ranging from 4000 – 10,000 points

GROUND TRANSPORT

Booking buses and trains in advance can be a challenge for foreign tourists as bot Indian Rail and most bus companies require a mobile phone to set up an account.  I have a more detailed post on my experiences with buying bus tickets during my recent trip.  Back in 2011, I was able to book trains online with Cleartrip.  It seems they changed the procedure so you now have to get an account with IRCTC.

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TO & FROM THE AIRPORT

There will be prepaid taxis available at any time your flight comes in.  See more information and approximate fares here.  You’d be looking at 600-800ish rupees.

IMG_3050There are also Vayu Vajra airport buses but only a very few run through the wee hours when flights tend to come in.  See the website for schedules and fares which are very cheap.  We ended up jumping on the first one that was going downtown (just after midnight), then getting an auto-rickshaw to our hotel.  Local people know the approximate fares for taxis and auto-rickshaws but for tourists it is best to ask someone what they would pay to go someplace and bargain to the best of your ability!

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WHAT TO DO & SEE IN BANGALORE

Bannerghatta Wildlife Sanctuary – detailed report coming tomorrow.  Located in Bannerghatta National Park.

Lal Bagh

Government Museum

Karnataka Folk Museum

Kempegowda Museum

Shopping areas – Chickpet & MG Road

Gateway City: Las Vegas

Yes, you read that right.  Sin City is more than a place to gamble away your life savings (hopefully not) and see Elvis impersonators.  Vegas is an ideal gateway airport, especially after returning from Central or South America on Copa Airline’s direct flight from Panama, especially if you are a US citizen.

We were in economy and the majority of the passengers seemed to not be (USA) Americans.  Since I had booked these flights so far in advance, I had selected seats as far to the front as I could, row 9.  Having only carry-on backpacks meant that we were off and running.  When we reached immigration, I told them we had 1 American and 1 Australian with an ESTA and we were directed to the US Citizens line and were through in minutes.  There is a shuttle to the rental car building in which all car rental companies are housed.

Las Vegas (LAS) has very few international flights landing so you don’t find the congestion you do at larger airports with lots of international flights such as LAX, JFK, IAH, MIA.  Most of the other international flights originate in Canada so they will usually have done pre-clearance in Canada.  There are several flights from Mexico, Condor flies from Frankfurt, Korean Airlines has one from Seoul,  British Airways & Virgin Atlantic fly from LHR (possible use of Ultimate Rewards points).

Since our final destination was my Mom’s place in central California, I also thought the driving would be easier than taking the heavily trafficked 405 to 101 from LAX.  Having a stopover in Vegas opens up some nice opportunities for free accommodation and oddly enough the best choice isn’t using standard hotel points unless you are chasing status on Hyatt with their MLife partnership.

GETTING FREE ROOMS IN VEGAS

If you are a high roller, you have other means of getting free rooms and probably already know about them.  This is meant for the casual visitor who is just getting back from an eco-tourism trip and wants to chill for a day or two.

The major hotel chains do have properties in Vegas but this is one time I don’t advise you to use them as they are in most cases inconveniently located off the Strip.  I did have a Chase free night certificate to spend and since we were there on Labor Day weekend, I couldn’t get the Venetian or Palazzo so we ended up at the Holiday Inn Desert Club Resort.  The rooms were nice, like 1 bedroom apartments but the location was terrible!  They supposedly have a shuttle to the Strip but we couldn’t make it work with the show (Ka) and buffets we had planned and I didn’t want to drive since I knew I would be drinking so we got stuck using taxis.

Not to worry, free hotel rooms, buffets & shows on the Strip can still be had for free if you don’t mind Facebook games!