Travis’ SE Asian Adventure: Hitchhiking On Malaysian

Filed Under: Malaysia, Travel

Travis is my first new contributor to the blog, who will be writing a post every Wednesday to start. The idea behind adding guest contributors is to add different perspectives to the blog. Travis has a unique approach towards travel, given that he travels almost exclusively with his wife and young children, which is in stark contrast to my travels, which are usually alone.

Travis is currently on a month-long trip to Southeast Asia with his family:

Yesterday I described my family’s general travel philosophy and how we applied it on our current month-long trip to Southeast Asia.

After booking our flights into Jakarta, we sat back and waited to see if any deals would show up. We figured in the worst case (i.e. no deals!) we’d book some cheapish tickets over to Penang, rent an apartment for a month, and live like expats. Oh, and attend the wedding of one of my best friends!

In late August, we got our wish. Malaysia Airlines ran a wacky mistake fare sale whereby it was possible to book round trip tickets from Singapore to a variety of destinations in SE Asia (and in some cases beyond) for very little money. $50 could get round trip tickets to places such as Phuket, Bangkok, and Manila. But it got better. By booking through CheapTickets, each ticket would also earn $75 in hotel credits. (Now $50.) So we booked each person on their own itinerary and earned $300 in hotel credits. In SE Asia, that goes pretty far!

Malaysian Airlines
Malaysian Airlines

Tickets to Siem Reap (gateway to Angkor Wat) often go for around $200 RT on AirAsia. With this sale we could take our whole family for that price! So we booked a week there. Of course we booked each person on their own itinerary to earn $75 in CheapCash to use on hotels. That gave us $300 in hotel credits to use in Siem Reap — or anywhere else. At this point, the side trip to Cambodia was basically a negative cost option in the sense that it was cheaper for us to fly and live there for a week in hotels than to spend that week in an apartment in Penang.

Then we saw that Brunei was also $50 round trip. We booked it. (OK, we did verify where it was on the map first!) We figured that we’re probably never going to go out of our way to go to Brunei; there’s just not really a compelling reason to go there. Do you really want to burn miles to go to Brunei?  Probably not, and that’s what makes it a perfect destination for a mistake fare. I still don’t know what we’ll do when we get there, so if you have suggestions, please share!

With our time in Siem Reap, Brunei, and Penang locked down, filling in the rest of the details was relatively straightforward. Since the Malasyian deals departed from Singapore, that became our launching point. We’d pick up a cheap flight from Jakarta to Singapore on AirAsia ($25 each), spend a couple days there, then set off for Siem Reap. Interestingly the Malaysian fares allowed a stopover in Kuala Lumpur for $20 more (admittedly a huge 40% increase on a $50 ticket!), so we took advantage of that to create a “stopover” in Malaysia to attend the wedding in Penang — this was the point of the entire trip after all — as well as some time in KL itself. Although we considered driving from Penang to KL we ultimately booked that on separate Malaysian tickets — $90 round trip.

For those trying to keep score, we’re on a trip (Penang), within a trip (KL stopover as part of Siem Reap ticket), within a trip (US to Jakarta). Nested trip anyone? I hope we don’t overflow the stack! (Sorry, I’m a nerd.)

Anyway, after the wedding we’ll pick up the final segment our Siem Reap ticket to fly from KL back to Singapore, before starting our Brunei itinerary, which of course means going right back through KL. Oh, and that earned another round of $300 in hotel cash. Now we had $600 in hotel credits to spend on this trip, which, in SE Asia, meant we had to start living large — sometimes even booking two rooms or a suite!

Finally we’ll wrap up the trip by catching another cheapish flight from KL back to Jakarta where we’ll spend a couple of days before flying home.

Yes, we’ll do quite a bit of transiting through KLIA and Changi with two overnight connections at the former, and one at the latter. But with a month to work with, that’s OK, it’s just part of the adventure. Every time we start to grumble about it, we just remind ourselves that we’re flying our family of four to Siem Reap for $280 (total!) and that even includes our hotel!  The Brunei trip was $240 for all of us.

And that’s how we filled in the details of our month in SE Asia.

A week in Siem Reap, 10 days in Malaysia with visits to KL and Penang, several days in Brunei, a couple in Singapore, and a few in Jakarta. About $330 per person for flights within the region, and $850 or so across the pond. Or put another way, the sum cost of airfare for our five country SE Asian Adventure was roughly the cost of just flying a “normal” itinerary from the US to Kuala Lumpur or Penang. If you don’t really care where you go, you can get some amazing deals.

We didn’t really start with a plan for our month in Southeast Asia, we just waited around with both of our thumbs raised, and sure enough, Malaysia Airlines stopped to pick us up…..

  1. Haha I lived in Brunei for 8 years, I can’t believe you’re visiting it! There’s not a whole lot to do attraction wise, but there’s a lot of nature! Be sure to visit Temburong National Park, it’s very beautiful and one of the only untouched primary rainforest in the area. It has a very high canopy walk, I believe one of the highest in the world, which has breath taking views in the morning with the fog! There’s also Then be sure to visit Kampong Ayer (Malay for ‘water village’), it’s a whole town with schools, mosques, police offices, etc. built on the river and if you go down the river you will see proboscis monkeys (the nose monkeys), crocodiles and the massive royal palace! The town is right in the heart of the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. If you’re in the mood for luxury, visit “The Empire Hotel”, Brunei’s only 5 star hotel, which is a real testament to the wealth of the government because of the oil present in the country. Almost everything is gold plated, high ceilings, chandeliers, pool which spawns around the hotel, cinema, golf club, etc. The hotel is not very expensive because hardly any tourists visit due to it being a “dry country”, meaning no alcohol for sale, anywhere. Be sure to go there for high tea! Other than that there’s not a whole lot to do or see… Be sure to visit, maybe it has some more information.

    Hope I helped!

  2. Hey! I lived in Brunei for 15 years growing up (now studying in Australia) but I’m currently back in Brunei over (Australias) summer, hope you enjoy the country!

  3. Safe to say, you’re REALLY lucky! That was enjoyable to read. However, not much learnt as I can’t really base all my travels on waiting for a mistake fare. (Especially that those never happen in Egypt as we mostly have fixed prices, absurd!) Last post from Travis was very informative.

  4. Wow! My head hurts

    You travel like I would love to (but without children) We visited Indonesia this year, a truly amazing country. Enjoy.

  5. Hi,

    I’m from Brunei, lived here all my life. $50 for a round trip between Brunei and Singapore/M’sia is a pretty damn good deal. Even budget airlines, Airasia can’t beat that price. There is not much you can do when you get here but you sure need 2 full days to see the capital itself, provided you have the logistics right. This is most challenging part for tourists who comes here. Taxi are scarce and buses are irregular. I can’t really comment on these public transportation as I have never actually taken in my life.

    Forget about Temburong excursion, you won’t want to folk out USD 200-300 per head for the jungle trip which you can do it cheaply at neighboring Sarawak or Sabah. These are the 2 M’sian states on Borneo island sharing with Indonesia and Brunei. There are lot more things to do there. Kota Kinabalu, capital of Sabah is a short 45 mins flight. Sarawak is mere 30-40 mins drive from the Brunei border, the nearest city is Miri city close to Kuala Belait town of Brunei or Limbang town from the Brunei capital.

    As for Brunei itself, you can visit the following:

    In BSB downtown
    1. Water village,
    2. Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque,
    3. Royal Regalia,
    4. Chinese temple
    5. Morning market (just opposite the Chinese temple)
    6. Museums

    1. Jame Mosque
    2. Gadong wet market (at night, they sell fried and grilled food and day they sell flowers)
    3. Fish and meat market (operate in the day only and inside the building, same location as the above)
    4. Gadong shopping area

    The above are all 10 min walking radius.

    If you like hiking, you can bring your family to Tasek park where there is a playground and waterfall which is next to Radisson hotel and not far from downtown.

    If you need anymore advise, just let me know. Thanks

  6. Sounds great! I’m looking forward for the report! There’s nothing wrong w/ multiple transfers through Singapore/KL — we also had to do that on our SE Asia RTW extravaganza! Enjoy!

  7. I am from KL and have visited Penang a few times. Hope you like Penang and KL. Penang is a really nice place to stay and take a look around while.

  8. @Amanda — You should see the spreadsheets that keep track of it all!

    @B — Yep, planning to go over the hotels. The deals there are just as good, maybe better, than the airfare.

  9. Abdel — First, I am definitely one of the luckiest guys on the planet, at least among those not named Lucky…. 🙂

    It can certainly appear lucky at first glance, but if it weren’t this lucky break, it would be a different one… seriously, these kinds of fare sales, mistakes, etc. do happen a lot.

  10. Travis–a quick question regarding nesting and sky team. I think nesting is when one has an over-arching round trip from to/from one city and then takes side trips within the time of the round trip ticket. Does that violate any rules? I’ve found a really good J fare to europe on sky team but don’t want to spend a lot of time in the destination city for the fare….


  11. Hi Sharp.

    I’m not an expert on the rules of nested tickets, but I wouldn’t worry about it in your case. I certainly didn’t worry about it for our SE Asia trip.

    I tend to think that the issue with nested tickets is when you book A-B-A with B-A-B inside of that to circumvent fare rules regarding minimum stays. In my case (and yours), it’s more like A-B-A with B-C-B, B-D-B, and B-E-B inside (where C,D,E are not equal to A of course!) And it’s not about avoiding any minimum stay requirements, but rather it’s just easier to book those excursions separately. At some point you can’t fit all of those segments on an itinerary even if you tried.

  12. Travis: Thanks for the quick reply. I didn’t want to wind up in a situation where the airline tried to charge me for the difference and/or confiscate the miles!

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