By Evi Mariani
How does it feel to fly halfway around the world on a budget airline for 14 hours?
Tiring, of course. But to be honest, flying budget airline Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur to London was just as tiring as flying KLM-Air France or Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam.
The condition of the aircraft and the size of the seats are just the same. The differences are, flying Air Asia, you don't get to enjoy the facilities at the nicer terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and instead have to wait around at its crowded and low-key Low Cost Carrier Terminal.
Other differences are the onboard services. On an Air Asia plane, you need to pay for everything except toilet use and hand-luggage space. I have taken low-cost trips on several budget airlines several times, but all of them were short trips like three hours at the most. For three hours, you might be fine without food and with only one bottle of water. But for more than 12 hours, on an Air Asia-sponsored trip last month, I got a bit annoyed to find myself shelling out a dollar for every 500-milliliter-bottle of water.
But the low price might outweigh your decision. In April, I checked the price for a one way trip from KL to London on the last week of October. Airasia.com gave me RM759 (S$318) or US$208 for an economy trip.
The price included pre-booked meals for RM33 (US$9), comfort kit (blanket and pillow, which you can take home) for RM25 or $7 and 20 kilograms baggage allowance for RM55 or $15. For the same date but in business class, Air Asia charges $609.
But if you don't book ahead, you are likely to pay a much higher price. For a flight in June or two months ahead, the cost could reach $360 for economy and $462 for more spacious seats in business class.
In short, Air Asia to London is a good option for those with limited budget, those who do not mind the absence of free flow wine, coffee, water and free entertainment and would rather save the money for more shopping and sightseeing or those who plan far ahead.
The London Eye.
The money saved could also fund better accommodation. The accommodation starts at below £20 per person per night in a dorm room (you share with six to eight other people on bunk beds) to more than £350 for luxury. A double room with a shared bathroom hovers at around £50 per night.
Once you have secured nice and clean accommodation, exploring London on a budget is easy.
To get around the city comfortably, travelers can buy a pay-as-you-go Oyster Card. It covers trips on London Underground system or the tube, trams and buses, including the famous red double decker.
With Oyster Card, passengers can save about 50 percent compared to buying a ticket for each trip. You can purchase the card at any underground station (including the one at Heathrow Airport), either for a £3 deposit (you can return the card at the end of your trip) or for free along with a multi-day travelcard. Check https://oyster.tfl.gov.uk/oyster/ for further details.
Walking around London, however, is pleasant, even breathtaking sometimes, as long as you are dressing suitably, with comfortable shoes, an umbrella and a raincoat lest rain decides to pour at any unexpected time. Veering off the beaten track promises a more satisfying experience.
Although London is a big city, your chances of getting lost are small if you are equipped with a map. As long as you remember the nearest tube station to your accommodation, you can just take the underground, see the map at the station, locate yours, and go.
For an amazing yet free-of-charge experience, British Museum in London is a must. Seemingly less celebrated compared to the Louvre in Paris, British Museum boasts equally astounding, huge collections from around the world. If Louvre has Mona Lisa as the most popular object, the British Museum has the Rosetta Stone, the stone that was the key to understanding the hieroglyphs.
London has many street markets, each with its own specialty. Borough Market, a food and fresh produce market is a very tantalizing place and somewhat comforting in the way good food can be.
Chocolate truffles sold at Borough Market.
The Portobello Market at Notting Hill Gate area is less interesting but a must if you want a bragging right to having been at the shooting location of Hugh Grant's Notting Hill. The blue door to Grant's apartment has gone to the highest bidder in an auction, however.
Affordable attractions are aplenty in London. One of them is the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel (I don't know how else to describe it, but I was told they don't like it being called a Ferris wheel). A standard ticket is £17 for adults and half-price for children. You can get married while taking a flight (they also want us to say flying or taking a flight) on the London Eye.
Eating good food is also not necessarily expensive. Dining out in a nice restaurant can be friendly to your pocket; a full course can cost you only an average of £14 per person. Indian restaurants like the Masala Zone at Covent Garden (masalazone.com) or Turkish one like Sofra (sofra.co.uk) at Oxford Circus provide a set menu from starter to dessert for under £15.
Portions are generally much bigger than those in Indonesia, so if you don't eat a lot, you might want to only order a starter or ask for a smaller portion.
There are many more things you can do in London on a budget. The website visitlondon.com has a special section on how to see London on a budget. The pound sterling might be the most expensive currency in the world, but your rupiah can buy a lot of quality fun there.
-The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network