Hungary Winter Drive – Driving in Hungary as a Tourist

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My wonderful rented Toyota RAV4, so smart that it can warn you when you are drifting out of lane or when you are about to crash into the car in front of you.

In this post I share about my experience of driving in Hungary as a foreigner.

Car Rental – One of the biggest worries was if the car rental would be a smooth process. I rented my car with U-Save Car Rental from the Rentalcars.com website after reading some mixed reviews about the company. Upon arrival at the Budapest Listz Ferenc Airport, we were glad to see a lady from the rental company holding up a card with my name, as promised. We then got a lift from the airport to the U-Save premises just a 5 minute drive away from the airport. The required documents were (1) Your driving license (2) A credit card for your deposit. I used my International Driving Permit as I had this done for my trip to Japan the month before, but this would not be necessary as long as your driving license is in English.

Highway Tolls – In Hungary, highway tolls are collected via the E-Vignette system. The roads from the airport to Budapest are toll free, but if you are intending to venture out of Budapest, it would be hard to avoid purchasing a permit. This can be done at petrol stations near to the motorways, but the great thing for us was that our car rental company settled this for us and we did not have to worry about the administrative hassle of getting this done in an unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar language.

Driving on the Right Side of the Road – This was an interesting experience for me as someone who has driving on the left side for my whole life. It certainly takes some getting used to and you have to consciously check if you are getting your bearings right, especially when making turns. The great thing was that my Toyota RAV4 car was pretty smart and naggy. Whenever I started drifting too much to the right, the warning lights would flash.

Traffic Police and Speed Limits – You have to be a bit careful of this especially when driving on the motorway. The speed limits are not standard and can vary quite dramatically for different portions of the motorway. The traffic police are also very vigilant and in my 10 days of driving, I spotted no less than 5 traffic police speed traps stationed either on the viaducts above, at the central divider, or at the slip roads at the side.

Child Seats – I read that children would require age-appropriate child seats or booster seats. I decided to bring my own booster seat from home for my daughter as it wasn’t too heavy or bulky and easily fitted into my luggage.

Refueling – My first experience at the petrol kiosks was a bit uncertain, but the process was easy enough to pick up quickly. Just identity the correct fuel (the labeling was simple enough) pump it, and proceed to the cashier inside the shop to pay with cash or credit card. The price of petrol and diesel was pretty similar about S$1.75 – S$2.00 per litre. I was rather impressed with the fuel economy of my RAV4, which averaged about 6 litres per 100 km on a powerful diesel engine.

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Pump black for diesel!

Parking Charges – Parking is chargeable at most of the major city and town centres. Look out for parking meters where you have to drop in your coins and to display the dispensed parking slips on your vehicle dashboards. Most of the parking meters have information in English, but not all, so you might have to get some help from the local people if need be. The good thing is that parking is free most of the time in the evenings and weekends. Do pay your parking though, as it is generally inexpensive and it is not worth the trouble of getting a ticket.

On the last night of our trip, I was unlucky and received a parking ticket just being 15 minutes away from my car when checking into my hotel, not knowing at first that the spaces in front of my hotel were public parking spaces and not owned by my hotel. I had to make my way to the nearest Post Office to pay the fine which worked out to be about S$11.

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I immersed myself so much into the culture of the land that I even got myself a parking ticket. I then had to figure out how to pay the fine at the nearby Post Office.


This is part 3 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for Part 4 as I share about our first taste of Hungarian cuisine.

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

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2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

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Frolicking in a Simontornya Wine Cellar

The last time I was in Europe was 16 years ago when I was just a wee boy. Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration – that was when I completed my higher education at the University of Birmingham, UK. It was an incredibly memorable 4 years then, living in Europe, experiencing the 4 seasons for the first time in my life, and exploring the rich cultures of the different peoples and lands which make up this great continent.

After those 4 years, I felt that it was time to explore Asia, and that I did for the last 16 years. It was now time to go back.

My wife had never been to Europe. Neither have my kids. Before this trip, my wife did not even know any thing about Hungary. My daughter only knows what it means to be hungry, but nothing about Hungary. She kept asking, “is Hungary in Europe, or is Europe in Hungary?” It was time for their eyes to be opened.

Okay I admit, I had an ulterior motive. The first time I visited Hungary in the days of my youth, I fell in love with the beautiful Budapest, so steeped in history, so rich in culture. Above all, I fell in love with the Beef Goulash soup, and I wanted to bring my wife there to taste the real thing, and learn how to cook it for me back home in Singapore. This was my grand evil plan. 😛

The other great thing about Hungary is that the cost of living is very reasonable compared to some of the other countries in Europe. We managed to get great deals for our travel itinerary:

  • 4 day 3 night Dream Trip package from Rovia / World Ventures at a 5 star hotel in the Hungarian countryside with 3 breakfasts and dinners provided, for less than US$100 per person. Look out for an upcoming blog post where I will share about the wonderful time we had on this package tour.
  • 10 day car rental for an incredible price of S$250 from Rentalcars.com. We booked a Citroen C3 hatchback, but were extremely blessed to get a free upgrade to a Toyota RAV4 SUV.
  • Our other hotels were booked from Agoda and Accor at less than S$100 / night on average. Yes, where travel is concerned, I spread my nets wide and grab only the best deals haha.
  • Oh, did I mention, extremely competitively priced air tickets from British Airways, which were made even cheaper because of the Rovia Price Pledge Promise!

So do join me as I detail the various aspects of our trip in my upcoming blog posts. Thank you for taking the time to read!

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The Beautiful Lake Balaton

 

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The Crucifixion Scene Depicted at Tihany Abbey


This is part 1 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 2 where I share about my unfortunate injury just the night before we fly for Hungary.

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2016 Road Trip from Singapore to Thailand – Day 2 – Crossing the Border at Bukit Kayu Hitam / Sadao

This is the second part of my blog series that details our road trip from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand and offers some advice to would-be travellers who might like to attempt a similar journey. The first part can be found here.

This leg of the journey from Alor Star to Phuket is the exciting one, especially because it takes many of our Singapore drivers out of our comfort zone. We have to cross an unfamiliar border at Bukit Kayu Hitam (Malaysia side) / Sadao (Thai side). We also have to grapple with road conditions quite different from what we are used to along the brilliantly well-maintained North South Expressway (NSE) in Malaysia.

The border is not open 24 hours, only from 6am – 12 midnight Singapore/Malaysia Time. No point going too early anyway, cause many of the shops that do the Thailand 3rd party vehicle insurance do not open so early (There could be some that open early, so if you have the info do let me know).

The Thailand 3rd party insurance is quite cheap (less than SGD$15 for 19 days of cover) and can be done at the following places:

  • Shops in Changlun, before the Malaysian immigration
  • Duty-Free complex, in no-man’s land between the Malaysian and Thai immigration
  • Shops in Sadao-Dannok, just after the Thai immigration

For my first trip last year, I got my insurance at Sadao-Dannok, and this year at the Duty-Free complex. Both are quite fuss-free but they were not open in the early mornings. I think around 9am Malaysia time is fine, but I’m not 100% sure about this. The immigration officials didn’t seem that interested in looking at my insurance papers though, so you might be able to just get your passports chopped and settle your vehicle customs first, then worry about getting the vehicle insurance done.

Now we will run you through the actual border crossing process, which should take around 1 to 2 hours depending on the crowd:

The Bukit Kayu Hitam immigration on the Malaysia side is relatively simple, and quite like what we are used to at Tuas or Woodlands. Just drive straight to the booth and hand over your passports. No real issues here.

The Sadao immigration on the Thailand side is more messy and confusing. You will need to park your car somewhere along the road just before the customs compound which you can see in the photo below (The big carpark to the left of the immigration compound is gone! I believe they are working on building a new immigration complex. Once that is done then things will change again.)

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Sadao border crossing

You also need Thailand immigration cards, which you can get for RM2 per card at the Duty-Free complex in no-man’s land (please don’t get fleeced here like I did!), or for free at the Sadao border at the immigration office inside the building on the left side. They are likely to only give you one card per passport so be prepared to show the passports of everyone in your party.

Fill up the immigration forms and queue up at one of the immigration counters to get your passports chopped. These immigration counters are all over the place, so if you are observant, you can actually find one with a much shorter queue. At the immigration counter, please be prepared to pay (a bribe?) of RM1 or RM2 per passport. Last year we “acted blur” and got through without having to pay this at all. This year I was charged RM2 and my wife and kids were more fortunate to be charged RM1 per passport at their counter.

After you get your passports chopped, you need to line up at the counter shown:

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Customs booth for the temporary import of your car into Thailand

There are two parts to this counter, the first one to get the temporary vehicle import form (where you see people queuing in the picture). Here you will need to present your vehicle log card printed from onemotoring (to prove that you are the legal owner of the vehicle) as well as your chopped passport.

The second booth is immediately after the first one where they will chop the form, and you will have to sign on it. They will hand you one copy of the processed form and will keep one copy for themselves. Please do not lose this form because if you do you will have trouble getting your car back through the customs when you return from Thailand!

After getting all this paperwork done, you can get back to your parked car and proceed to drive through border crossing. As you drive through, the border police will check again that you have your vehicle import form done.

Once all this is done, welcome to Thailand!

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After the Sadao border

Click here for Part 3 of this series which touches on the driving conditions in Thailand from Sadao to Phuket .

Finally, my wife and I also enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship and a nice home-cooked meal. So if you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

 

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand – Day 1

This blog post details our road trip from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand and offers some advice to would be travellers who might like to attempt a similar journey. This was our 2nd time making the long drive to Phuket, last year we did it in our aging Kia Cerato. This year, it was certainly a more comfortable ride in our new Peugeot 5008 MPV (Clean Diesel). We had 6 people in the car, my wife and I, our three kids aged 6, 4 and 2, and our domestic helper. I was the sole driver – having another driver in the party would have been good, but we didn’t have that luxury. This means that I have to manage my own physical state, and make sure that I am well rested every night before a long drive and to take breaks at the R&Rs or Petrol Kiosks whenever I’m feeling tired or sleepy.

My preference for epic road trips is to cover ground more quickly on the drive up, and to take things easier on the way back. This translated to taking the trip to Phuket in two legs, stopping one night in Alor Star. On the way back to Phuket, I planned for three legs, stopping at Alor Star and Malacca. The reason for this is mainly psychological. On the way up, you want to get to your destination as quick as possible to enjoy the fruits of your labour. On the way back, morale can be quite low as your holiday is drawing to a close, and therefore extra stop-overs can soften the blow of having to face reality!

The most important things you need to prepare for the trip:

  • Your passports
  • Enough Malaysian Ringgit and Thai Baht to get by, and lots of Singapore Dollars (I brought S$500 worth of MYR and THB and S$6000 spare in SGD for my 17 day trip)
  • Car log card printed out from onemotoring (This is crucial, you are not getting into Thailand without this!)
  • Send your car for a thorough servicing just before the trip. Change your tires / car battery if need be. You definitely want to minimise the risk of breakdowns and the trouble of finding a workshop in a foreign land.
  • GPS with Thailand maps loaded. (I had two GPS units for my trip, good to have one spare!)
  • Hotel bookings done with hotel coordinates loaded into your GPS.
  • Travel insurance / vehicle insurance with coverage into Thailand. This is optional but recommended. Do note that you will still need to purchase Thailand 3rd party vehicle insurance at the Thai border, but this does not cover any damage to your own vehicle.
  • Touch-and-Go Card to pay Malaysia toll fees. (you need about MYR110 to cover the tolls one-way from Singapore to the Thai border)
  • Hours of good music (to keep your spirits up and to keep you awake!)

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Day 1 – Driving from Singapore to Alor Star 

This is a long long drive, especially for those who are not used to driving long distances. It is important that before you even attempt a drive of this distance (800km), you should build up your driving stamina first. For me, it was a gradual process of going further and further into Malaysia before I had the confidence to undertake this drive. I would recommend you progressively extend your range with one-day drives to Malacca, KL, Ipoh, and Penang, especially if you are the sole driver like me! If you have a co-driver, it makes things a lot easier and you have the benefit of taking a break while your partner takes the wheel.

Always set off early, the last thing you want to do is to begin a 800km drive with a hour long crawl at the Causeway or 2nd Link. For this trip, we managed to pull everyone out of bed at 5am, loaded the car and set off around 5:30am. We were rewarded with a smooth drive through both Singapore and Johor customs by 6am.  I always like driving along the North-South Expressway (NSE) in the early mornings. Traffic is sparse, with a lower risk of being held up due to accidents or police checks.

A few main points to take note of along the NSE:

  • You start off on the E2 from Johor to KL (either via the E3 if you are enter Malaysia through the 2nd Link at Tuas, or via the E14 Eastern Dispersal Link if you use the Causeway at Woodlands)
  • On the E2 around the 285km mark, take the Exit 214 onto the E6 towards Putrajaya / Cyberjaya / KLIA. This will take you around the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur avoiding the jams in the city.
  • On the E6 around the 22km mark, take the Exit onto the E1 towards Ipoh / Alor Star.
  • Along the E1, watch out for grey speed camera at 375km mark on the left of the road.

If you are making good progress, I would recommend having lunch at Ipoh. Our favorite lunch stop is Tim Sum at Foh San in Ipoh, but some would argue that the standard of food there has dropped and there are better options around Ipoh. If you want to save time, just grab lunch at any R&R along the way.

For this trip, we made good progress, and managed to catch a quick breakfast at KFC at a Shell station at the 15.5km mark along the E6 after we topped up on Euro 5 Diesel. Moving on, we arrived at Foh San in Ipoh around 12 noon.

After lunch, it is only a three hour drive to Alor Star. Just be careful of the roads through the hills just after Ipoh which feature some sharp bends and can be quite treacherous especially in wet weather.

Our hotel of choice for the night is AST Hotel in Alor Star which is reasonably priced with clean rooms and a good location near to Alor Setar Mall where you can find a good place for dinner. Besides Alor Star, other possible options for a night’s rest are in Penang or Changlun.

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Click here for the next part of this blog series which details the Malaysia-Thailand border crossing at Bukit Kayu Hitam / Sadao.

Finally, my wife and I also enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship and a nice home-cooked meal. So if you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series