The TL:DR version of this long post about the new Xiaomi Mi Max phone is this: great phone especially considering its asking price and in my opinion, the best all-round Phablet at this price-point. But it’s also just too large for most people to use as a primary phone.

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The Xiaomi Mi Max, 32GB/3GB Gold edition.

That out of the way, here are my further-on first impressions of the Mi Max!

The Max isn’t a one-hand phone… for the most part. You can hold it comfortably with one hand and do the usual scrolling and button tapping – just so long as the button’s icon isn’t past the imaginary horizontal midpoint of the phone. So, reading a long web page is fine since you can scroll, as is clicking on links.

Even though it has a 6.44″ screen and this is the largest phablet I’ve owned so far, there’s little wasted space form factor-wise. Bezels are thin though there’s an approximately 1.5mm black border around the screen which will likely not appeal to many. Nonetheless, the phone could had been even larger and thicker than this, more so considering the huge 4850mAh battery it packs in. Bottom line, it’s a large phone – but might had been even larger.

I especially also like that the phone offers dedicated keys for phone navigation. Many phone manufacturers implement onscreen keys instead. The jury is still out between onscreen and dedicated keys, but I prefer the latter by far. Onscreen keys eat into the actual usable screen area – in that a phone with a 6″ display with onscreen keys would typically have maybe 5.7″ usable area then.

Build quality is very premium for its price, and is similar in overall styling to the most recent iterations of the iPhone. One reviewer remarked though that the Max bends with just a bit of pressure, but I found no such characteristic on my unit of the phone. Granted, it’s not as dense or rigid as the Note 5, and given the phone’s thin girth the Max might indeed bend or even break under severe pressure, but it’s just doesn’t creak under normal use in my case. Bottom line: for just about S$280, I got a phone that’s akin externally at least to what I’d get if I paid thrice that.

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Very iPhone-like chamfered edges on the left.

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And likewise on the right.

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Dual speaker grills that sit on opposite sides of the micro USB charging and data port.

Battery life is amazing! I left it 100% fully charged before turning in for the night. Six hours later, the battery had dipped just 1% to 99%. Right like a champ.

The fingerprint sensor is very responsive and quick. I liked the Mi Note 3’s fingerprint sensor, and the Max’s implementation of it is equivalent. There’s one minor annoyance though: the sensor is placed fairly high on the back of the phone, and I have to fidget around to find it when grasping the phone. It would had likely worked better if the sensor had been sited lower on the back.

The Max – gold edition in my case – has a textured back that makes finger smudges a non-issue. Totally unlike the Note 5’s reflective glass back – which is also a magnet for prints and feeling like you’re holding a bar of soap at all times. The Max’s chamfered edges gives one some grip on the phone, but I highly recommend a non-slip case for this nonetheless.

The Full HD screen – as in 1080×1920 pixels – is fine for general usage, but the lower resolution is also apparent in selected apps – e.g. Facebook, Whatsapp. The display advantage of a Quad HD screen of 1440×2560 pixels, e.g. that on the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, is apparent in those apps.

Maximum screen brightness higher than the Mi Note 3 but lower than the Samsung Note 5’s – which will make outdoor use in direct sunlight a little problematic. Screen viewing angles though are decent, and outdoor use in the shade is still fine.

Phone performance-wise; I’m not a mobile video gamer, so the performance aspects of the phone’s GPU aren’t of much concern for me. The phone feels brisk enough with page navigation, and launching of the general suite of apps that I use.

As for a couple of first oddities:

The touch screen seems very occasionally finicky for selected apps. Pulling down to refresh my Facebook newsfeed requires several tries.

No NFC. I’ve started using Samsung Pay on the Note 5 and love it. The absence of NFC support for the Max means that it’d be hard for it to be a primary phone.

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The fingerprint sensor placed quite high on the back of the phone. Not ideal.

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Capacitive keys. I would have preferred a a physical button for Home (the middle button above) but oh well.

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Both phones on maximum brightness: the Mi Max’s screen – good as it is – just isn’t a match for the Samsung Note 5’s.

I remembered when Samsung released their first Galaxy Note phone with a 5.3″ screen. A screen that size today is considered only ‘average’, but 5 years ago it was gargantuan, and many phone users wondered if the thing would even sell. Steve Jobs as widely reported scoffed at the Galaxy Note then and said no one was ever going to buy a phone that size. That remark was of course one of Apple famously bad tech predictions, and they ended up having to eat their words with their own line of similarly sized phones and play catch-up to Android market leaders.

I have a thing about phablets ever since owning the first Note. And today, anything that’s under 5.5″ display screen isn’t in my reckoning anymore. While the Note 5 remains the best smartphone I’ve owned, I’ve been on the lookout for a second replacement phone after our one week old Mi Note 3 kissed concrete whilst in Ling’s haversack in Melbourne. From checking around, it would have cost half the price of that phone just to fix the cracked screen – simply not worth it.

And as usual, several phablets made the list – with the main requirement of it featuring a 6″ or larger screen:

Leagoo Shark 1: 6″ screen, very attractive priced (available on eBay for just a mite over S$200!), mammoth battery of 6300mAh, and halfway decent build. But some troubling issues with the phone noted in reviews, and I also had low confidence on whether the relatively unknown manufacturer would be keeping the phone current with software upgrades.

Lenovo Phab: a whopping 6.98″ screen and well out of a phone-size at this point. Dim and low resolution display too.

Asus Zen 2 Laser: 6″ screen, moderately-priced and available at many stores, but I’m not fond of the tapered phone edges, dim display and the odd color cast on the screen.

Asus ZenFone 3 Ultra: 6.8″ screen, not released yet but from early indications, well out of my price bracket.

Sony Xperia XA Ultra: 6″ screen, fairly small capacity battery at 2700mAh, and also costing more than what I was willing to part (S$648).

Huawei Mate 8: 6″ screen, very nice premium build, good battery size of 4000mAh, but way more than what I was willing to pay for a second phone.

Xiaomi Mi Max: 6.44″ screen (!), supposedly great build – but more on that later – dedicated buttons that weren’t gonna eat into the screen size, and pretty cheap.

The Mi Max though has only seen release in China and India so far, and there are no indications yet that it would be ever brought in officially for sale in local stores. That said, there are plenty of Qoo10 and Lazada sellers who’ve brought in export (i.e. warranty-less) sets and attractive prices. So – after waiting for the periodic discounts to show up, one such Mi Max unit was ordered at a price that was even less than the Mi Note 3. Amazing.

The new Mi Max beside my daily driver - the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

The new Mi Max beside my daily driver – the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

More to come in a bit.:)

 

Second part of our post two years into staying at The Minton, and this time round, my notes on what we’re planning for our mini-renovation project next year.

To be fair; much of our apartment is still swimmingly fine and without any real major issues. Well, apart from that half of our initially installed LED Downlights failed, though thankfully the replacement units we bought from a different vendor have worked just fine and we’ve been able to dismount the faulty ones and mount the new units without too much difficulty on our own. And there’s also the slowly de-coloring grouting in the living/dining hall that would likely cost a lot to replace, never mind the having to move all our furniture somewhere while it gets rectified.

So – that aside, here’s what we’re currently planning.

Re-purposing our Study Room

This is the ‘+1’ in our apartment. The room as delivered is just long and wide enough for a study table that can run along the full length of the wall. But our initial renovation intention from 2014 was to treat this as a mini-library. Basically, we had our ID design and fabricate strong and reinforced book shelves. The book shelves almost 30 months later have borne up incredibly well – zero sagging despite bearing the weight of a lot of our books – paperbacks, very large coffee table books, and even heavier photo albums. The remaining space held Peter’s cot after we moved in.

A couple months back though we decided to move him out of the cot to join Hannah in their bedroom (something about wanting the kids to enjoy each other’s company more), gave his cot away to a Minton neighbor who was just about to deliver her baby – and now we have a room that looks like this:

Empty room - what to do with it?

Empty room – what to do with it?

We can’t fit a full-sized upright piano in the room, so that was tossed early on. Alternatively, the room can maybe hold a 50-60 cm deep study table on the opposing wall – we’ll likely have a designer fabricate one so that it can run the length of the wall, though there’s really enough table surfaces elsewhere in the house for us to do work – with books or multiple notebooks.

The last possible function: toss in a bean bag, and just treat it as a lounging area.:)

And we’ll likely have to find a different fan configuration for the room too. The current Crestar Idol 30″ ceiling fan is attractively looking, but is also severely constrained in its ability to move air around because of the room’s size and keep persons in it cool.

Paintwork

Not the entire house for sure, but little spots especially in the external parts of the apartment. There’re a few hairline cracks on the balcony wall – nothing serious of course though a little unsightly:

Very minor hairline crack.

Very minor hairline crack.

And maybe just a mite more serious are these paint bubbles that have started appearing on the front balcony wall. We reckon it’s that there’s some water seeping into the underlining paint layers, and we’ll have to watch if it gets more serious in the next months. And if it does, whether something needs to be done about it.

Paint bubbles. Sightly photoshopped to show the effect, but it's really not visible to the eye from any more than 2 feet away.

Paint bubbles. Sightly photoshopped to show the effect, but it’s really not visible to the eye from any more than 2 feet away.

Fans

Our unit’s facing means that we get terrifically frequent breezes and outright strong winds about 4 months a year – usually from around October to February. On the other hand, the front-balcony also gets a royal roasting from direct sun between April to October. It’s great for Ling’s plants of course, but it’s also gets terrifically hot that apart from the occasional laundry and also for the several rows of Ling’s plants, we really can’t do anything else on that balcony. This was one thing we didn’t fully anticipate in our main renovation project. Specifically, we should have fitted one of those industrial-sized ceiling fans from the get-go.

Since we can’t enclose the entire balcony in glass and just air-condition the thing up – and mind you, I am ready to fork out that expense if such major alterations were permitted – Renovation Project 2017 will see a new fan mounted on the ceiling.

Front balcony desperately needs a ceiling fan in hot and humid Singapore.

Front balcony desperately needs a ceiling fan in hot and humid Singapore.

And we’re also thinking of installing a fan into the kitchen too. Crazy idea eh? We really like our Minton home, but if there’s one thing I can name about it being deficient compared to our first home @ The Rivervale, it’s that the latter’s kitchen was large and so airy that we routinely had to close the kitchen windows to cook, as the frequent breezes was causing havoc on the gas stove flames. Our Minton unit’s kitchen is smaller, more claustrophobic, and just doesn’t move air well. I don’t know how Ling manages it when she cooks, but it’s terrifically uncomfortable for me, the Must-Have-Air-Conditioning-Everywhere-I-Am person I am.

Messy kitchen.

Messy kitchen.

Though whether we can even find a ceiling fan for this setup is going to be a long shot even. We might have to make do with a wall-mounted fan.

It’s been more than two years since we’ve moved to The Minton and I figured it’s time to do another annual post on little things we’ve observed about our home, and our plans beyond that too.

Adults are too busy to use amenities

That’s in specific reference to us, and not as a general rule. One of the main selling points of the condo was the wide-ranging facilities. As in, what other condo can boast of having a full-sized and air-conditioned badminton dome. As it turned out and funnily, we’ve still yet to use that dome – and it’s not just on account that we’re not badminton players. The dome is also used for other selected sports activities – e.g. Yoga, Zumba. We’ve been invited several times now by our neighbors to join into these fitness groups (and they sure look fun!), but Ling is too busy at this point, and me – no thanks. I have too much flab, and would rather just jog in the gym! And the latter is just about the only facility that we use.

Hannah is a different story though. She has swimming lessons now every week at the pool. So, it’s not quite a total loss against the quarterly condo maintenance fees we pay for.

Commercial and retail establishments

Apart from the wide-ranging facilities, our condo also has several units designated for commercial and retail businesses. Briefly: the mini-mart is still there and quite convenient when we need some household appliances or common food items double-time (e.g. “Ahhhh… we forgot to buy onions from NTUC!!!”). We also had Peter enroll in the condo’s childcare center this year for several months, until they had to suddenly close down, leaving parents scrambling. Quite displeasing, but at least Peter is now as happy (if not more so!) in the other childcare center we found him. There was also a pizza joint ran by a bona fide Italian person, but they had to vacate after about a year. They made pretty yummy pizzas for residents to buy, but I wonder if the business volume was ever sufficient to sustain their ongoing operations.

More recently, there’s a in-condo hair salon which also serves kids (super convenient), and also a new cafe which dishes up home-cooked styled food and a daily changing menu. The cafe has been quite a big hit among residents, with genuinely tasty food, reasonably-priced, and run by a very pleasant and friendly lady and chef. In fact, one of the longest-running threads in The Minton Residents Facebook group are the daily reports from residents on what the cafe is serving for the day LOL.

Just a very small sampling of the daily stuff that’s whipped up for residents to try out:

Babi Pongteh (stewed pork)

Babi Pongteh (stewed pork)

Fried pork cubes

Fried pork cubes

Honey-baked Chicken

Honey-baked Chicken

Japanese curry

Japanese curry

Sweet and sour fish

Sweet and sour fish

Poolside vs Amazonian Lily Pond

This is one of those almost accidental decisions that we didn’t realize the significance of until well into the fact. When we decided to purchase a unit @ The Minton almost 5 years ago, we had an inclination for a quiet apartment. Our previous home @ The Rivervale was peaceful for the most part, until the previously nominally-used road our unit faced became a major connector for the just-about then completed Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway. As luck had it, the Minton apartment configuration we wanted – a 3+1 bedroom type – against the actual units remaining when we were committed to purchase resulted in us having to choose a unit that was facing the very Tranquil World. A happy coincidence we thought at that point.

Well, more than 2 years living here now, I reckon that our unit’s facing is one of the most lucky coincidental outcomes we’ve had. The Minton main pool is an extremely popular area for kids and partying adults young and old alike. And early on, there were feedback from residents whose units faced the main pool complaining about the noise generated. Because of how sound can bounce around the compound or get especially amplified by the surrounding blocks, we can occasionally even hear kids screaming out their lungs at something fun at the pool from our end of the compound, and it’s probably even worse for the pool-facing units. Still, at least the pool users are mostly well-behaved, and the condo’s guards are fairly strict in keeping the peace in the night hours. So past about 10PM, the pool returns to its serene state.

And before one thinks that the Amazonian Lily Pond-facing units are heaven, we ‘enjoy’ a potpourri of barbecued and grilled food aromas from the three BBQ pit locations. Every. Single. Weekend… without fail.

Getting In and Out

While the condo is situated along a main road, we’re also lucky in that the end of the road – Lorong Ah Soo – where the Minton is situated is actually not too heavily used. So, the traffic junction that resident vehicles have to turn out from moves vehicles pretty quickly. And the three different vehicular exit points also help loads.

Though we still get occasionally comical car-jam situations like these. This I think was caused by a visiting vehicle unfamiliar with the entrance and exit points.

Though we still get occasional comical car-jam situations like these. This I think was caused by a visiting vehicle unfamiliar with the entrance and exit points. Required the estate guard to untangle the mess.

It’s quite a different story just further down the road in the early morning though. Two popular schools sit right along Lorong Ah Soo, and it can be a bit chaotic every morning when school-going children get dropped off in the two-lane road.

Well; next post to come soon once I think of more things to say about our home. We’re also planning for a mini-home renovation project in 2017, so a post somewhere in this series will deal with that!

Whoops. Spoke too soon about the last post on our Melbourne trip being the third and last of the retrospective posts. This one is about things that worked especially well equipment wise, and things that broke and just didn’t work. All for our collective memory so that we don’t do them again.

Before we had kids, we routinely brought along for vacations an entire bag full of camera bodies, filters to do different things, wireless triggers, heavy lenses and even that full-sized Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod/ballhead in the ThinkTank Bazooka case. Things are different now though, since our backpacks now have to hold stuff we need for our kids – diapers, wet wipes, children water bottles, meal bibs, emergency medication, and spare clothing. I brought along far less camera equipment this time round for the Melbourne trip; just the E-M1, the two Olympus Pro f2.8 lenses, Fujifilm X70, and the Panasonic TM700 camcorder. And summarily:

The E-M1 performed superbly again in its second overseas outing.

The 12-40mm and 40-150mm f2.8 lenses and especially the latter worked well beyond my expectations. The close-ups of Lemurs @ Melbourne Zoo were tack sharp center-wise, and the lens was able to resolve very fine detail – right down to strands of Lemur fur at 100% crops.

I’d ordered from Amazon UK a couple of third party E-M1 batteries (‘MaximalPower‘ brand) and brought them alongside the OEM ones as batteries in cold weather routinely don’t hold their charge as well. But I ended up not having to swap batteries at all. Even though a typical day of activities saw about 400-450 pictures on the E-M1 – and there was still power to spare at the end of each day.

Batteries for the E-M1; the third party replacement (MaximalPower) compared with the OEM from Olympus. The replacement has worked quite well in its first extensive outing.

Batteries for the E-M1; the third party replacement (MaximalPower) compared with the OEM from Olympus. The replacement has worked quite well in its first extensive outing. As to whether they will bloat like the DSTN ones did – time will tell.

The JobyPro camera strap worked great, and the strap length was easily adjustable depending on what I was carrying on my back.

The X70 was mixed. It was convenient as a small camera that fitted into my jacket pocket, responsive in starting up and general usage – but just slow in AF when indoors. The lack of optical stabilization, especially important in low-light shots, was a real clunker, and I obtained far more picture keepers using the E-M1 with the 12-40mm taking wide-angles in low-light than with the X70.

Our old Panasonic TM700 was also carted along  with an extra battery and its dedicated charger in our luggage case, and never got taken out. In its place, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 took pleasing video.. for the most part as there were still that jello effect when panning around and also frequent focusing issues. Still, looks like it’s time to retire the TM700 – it’s served us very well in the last 6 years now.

Ditto also for the little Nissin i40 flash. That got brought along but never left the luggage case.

The iPad Air 2 was great for reading when sitting down on a bed or in a seat at the cafe, but terrifically unwieldy when on the move. When my mobile broadband contact ends in a few months, I’m going to seriously consider getting the iPad Mini 4 when I renew for the contract bundle.

The Google Nexus 7 – which we stored all the children cartoons – were used only on selected evenings when the kids wanted something other than the ABC Kids‘ Channel. But then Peter got extremely restless on the flight home and significantly stressed Mommy out, and he only calmed down after we remembered we had the Nexus 7 in our carry-on luggage, and turned it on for Tom and Jerry cartoons.

The Anker 5-port USB charger I’d ordered from Amazon a year ago was worth its weight in gold. 40W through 8 amps – yummy – and wrapped in scratch-resistant material.

The Anker – and last multi-port USB charger you will ever need.

The Mi 16000mAh Power Bank never got used. The devices it was intended to sustain beyond their typical battery lives – the iPad Air 2, our two smartphones, the Google Nexus 7 – all had enough juice to last for the day’s activities.

The Thule EnRoute Blur 2 Backpack could hold a huge bunch of stuff: two tablets, the Surface Pro 3, the Mi 16000mAh Power Bbank, medicine, lightning and micro USB cables, a small umbrella, a water bottle, the Aztech MWR647 4G Mi-Fi, all our AA/AAA/TM700/E-M1/X70 spare batteries (could not be sent as checked-in luggage at the airport), the E-M1/12-40mm/40-150mm in protective padding, the X70, all our passports, an A4 folder of our key itineraries and map printouts – all still with plenty of space to spare. Shoulder straps were comfortable and helped a lot in distributing the weight. And the backpack could also fit comfortably underneath the airline seat too.

The Aztech MWR647 4G Mi-Fi usage was mixed The Optus Prepaid data SIMs were so affordable that we got enough for all our mobile devices. The Hotel WIFI connections were occasionally unstable, so I tried using one of our spare Optus data SIMs in it, but oddly, connection continued to be flaky. I couldn’t say for certain if the Mi-Fi router was wonky, or 3G/LTE network coverage inside the hotel itself was bad as well.

The shiny new Mi Note 3 – bought specifically for this trip – kissed hard concrete on the very first day of our vacation. It had been left display face-down in Ling’s backpack (made of fairly thin canvas), and the backpack accidentally hit a hard surface. The tempered glass layer shattered, and when removed, the top third of the Mi’s display screen was similarly damaged. The phone is still functional – just dangerous to use as there are tiny bits of glass loose in the screen now. Heart-breaking.:(

Glass met concrete = heart pain.

Glass met concrete = heart pain.

So in summary for our next vacation:

Bring only the two Olympus Pro lenses for the Olympus E-M1.

Rethink on keeping the Fujifilm X70.

One spare battery is enough for the E-M1.

Ditch the filters… unless we’re traveling without kids.

Ditch the Panasonic TM700.

Ditch the Mi 16000mAh Power Bank. Bring along the smaller Mi 5000mAh one – just to be safe, y’know.

Ditch the Nissin i40. Alongside the 4 Eneloop batteries and its charger.

Ditch the Mi-Fi router if data SIM cards are cheap and easily available.

 

While reading up for our Melbourne trip early on and doing general searches for itinerary planing for a family with kids, I was startled to find that the majority of local blogs seemed to be by ‘social media influencers‘ or sponsored content writers. Non-sponsored and non-influencer agency affiliated bloggers who write about life experiences like us seem to be uncommon nowadays. We used to have at least three friends in our church small group who also independently blog about life experiences, family and kids 7-8 years ago – but none of them do anymore.

I reckon it’s a larger trend that you see in digital spaces now. Social media networks are a lot easier to write for, with access controls to boot. And for those who still write for the web, fewer today want to volunteer information for (totally) free anymore. We first started seeing it in digital newspapers, then technological and hobbyist sites and beyond now. Revenue or incentives in the form of adclicks, complimentary or sponsored services to sample etc. can be indeed hard to pass up especially once your site is past a certain following, and possibly even mandatory to pay the bills for a high-traffic web site.

So, we’re blessed we have no such need or desire to be sponsored. Our corner here on the Internet doesn’t receive quite the same traffic as influencers, so we have no pressures.:) While our about 17 year old blog has a stub tagline (“Reflections of parents of young kids”), we don’t have a consistent focus on what we write. We don’t desire to be affiliated with any social media companies, are completely self-funded and independent and do not derive any income from this site, and do not have any embedded code snippets to track your browsing behavior (unless they are built-in by my domain host provider without my knowledge!). And when we talk about a particular experience with a place, product or service, it’s exactly as it is – and not because someone asked/paid/encouraged us by giving complimentary stuff and we’re thus obliged to say nice things, claims of honesty or not.

I guess I’m an unconvinced skeptic on the real authenticity of evaluations on sponsored content – more so after our experience of Club Med Bintan turned out to be vastly different from the slice of heaven some lifestyle bloggers had made sound like.

But that musing aside – we’ve written 20 blog posts – including this one – of our Melbourne trip. That’s a lot less than the whopping 60 posts about the Boston trip in 2010 – our Ang Mo bud will relate particularly memorable experiences we had at a Indian restaurant, watching people vomit while whale-watching, and also of a visit to gay town LOL – or the nearly as many 58 posts about our Japan trip that same year. We’ve already covered our overall comments for each of the key places we visited. Here’s our summary and notes if you’re planning for a similar family vacation to the city.

Plan your own itinerary, and decide exactly how much time you want to spend and what places to visit. The majority of attractions have up to date web sites that you can visit and mine for information and directions. Pay special attention particularly to weekend admissions, as kids are admitted for free in some places on weekends. Check also if your hotel has bundled admissions with discounts too.

Take the SkyBus from the airport to your place of stay in the city center and save yourself a bundle of cash from taking a private car or cab. It’s easy, runs frequently, and shouldn’t take more than an hour to get you from the airport to your stay.

The Skybus @ Southern Cross Station.

The Skybus @ Southern Cross Station.

The city is stroller and pram friendly. There’s the occasional elevated pavement ledge that you have to roll up onto. But by and large, we had no difficulties navigating Peter’s stroller along the pedestrian pavements and traffic junctions we walked along extensively during our stay. One thing though: cross roads only at designated crossings, and look left and right even then. Cars coast along fairly slow – perhaps 35-40 km/h – in the city center, but trams are quicker. Our Great Sights guide said as much: putting aside the hefty fines involved in breaking traffic rules, getting run over by a pretty fast tram will ruin your vacation – likely permanently.

There are plenty of places to eat, and breakfast places were open as early as 0600hrs. We visited in June and winter season for Australia, so several dining establishments closed early by 1700hrs, though there always remained enough options if you’re willing to explore a little further. If you’re staying in accommodation with a reasonably large fridge and cooking facilities, then it’s also practical to get fresh produce from QVM and cook (keep in mind that you might still need condiments though). Alternatively, if your accommodation has a microwave oven – like ours did – then hot microwaved food from Coles and Woolsworth awaits you.:)

If local fare is your thing, then there’s Chinatown along Little Bourke Street. We also spotted Pepper Lunch, Ajisen Ramen, and even something called Breadtop which offers pastry and bread items very similar to Singapore’s own Breadtalk.

There’s a free tram service in the city center itself, but we ended up not using it at all. We just walked everywhere and often from one end of the city center bounded by the free tram service boundaries (where Pegasus was located) to the other end (Spring Street). There are some gentle inclines uphill here and there, but nothing like the joint-hurting up/down/up hill of San Francisco city. That we walked was just as well, because the myki ticketing system just seemed too much of a hassle for tourists.

If you have no Google Maps or your phone ran out of battery and you are now lost, look for the city’s visitor info guides. They are in unmistakable red jackets, and are strategically located at several key junctions and will readily offer you advice on where/how you need to get to.

Within the city center itself and walking distance are a number of reasonably easy to reach places. You could set aside about 3-4 days to visit the key sites within the center, and perhaps another day just for shopping if that’s your thing.

We walked everywhere. Peter's cheapo stroller = best ever investment.

We walked everywhere. Peter’s cheapo stroller = best ever investment.

Driving is an option, and traffic within the city isn’t intimidating with plenty of road signs and landmarks to spot. What might be less appealing though are the parking charges. The alternative is to rent cars only on selected days to do self-drives to the places outside Melbourne.

The majority of the day tour offerings are centered around these places: the Great Ocean Road, Dandenong Ranges/Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Ballarat, and Philips Island. I reckon you could fill up as many days as you need to by booking a couple of these day tour outings – though keep in mind again that weather can significantly impact the experience you get on the tour. Remember also to inquire if you can get discounts if you book more than one day tour with the company.

If there’s bad weather or your feet are just tired, you can head for the nearest hotel. There are often one or two city’s cabs hanging around at the hotels’ entrances.

If you’re visiting in winter but do not have a lot of winter clothing and hope not to spend a lot of money buying them first in Singapore, then head to Target Center or Queen Victoria Market first thing and get what you need at bargain bin prices.

Mobile Internet is great. Optus My Prepaid Daily Plus is an absolute must with its very low daily Internet costs, and you can get as many data SIM cards as you have smart devices. If there’s a long queue at the Optus shop at the ground floor @ Melbourne International Terminal, don’t sweat it. Just get to the city center first, and then to any one of the many Optus shops there to buy the cards you need. Top-ups are easy too, either by purchasing additional top-up cards at convenience stores and supermarkets, or via Optus’ online payment system. Remember to preload Google Maps for the city, and rely on your smart device’s GPS locator. That can really cut down on your mobile Internet costs. Notwithstanding that, many cafes and restaurants also offer complimentary WIFI.

This wraps our principal posts on our Melbourne trip. All in, I reckon a 8 day stay is pretty good for this city, and anything above 10 days would be stretching it, unless you’re really wanting to take it real slow. Hope all this helps if you’re planning for a Melbourne trip. We might try Sydney next June, since that again was my initial preference for this year’s holiday. More to come at some point.:)

I reckon our family is at a point where it’s not easy to find appropriate accommodation when we’re visiting urbanized cities for vacations. Basically, our kids are too young to be in separate rooms from us. For our Melbourne stay, we were initially seriously considering Airbnb stays or service apartments. None of the options were going to be cheap if we wanted stays at the city center – and this was a requirement since while I’ve driven quite a bit in Australia, I didn’t want to have to pay through my nose for parking in the city center.

We got lucky though – we found a place in the city that had suites with two separate bedrooms. It was large enough for all of us, wasn’t a service apartment block as there was daily room service and the usual hotel amenities, and at a great price point of about AUD216 per night. Heck – the package was even cheaper than several of the Airbnb options I initially listed, bigger, and offered daily cleaning and room service. So, an early booking to Pegasus Apart’Hotel was made as soon as our travel dates were firmed up. The booking portal allowed for late cancellations too, which also set my mind to ease as we continued to look for better options over the in-between months – and eventually found nothing that could match up to what Pegasus was offering.

So; our comments on our stay:

Pegasus is situated along A’Beckett Street and very near Queen Victoria Market – about 5 minutes walk away. The street itself is also perhaps 7 minutes walk from Melbourne Central, and is well-lit at night. Vehicular traffic is fairly light along this street too. Interestingly, the hotel does not figure as a pick-up point for two of the three tour operators we went with (only A Tour With a Difference did and picked us up at the hotel entrance), and you’ll have to walk around the corner to the more expensive hotel – Radisson Flagstaff – just next door. It’s a short 2 minute walk though, so isn’t too bad.

The 60sqm two-bedroom suite was smaller floor-area wise than some of the places we’ve stayed – e.g. Santhiya @ Koh Phangan’s massive 110sqm – but the area was well-designed. Aside from the two bedrooms, there was a small living/common area with two sofa pieces, a dining table, and a well-equipped kitchen with sink and washing tools, toaster, microwave oven, wine glasses, lots of cookery and utensils, and a mid-sized fridge to contain all the fruits you will buy from QVM. The fridge had a freezer compartment too if you’re thinking of cooking up a royal feast. Simple complimentary beverages were also placed on the kitchen top – and in a nice touch, small fresh milk cartons for beverages were in the fridge too. Finally, there was also a safe box in one of the bedrooms.

Beds were comfortable enough, though not providing the kind of pocket spring coil support if you’re not sleeping alone on it. As in – were it not for the fact that we all slept like the dead every night, Ling would have woke me up every time she got into our out of the bed.:)

The bathroom offered the usual hotel amenities and toiletries, and was connected to the common area and not bedrooms. Convenient as it meant we could use the bathroom late night without worrying about waking up persons already sleeping. The stall produced good water shower streams, and could go up to super-hot temperatures. Useful in winter!

A single air-conditioning unit serviced the suite. It being winter, the air-con unit was probably superfluous, but I reckon it might not be sufficient in a hot summer. The suite had two standing fans, one for each bedroom. There was no radiator in the suite though, so we could not walk around the suite in T-Shirts and shorts about without freezing.

Full-glass panes on all outward facing sides of the suite. Someone on Tripadvisor remarked that some rooms might get a less than appealing view, as the Queen Victoria Market-facing side of Pegasus partially faces the back of another residential apartment block. We were lucky though. We didn’t experience this problem. Ours was a high-floor unit at 14th floor, and we had a great view of Queen Victoria Market and the north-western edges of the city.

The windows are normally closed with the handle unscrewed and kept in one of the kitchen drawers – i.e. it should be safe for kids. Still, once you check in, do make sure that the windows are indeed secure, and that the window handle is well out of the kids’ reach.

There was a roughly about 42″ wall-mounted LCD TV in the living area. We got a good spread of Aussie channels though not the international channels like BBC or CNN. TV reception is great – probably because it’s all via cable – and unlike the other hotels we’ve been to, our kids actually spent a lot of time with the two children TV channels in the evenings and mornings. The TV though was mounted a little too high on the wall – your kids’ necks might strain.

There’s a pool and gym, and laundry room all on the second floor. We didn’t use the fitness facilities – didn’t bring the appropriate attire for it – but did do laundry. The washer cost AUD5 to use and about 40 minutes to complete a cycle, and dryer usage was AUD4 and also about 40 minutes for a normal cycle too. It’s decent for a quick wash so that you don’t have to bring that many clothes.

The hotel offered complimentary WIFI throughout and also in the rooms. ID and password were easy to commit to memory and type (important for mobile phone users!). Reliability though was spotty, with the occasional disconnections. Access speed was also variable. I occasionally hit 2.5 to 3 Mb/s download speeds, but on other days, speeds could slow to far less than that. Or maybe someone in the hotel was doing heavy torrenting haha. In all, it’s about as good as what most hotels offer, though if you’re spoiled like me with 1 Gbps home Internet speeds, the hotel WIFI speed can be exasperating.

Concierge staff were polite and helpful though not what I’d call warm. I noticed that the hotel is also popular with flight-crews. On three different days, we saw flight crews checking in/out. All of them Asian airline crews too. And on another afternoon, a Singaporean tour group from what seems to be the local tour operator CTC was also checking in.

There’s a restaurant on the ground floor that serves morning breakfast if your stay package already includes that. Don’t feel compelled to include it though. There’s a nice cafe – Queen’s Kitchen – just one minute walk from the hotel entrance with a decent-sized dining area, and offers a variety of sandwiches, grilled breakfasts, and pizzas at good prices. And there are are even more cafes just a few minutes further away, especially on the Queen Victoria Market side.

Room cleaning timings were a little off. On two occasions, our rooms were serviced in the mid to late afternoon, and when we’d already returned to the hotel. There’s also room service if you’re hungry, but really – just take the lift down, walk out and get grub from a proper cafe!

Pegasus Apart'Hotel.

Pegasus Apart’Hotel.

The two bedrooms seem similar in size. This was ours, and facing QVM.

The two bedrooms seem similar in size. This was ours, and facing QVM.

Full-height window panes.

Full-height window panes.

Our suite's kitchen on a typical afternoon. Fruits from QVM and other snack items from Woolsworth.

Our suite’s kitchen on a typical afternoon. Fruits from QVM and other snack items from Woolsworth.

Living area, with Hannah and Pluto's toys tossed on the sofa.

Living area, with Hannah and Pluto’s toys tossed on the sofa.

Lounging around area near the lift lobby.

Lounging around area near the lift lobby.

Queen's Kitchen - a very short walk from Pegasus.

Queen’s Kitchen – a very short walk from Pegasus.

All in; we weren’t expecting a five-star quality stay at Pegasus, certainly not at this price-point. But the hotel is well-located, suite was large enough for us, functional where it mattered, and there was nothing really problematic. Easy recommendation if you’re like us – looking for a place for a family of four.:)

Next is the third and last post wrapping up our Melbourne vacation.

The 10 days vacation – not 9 on account that we left Singapore on 12 Jun SUN and landed on 21 Jun TUES –  was really our family (with Peter)’s fourth vacation in the last 1.5 years. The previous three – Koh Phangan, Legoland Malaysia and finally Club Med Bintan all faced difficulties of one sort or another, whether it was the state of accommodation or the lack of really any sort of proper itinerary to spend our time. This Melbourne stay though went much better on account that there were a lot of things to do, even in winter, and the city center compact enough for us to explore on foot.

Here are three posts to close off our vacation. Starting off with briefly again – our itinerary listing the key places we visited and a few summary sentences for each alongside a recommendation on how much time you might want to spend if you are with kids – like us!

Day 1: Arrival and Melbourne Central

SkyBus from Melbourne International to City Center: Convenient, easy to book, and runs frequently. Trip each way takes 30 minutes, and an additional 5-10 minutes for the Complimentary Hotel Transfer.

Melbourne Central (1 hr): Hard to miss with the iconic glass shaped cone. Lots of mid-range shopping options, and a decent-sized food court on the second floor. If you’re looking for cheap clothes (e.g. to tide through wintering in the city) though, walk a bit further to Target Centre Melbourne along Bourke Street, or check out Queen Victoria Market.

State Library of Victoria (1+ hr): Just opposite Melbourne Central, free to enter, awesome interior sights, and a kids’ activity area while adults can chill.

Day 2: Day Tour with Gray Line Melbourne

Ballarat Wildlife Park (1.5 hrs): About 90 minutes from Melbourne city if you self-drive, though going with a tour operator will include great accompanying commentary on the rich history of the town. We highly recommended visiting the park if you have kids, and also timing your visit with the guided tour.

Sovereign Hill (3+ hrs): Lots of things to see and try out, and interesting photo opportunities. If your day tour itinerary doesn’t include Ballarat Wildlife Park, then you can just as well spend the entire day in this historical mining town and try out everything.

Gold Museum (0.5 hrs): Skip it unless you have an interest in this expensive element, or the admission price is already included in your day tour package.

Small church in Ballarat.

Small church in Ballarat.

Day 3: Melbourne Zoo and City Center

Melbourne Zoo (4 hrs): Kids will love the Lemur Island, and go about chasing the sea gulls in the picnic lawn near the Giraffes enclosure. Butterfly farm is a must-visit too – just watch where you’re stepping on lest you thread on butterflies on the ground!

Botanic Gardens (2 hrs+): Huge park though not quite as dense in sights as say our very own Singapore Botanic Gardens. The most interesting bits seem to be the south-eastern side of the park which we did not get to.

St. Paul’s Cathedral (1 hr): Admission is free, but photography will involve a small AUD5 fee. European and the old American city churches are more awesomely built than this one, but still OK for a quick visit.

Block Arcade (0.5 hrs): Visit because it’s conveniently located, even if you don’t intend to buy anything.

Queen Victoria Night Market (2 hrs): Visit on a Wednesday evening and get your dinner grub there. Don’t buy at the first hawker you see. Best to go early for dinner too especially if you have kids – unless they can walk and eat at the same time.

Day 4: Queen Victoria Market and Melbourne Aquarium

Queen Victoria Day Market (3 hrs+): Go in the morning and get fresh fruits for your stay. Apart from fresh produce and meats, lots of shops offering a variety of apparel, household items, knick-knacks etc.

Melbourne Aquarium (2 hrs): Probably more memorable for kids than it would be for adults, more so if you’ve visited other international aquariums elsewhere.

The old juxtaposed against the new.

The old juxtaposed against the new.

Lots of tall apartment blocks being constructed in the city.

Lots of tall apartment blocks being constructed in the city.

Day 5: Great Ocean Road Day Tour with A Tour With a Difference

Great Ocean Road (2 days): Worth a trip if you haven’t seen it before, though kids might not find the experience particularly interesting. Good weather extremely important. Lots of day tour operators make trips every day, so chances are good you can squeeze in last-minute bookings once you have a better fix on the expected weather. Try to go with a 2 instead of 1 day tour, though this might conflict with whether you can do last minute bookings then, since most operators do only 1 day tours. Our review of our tour operator is here.

Day 6: Lots of Gardens, Melbourne Museum and St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Carlton Gardens, Parliament and Treasury Gardens (2 hrs): We weren’t deliberately going out of our way to visit these three spots – just that they were en route to other places we were visiting. A wet winter is probably not the best time to lounge around and enjoy the parks, so adjust the amount of time you’re spending depending on the weather.

Melbourne Museum (3 hrs+): Large museum with lots of things to see and learn, and you could spend half a day here and more if your legs can hold up and your brains haven’t fried from information overload!

St. Patrick’s Cathedral (0.5 hrs): OK to go by for a quick visit, but skip if it’s out of the way. Unlike St. Paul’s Cathedral, there’s no photography fee.

Treasury Gardens. On a fine day, you could spend hours visiting the many parks in the city.

Treasury Gardens. On a fine day, you could spend hours visiting the many parks in the city.

Day 7: Dandenong Ranges with Great Sights Melbourne

Grants Picnic Ground (1 hr): Nice spot to feed the dozens of Cockatoos that will swoop down from the tall and majestic Eucalyptus trees. Read the advisories carefully though: do not feed the birds human biscuits (you could be fined), and do not feed them out of your hand.

Puffing Billy Train (1 hr+): The shortest ride – from Belgrave to Menzies Creek – is sufficient to get a taste of it, though this stretch isn’t particularly spectacular from a sights point of view.

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery (1 hr): Popular stopover for visitors to Yarra Valley. Top-up for your sweet-tooth, but also spend a bit of time outside the establishment for lots of photo opportunities at the front lawn looking into the Valley.

Healesville Sanctuary (2.5 hrs): OK if this is the only wildlife park or zoo you’re visiting. But Ballarat Wildlife Park and Melbourne Zoo make for better visits, even from a kid’s perspective. Recommendation is to skip it, and go with either the half-day Puffing Billy Train trip, or a full-day but visiting other places in Dandenong Ranges.

Day 8: Street Exploration

Woolsworth, Melbourne Central Shopping Centre, Target Center Melbourne, QV etc.: Lots of walking around the city center and dodging into malls to escape from the rain. Keep an eye out for Tim Tam offers @ Woolsworth and buy buy buy!

Day 9: Queen Victoria Market and Flagstaff Gardens

Queen Victoria Market (3 hrs+): QVM is a fun enough place for repeat visits and to spend a bit of cash and buying lots of things you probably don’t absolutely need. Sort of like Daiso.:)

Flagstaff Gardens (1 hr): Largely because Hannah spotted the children’s playground when the SkyBus Hotel Transfer was turning into A’Beckett Street, and really wanted to play here. Kids loved the playground.

Next post on our place of stay: Pegasus Apart’Hotel.

 

Our last day of our stay in Melbourne. Pretty much free and easy for the day, and after four days of rain, the weather was decent and sun out for good parts of the morning too. Our activities were planned around key timings: specifically that our hotel checkout had to be before 1100hrs, the SkyBus Hotel Transfer to Southern Cross Station would be at 1500hrs, and the Emirates flight home would be at 1800hrs.

Breakfast was at an early 0800hrs and at Muleta’s Cafe, a little eatery just 4 minutes walk from our hotel, along Queen Street and directly opposite Queen Victoria Market. The cafe has a pretty wide menu with several pages of beverage. Ling was tempted to try their pancakes/waffles, which – according to the cafe’s billboard has been well-received by diners – but we decided to start with just the “Everybody Loves Benny” eggs benedict, and a “Mr. Big” which comprised of the usual hashbrows, scrambled eggs, bacon, grilled mushrooms, and sourdough bread. Which with hindsight was the right decision – because the portions that came were huge. The four of us had a lot of problems finishing the pile of food.

Oh my. All the candies at this shop @ QVM.

Oh my. All the candies at this shop @ QVM.

"Everybody loves Benny".

“Everybody loves Benny”.

"Mr. Big". Enough for two diners - really!

“Mr. Big”. Enough for two diners – really!

Everybody had to work hard to finish the food mountain.

Everybody had to work hard to finish the food mountain.

Breakfast, a return to the hotel to finish packing and a quick check-out done, we returned to QV Market with several hours to burn. There are hundreds of makeshift stalls in the Market selling a variety of apparel, footwear, leather goods, souvenirs, little household items and the like – not counting the fresh produce, condiments and neighboring deli opposite. I reckon that visitors could easily spend 3-4 hours going from stall to stall, and best of luck resisting spending small dollars buying little items! We fought hard the temptation to spend small dollars, but still left with a couple of shoulder bags and several household decoration items.

Just opposite our hotel and along William Street is Flagstaff Gardens, with a decent-sized children’s playground. Ever since our SkyBus Hotel Transfer bus drove past this park, Hannah has been pining for a visit to it – and she finally got her wish on our last day. The kids certainly enjoyed this one, with the swing clearly one of Hannah’s favorite highlights of this vacation.

From QVM - soon to be on our toilet door LOL,

From QVM – soon to be on our toilet door LOL,

Street band @ QVM.

Street band @ QVM.

Flagstaff Gardens

Flagstaff Gardens

When we were all young. H at the swing @ Flagstaff Gardens

When we were all young. H at the swing @ Flagstaff Gardens

And this is what the 9 day vacation was really for: getting happy faces for our kids!

And this is what the 9 day vacation was really for: getting happy faces for our kids!

Our luggage inbound was fairly modest with a normal size 26″ case, and a smaller 22″ case which contained mostly Peter’s diapers. We probably ended up using just 3/4s of the diapers, which posed problems – alongside all the Tim Tams and presents we’d bought, we now had a problem fitting everything back into those two cases. We were pretty tempted to buy an additional 28″ case just to buy all the interesting knick knacks and little household decoration items at QV Market!

We were still feeling royally stuffed from the huge breakfast at Muleta’s, so made do with a light lunch back at Queen’s Kitchen. And we’re off back to the airport in 30 minutes. Next post back home in Singapore and some retrospection of our trip.:)

Day 8 in Melbourne saw more round the clock rain throughout, with low mist layers occasionally blanketing the city up till the late morning. We still had a few more items left in the relatively busy itinerary – including going up the Eureka 88 Tower, Fitroy Gardens, Parliament House, and Royal Exhibition Building – but decided to drop them all off because of inclement weather. We are though, again, situated in a pretty nice location in the city center, so after breakfast at the little Queens Kitchen cafe beside Pegasus Apart’Hotel and that the rain had slowed to a small drizzle, we walked out again to the central area – Target @ Bourke Street, Woolsworth QV @ Lonsdale Street, and a lunch stopover at Romano’s inside QV – to pick up presents and other things to bring home.

Largely also because our lunch times on the non-tour days have been quite late – typically between 1400 to 1500hrs – and that it’s often very late afternoon by the time we’re back in our hotel, we’ve been also buying packed dinners to microwave. Oh yes – our room has a microwave oven, a fairly large fridge, and a bread toaster situated in a small kitchen. We’ve not gone to the point of actually cooking meals here from fresh produce yet, but hot food off the microwave in cold winter was a reasonable and convenient alternative.

Facing Queen Victoria Market - cold Melbourne morning... at 1115 hrs!

Facing Queen Victoria Market – cold Melbourne morning… at 1115 hrs!

A view from our room and using the 40-150mm. According to Google Maps, this should be the St Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church.

A view from our room and using the 40-150mm. According to Google Maps, this should be the St Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church.

Low-level mist covering the top floors of skyscrapers.

Low-level mist covering the top floors of skyscrapers.

Chinatown, along little Bourke Street.

Chinatown, along little Bourke Street.

About Swanston Street

About Swanston Street

More photos along Swanston Street

More photos along Swanston Street

And still the same street. One of our day tour guides mused that the recent autumns have been one of the warmest, and that's confused the maple trees, so many are still retaining their last bit of colors despite it being mid-winter now.

And still the same street. One of our day tour guides mused that the recent autumns have been one of the warmest, and that’s confused the maple trees, so many are still retaining their last bit of colors despite it being mid-winter now.

Smoked salmon with eggs on a bagel @ Romano's. Yummy!

Smoked salmon with eggs on a bagel @ Romano’s. Yummy!

And this is one of the key reasons why we're vacationing in Australia - stocking up on Tim Tams! Woolsworth had a half-price discount, selling each carton for AUD1.80. That's about a third of the price one pays for in Singapore.

And this is one of the key reasons why we’re vacationing in Australia – stocking up on Tim Tams! Woolsworth had a half-price discount, selling each carton for AUD1.80. That’s about a third of the price one pays for in Singapore.

Dinner for Day 8, and from Woolsworth. Not exactly cheap though, with each tub costing about AUD7 (except the Basmati rice tub).

Dinner for Day 8, and from Woolsworth. Not exactly cheap though, with each tub costing about AUD7 (except the Basmati rice tub).

A view of Queen Victoria Market at 1730 hrs.

A view of Queen Victoria Market at 1730 hrs.