Tag Archives: malaysia

That’s travelling folks!

14 May

And so we said goodbye to SE Asia. Sensing this, the taxi driver who dropped us off at the bus station took his last chance to rip us off and charged us 5 more ringgits than it cost on the way there because he refused to use the meter, but at 7am we weren’t going to argue. He had a good go at trying to convince us the buses would all be empty and would wait for hours before going to the airport and that we should actually pay him lots of money to take us all the way there, but we’d heard this many times before on our travels and just politely smiled, nodded, and then insisted we went to the bus station, where we caught the bus for £2 each and it left immediately. Can’t blame him for trying though!

Unlike the other airports we’ve visited, KL’s is quite big and full of people, so although we left with plenty of time, by the time we’d worked our way round the various queues and check points, the gate was already boarding. By luck of the draw, I managed to get a seat in the centre by myself – the third time this has happened, win! [Except seconds after writing this, a snotty kid came and sat next to me playing his bleepy little game thing. Giving him the death stare like I owned the plane didn’t work so may have to resort to actual violence, or at least making him kill himself. In the game, honest…I made him move in the end. I did give away my copy of Marie Claire to an Aussie girl to restore karma, but not sure that makes up for kicking a small child. Probably not going to heaven after all].  And the meal I’d booked whilst in Koh Samui before the tiny fish eyes incident was actually edible and Malaysian so that evens up our junk food:Malaysian ratio somewhat.

I ordered an Asahi beer and ended up with a bottle of sake but that was soon corrected and a little bag of Bombay mix was placed in front of me to go with the lager. I immediately gave this to Craig as I hate nuts…after inspected these he informed me that actually, it was a bag of tiny battered fish (with and without eyes). Yummy.

So I guess it’s time to do a round up of SE Asia seeing as I did one on Sri Lanka (don’t look at our ‘where are we’ page – our route looks like a plate of spaghetti)…

I was going to do a list of good things and bad things but it’s impossible as they often cross over. For instance, the first thing that hits you when you get off the plane is the wall of heat. That never, ever, goes away. If you don’t have a fan, or can’t afford aircon (like us mostly!), you will be sweating at all times. Even in the shower. We ended up getting used to it after so long, but the only time I really felt cold was when we were in Vietnam in January and when we had airconditioning in the room but weren’t given sheets. The rest of the time, you’re either slightly sweaty or very sweaty. But pretty much guaranteed sunshine every day was a never ending benefit despite the feeling of being hot all the time. It took a while to fight the English urge when the sun came out to immediately drive to the seaside and sit on the beach, no matter where you are. When you live in the Midlands, as far away as possible from the beach, sunshine is a rare pleasure and one that you can’t complain about.

Smells is another one. I will never get tired of the smell of frangipani trees, or jasmine, incense, delicious food cooked on the street, limes, spices and rain on hot pavements or grass, but all too often you’re half way through enjoying a wonderful combination of these and you spy a bin full of warm, rotting food, or fish drying in the sun and you tell your lungs ‘abort, abort!’ but it’s too late, it smacks you in the face before you can do anything about it and all you smell and taste is bin juice and fish guts.

One thing I feel really bad about though is the way they treat animals here. There are some people who look after them but I would say the vast majority don’t. From puppies in a cage in the boiling hot sun all day without food and water, to zoo exhibitions where the animals are in tiny cages, to stray (or pet) dogs covered in fleas and mange, it really broke my heart. I saw a Doberman like Holls in a cage in a petshop yesterday: clearly distressed and pacing in a sun-filled shop window and I really did consider buying it but there would be no way to take it over to Australia. Poor thing was docked and cropped within an inch of its life and was bored senseless. I am not sure why the state of the animals affected me more than the way the poorest people lived or seeing children begging on the streets – maybe it’s time to sort my life out? Or accept the fact and just work in a kennels?!

On that note, here’s a quick update on the puppy we adopted in Cambodia and rehomed with Geordie, a Canadian expat, and his family

From starving mongrel to pampered pup in three short months!

Something we could both embrace was the food though. Aside from the junk fest we’ve been having over the last few days, purely because it was there and it was a link to back home, not to mention laden in fat and therefore scrumptious, we have loved pretty much every minute of trying Asian food. We didn’t bother trying the things that we knew were going to make us sick (spiders, bugs, kidneys etc) but everything else was lovely and the worst times we got food poisoning was when we ate at restaurants, not street sellers. They have some of the cheapest and nicest food out there give it a try :)

Noise is another omnipresent presence in SE Asia. I hate not being able to sit in silence and it really began to wear me down that I needed to be underwater before getting any kind of peace and quiet. Whether manmade or natural, you will not find a quiet spot. I think that’s why I’ve read so much here – it helps block out the madness around me but eventually I’ll have to put it down and Asia will come flooding back in until the next time!

Philosophy – whether it’s Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim or other, we very rarely saw people get angry or shout whilst we were out here. We know it happens as we spoke to the only farang Thai police on Koh Samui, and he definitely saw violence, but in day-to-day life, everyone we spoke to was very calm and resigned to the fact that being angry helps no one. If you want to bargain or disagree, it’s best to smile the whole time than get cross. This was incredibly difficult at borders where we charged huge amounts of money over the official price, or when we got robbed on the ferry etc, but I think it’s good to take a leaf out of their book generally and try and get on with things without bearing grudges or teeth. They also have some of the best manners – everyone is addressed as sir or madam in English and most countries’ people were very friendly and welcoming. In Thai they use ‘kaa’ if you are a woman and ‘kup’ if you are a man to show respect. This bled into English on Koh Samui so every morning you got ‘GOOD MORNINGKAA!’ or ‘HELLOKUP!’ depending on who was speaking. The exception to traditional manners is the habit of hocking up whatever is in your throat and then spitting it where you feel like – on the bus floor, on the street, over bridges, up walls. A custom I really couldn’t get on board with!

SE Asia was incredibly beautiful, particularly in the more undeveloped areas such as Cambodia and Laos. Whereas the ancient temples and buildings we saw were stunning, the landscape was breath-taking and it even made long and otherwise boring bus journeys a joy. We were never happier than when we were climbing the mountain in Vang Vieng, or cruising down the Mekong in Luang Prebang, or trekking through the jungle in Banlung. Even though I couldn’t afford to buy new lens for my camera, I am most happy with the nature shots of all the places we’ve been as they will cheer me up when I’m back in England staring at four grey office walls and wishing I was elsewhere :)

Toilets are fairly hard to find, never mind negotiate when you’re laden with backpacks and carrier bags. Carry babywipes with you and don’t breathe in. Don’t put your bag down because the floor is inevitable wet with water from the bucket and ladle (or worse) and don’t forget to check for spiders and cockroaches in the bowl or paper before you go! I found the bucket and ladle quite good though, especially when this was your shower option, as some of the showers we used were so weak you couldn’t wash the shampoo off. Best use the ladle and pour as much as you want over you!

Shopping was fairly amazing – we wished so often that we weren’t travelling and could take all the gorgeous things home with us. Even more tempting was the relative cheapness of everything! But we couldn’t carry much and the things we did buy were little bits and pieces for friends and family, along with some clothes for ourselves as the temperature changed. And best of all, you can haggle! If you’re going anywhere in SE Asia, never pay the first price. Or the second. Or even the third! Craig is more ruthless than I am so we got some pretty good deals.

And then of course there are the people. Obviously you get the scammers who are just after your money, but generally we found SE Asians to be the friendliest, gentlest, happiest and most generous people. Some people we met had been through the most horrific experiences but were still laughing to tell the tale, some people had nothing but offered us a shady spot and a cold drink when we had gone on one of our stupid walking adventures without water; from the old lady who fixed my skirt with her sewing machine, to the man in Laos who patched up our tyre and gave us two drinks for less than £2, to the many guesthouse owners who let us stay in their rooms with a six week old puppy, we’ll never forget you!

Things I have lost:

Sunglasses

Nail file

Bra

2 combs

Hairbrush

Phone

Needle

Towel

Bikini bottoms

Needle

Things I should have brought on the trip:

Something to wear on my lower half other than one skirt

Less cardis

DVD drive

Things we found:

60,000 dong in Vietnam

1 puppy

Total number of miles travelled:

19,037

Backpacker’s bad luck bingo:

Top 5 favourite experiences:

Thai New Year/Craig’s birthday on Koh Samui

Swapping a hat for a dog in a Cambodian jungle village

Gorgeous botanical gardens in Kandy

Messing about in a Cambodian waterfall

Mountain climbing in Vang Vieng

All in all, a great trip and something we were very lucky to get the chance to do. Saw a lot, got our eyes opened, laughed a lot and met some amazing people. Can’t wait to go back…although I have really missed cooking my own meals, gardening, having a bath instead of a grim shower full of frogs and spiders, the relaxation of being able to speak to someone in their own language and of course Marmite. The Aussies have this poor imitation called ‘Vegemite’ but I’ve asked my stepdad to bring the real deal over from England as our stash ran out in Sri Lanka. Oh happy days!

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Up, up and away

12 May

Walking…so much walking…

Went off to the Petronas Towers yesterday to go and get tickets for the Skybridge so splashed around Kuala Lumpur and found this nestled between the skyscrapers on the way to the train station

We got the train to KLCC – a clean, airconditioned journey that would put the Tube to shame – but found that the tickets had already gone so had to book in for the next day instead. We had lunch and I unfortunately had a toilet drama whilst in the shopping centre…went to the loo and of course, they had three toilets for women on the whole of the ground floor. So there was a massive queue as usual. A cleaner came in and opened a fourth one, but it was a squat toilet and no one wanted to use it, prefering the three western toilets. It finally became my turn…only I found that the woman in front of me left the seat up because she had put her feet on the bowl and squatted over the toilet?? Why not just use the squat toilet in the first place? Anyway, I used the loo and stood up, only to realise that it was an automatic flushing type. It flushed and I had one more piece of paper to put in the bowl, so I sat back down again. Nothing happened. I tried waving my hand in front of the sensor…nothing happened. I noticed there was a knob next to the loo so thought it must be the manual override for the loo so turned it. A massive jet of water shot out, at waist height (what on earth could that be for washing?!), soaking the cubicle and me from chest to knee. I tried mopping it up as best I could but eventually had to do the walk of shame past thirty smirking Malay women who were waiting for the toilet, dripping wet and blushing furiously, so I could wash my hands with my best ‘I totally meant to do that’ face on. Craig thought I had fallen in when I got back to the restaurant!

Once I’d dried out, whilst we were in the area, we stopped off at the aquarium to have a look at the cool fishes

It was really well set out and had loads of amazing exhibits, including a walkway underneath the aquarium like the Sealife Centre in Birmingham, with huge sharks, turtles and manta rays. We spent a couple of hours there, and then went to the cinema to see Safe as it was the only thing on at the time. We went to see The Advengers the other day which was fairly harmless and amusing, but this was very violent and I spent most of it watching through my fingers. It was a good story but I didn’t want to have nightmares :D We wandered off towards home to get some proper Indonesian food (having succumbed once more to junk food – this time Pizza Hut. And I wonder why I haven’t lost any weight :I) but ended up getting massively lost. We were literally on our last legs when Craig spotted this place in the middle of a carpark for an insurance firm

It led to a long tunnel past signs for banquet halls which made us think perhaps it wasn’t a restaurant, but we got to the end of the tunnel and found the most gorgeous place to eat

It was an Indian restaurant and had a live sitar band and the food was served on banana leaf plates

It was so delicious. If anyone’s over this way soon, make sure you visit it – it’s called  A Passage Through India but I couldn’t describe where it was to be honest! Such a lovely meal. We promised ourselves we would definitely try Malaysian food the next day…

But first we wanted to go to the canopy walk in the nearby forest reserve. We thought we’d get breakfast on the way, but got the station far sooner than we thought so we just got the train (with complicated instructions from the staff about how many changes we needed to make). These turned out to be for the city forest, not FRIM like we asked, and the train system here is so complicated – there are three types of train and some stations have all of them, some two and some one – we gave up and got a taxi. The taxi driver told us off and said it was much cheaper to get the bus, d’oh!

We decided we’d have lunch once we found the canopy walk, which was no mean feat considering there were no signs so we first walked a kilometre in the wrong direction and had to retrace our steps :/ The information centre was another couple of kilometres away, and then we found we had to walk for half an hour up an incredibly steep hill to where the canopy walk starts. So by the time we reached the top we were completely knackered and very sweaty. We joined a long queue of people (they only let a couple on at a time) and eventually stepped on to the boardwalk, 30 metres up. I am petrified of heights but felt the fear and did it reluctantly

It was a beautiful view from the platforms…I had my eyes firmly fixed on the treetops until I got to those as if I had looked down I wouldn’t have been able to take another step!

I am glad we did it even if it was terrifying. It was another hour’s walk down again and through the arboretum, so we were fairly tired but had to give lunch a miss as we needed to be back for the towers, and then every taxi we approached was full so it was even further to the main entrance before we managed to find one. We flopped into it and the taxi driver insisted on talking to us, even though I really just wanted to stare out of the window and let my bones rest. But I am glad he persevered as he was a very interesting man – he had an out of body experience, his head was ‘broken’ by someone throwing a stone at a bird and hitting him instead, he saw someone on a motorbike being sliced in half by a truck the other week, his brother stole his inheritance, his other brother made him pay for a truck for him, he earns £20 per day working 7am-1am as a taxi driver (despite having excellent English and a degree in sound engineering from a Singapore university but there are no jobs in KL for him) and he is going to the seaside tomorrow to buy a fish because they’re cheaper there…I honestly considered lying about where we were going so we could stay in the taxi longer as he had some very unusal stories :) But all too soon we were back in Chinatown for a quick shower and then back to the Petronas Towers for our Skybridge tour

It was so cool. You go up in the lift to the 41st floor and the lift has tv screens showing you what you would see if the lift was on the outside of the building, so you can see yourself rising above the other KL buildings. It goes at between 5 and 6 metres per second, so in no time we were there. We got around 15 minutes to take pictures and to see the tiny ant-like people scurrying around the city. The weather was much better than the other day so we could see for miles. The bridge weighs 750 tonnes and somehow it magically stays up in the air (I’m pretty sure it’s magic anyway). Amazing. It’s also double levelled so that the people who work in the towers can use the top level and the tourists can use the bottom level. It’s also a safety measure in case of fire in one of the towers. It was absolutely fascinating and despite being 170 metres up, it wasn’t that scary as everything was so small it didn’t look real.

Next we took the lift to the 83rd floor, and then a tiny lift to the 86th floor. Now that was scary! It was so high I had to hold on to the walls to peak over the edge at the view

It was incredible though and much better value than the other tower we went up as the tour was an hour long and we went twice as high. But I am glad to be back at ground level now! We did finally get the chance to eat and taste some Malaysian food

I went for the rendang, mainly because I wanted to see whether it was better than the one I make :) It was delicious but quite a bit saltier than mine so I am going to declare it a draw because I do mine how I like it. We also tried a nice starter of boiled egg, curry and little crispy things which was also very nice. I did get a bit cross with the waiter though whilst we ordering because he kept saying we should have one thing between us – we hadn’t eaten all day and I didn’t want half a starter and half a curry! Give me fooooooooood!

So after all the talk of being back at ground level, this is only temporary as we fly tomorrow…to Australia. We decided that we would like to get back into earning some cash as our attempts at budgeting have been non-existent, but hopefully we can take a couple of holidays to Indonesia, the rest of Malaysia or somewhere else accessible from Oz during our breaks from work.

Australia – we are coming to get you!

£7.50 for a cocktail? Ouch. The first one has taken the shock out of it though, one more please…

11 May

The roads turned to rivers so we splashed happily through Chinatown in the gloom and ended up near this building

So we decided to walk to it. I don’t know whether you’ve seen the Father Ted sketch where Ted tried to explain to Dougal that the cows in the distance that are far away are normal size, just far away, but it was a bit like that…we walked enthusiastically towards it and it just kept getting bigger, but never closer. I think it was a fair few kilometres we walked in the end (probably not helped by not having a map, so just wandering in the general direction of it!) but we found it eventually and paid our 45 ringitts each (£11) to go up to the observation deck. The lady said it was cloudy so the view wasn’t brilliant and was that ok, and I briefly considered shouting that it was NOT OK AND TO GET ME SOME SUN, but thought that perhaps was not polite so we agreed not to blame her for the weather and went up there anyway.

It was still an impressive sight despite the clouds

The famous Petronas towers

The ticket also gave you free access to the Animal Zone – a sad and smelly corner outside the tower itself. There were many snakes

that you could pay to hold and get a picture with, but this one was shedding and was covered in slimy water so I decided just to hold the parrots instead (well, someone just put parrots on me and then asked me for 5 ringitts)

In general, the cages were cramped, the animals didn’t have much to do or anything in the way or plants or toys to brighten up their cages and the biggest enclosure was full of rabbits and cockerels…to fed to the snakes. There was a pretty cool two-headed terrapin though

And weird hairless things

but overall, we thought it would be better if they got rid of the animals and just charged you less for going up the tower.

We thought that the Petronas towers couldn’t be that far away if we could see them (they’re over 450 metres tall – you can see them everywhere in KL – will we ever learn?!) so walked off towards them. On the way we spied a TGI Friday’s…and shamefully we went in, eschewing all the delicious Malaysian food for a burger and fajitas. And a pint or two, which, even in the Happy Hour, still cost £4.25…ouch. That’s LONDON prices. We’re from the Midlands, we should never have to pay London prices! But we did, and moved onto Long Island Iced Teas as they were the same price, and then went off in search of the Petronas Towers

Amazing! It’s not often you can say a modern building is beautiful but I thought these were gorgeous. We were too late to walk across the bridge but we will hopefully do that today instead. The first floors are a temple to consumerism – Gucci, Prada, Louis Vitton (and weirdly, Topman!) all have super shiny shops where nothing has prices on because ‘if you need to ask, you can’t afford it’.

I can dream, can’t I?

We were damp, slightly flushed (and probably smelly) from walking across KL all day so we of course fitted right in. But when in KL you might as well make the most of all the fancy cocktail bars, restaurants and cafes so we got stuck in at the Rum Jungle and ended up meeting three Dutch boys

r-l Wim, Mills and Mordor (not his name but anyone with a normal tongue couldn’t pronounce it so we settled on Mordor)

We joined them for beer towers and cocktails and had a great evening. We even got free brown Rum Jungle headbands after Craig said he liked the staff’s uniform, so I think you know what we’ll be wearing along with our matching teeshirts today! Oh yes!

Good morning Kuala Lumpur!

11 May

Our last few days on Koh Samui were very relaxing – well, this was kind of enforced as I couldn’t move any of my limbs after the evil Thai massage. So we pottered about, raised a glass to Matt, explored a few last restaurants and suddenly it was time to go. We didn’t go and see the dead monk – a mummified monk who died 40 years ago and has been sitting outside the temple ever since, nailed to the wall so he doesn’t fall over and with sunglasses on because his eyes fell into his head – but I think we covered most other things to do. It was still sad though as we had to say goodbye to the lovely Oh, Andy, Meow and Guy who had looked after us for a month. They gave Craig an embossed Thai ashtray (with instructions never to us it) and me a little painted wooden box…two things we can hopefully get into Australia as they’ve got strict rules about what wood you can take in. This proved prudent as I went to pack my bamboo cup from trekking in Cambodia and found termites were nibbling away at the bottom of it :(

So after a mammoth packing session (stuffing everything into three bags), we were finally ready and got the ferry over to the mainland. Having been relieved of money on the way over to Koh Samui on the ferry, we tried to take our bags off the bus, but the driver said no. So we sat in the car compartment the whole way there, watching the bus in case anyone tried to take anything. This tactic worked and we didn’t lose anything from the bags this time. We got back on the bus for the trip to Surat Thani, which is a fairly non-descript and faceless town, but close to the airport for our flight the next day.

We found a hotel and dumped the bags, and wandered around the town trying to find a restaurant. There were plenty of street sellers but with getting a flight the next day, we wanted to be as sure as possible that the food wasn’t going to cause us problems. As the Greek girl who was also staying at our hotel put it, she wanted “food with a few less flies on it”. So Craig and I ended up eating back at the hotel – this was clearly a rare occurrence as it looked like we’d woken the staff up when we went in. The dead cockroach in the pot next to us should have been a warning sign in retrospect. Stupidly, I ordered Western food (the rule is, the fewer the tourists in a place, the worse the Western food will be), but I just fancied some comfort food so took the risk.

Idiot. They didn’t let me down – I should have stopped when I ordered spaghetti meatballs and they asked me whether I’d like pork, shrimp, beef, crab or catfish – the ‘meatballs’ arrived and it was pork mince (I had ordered beef) and not shaped into balls, just cooked up like normal bolognaise. Which was fine although there were approximately three strands of spaghetti. But luckily I’d ordered chips too so I at least had those to keep me going. I took a tentative bite…mmm sweet tomato sauce…and what’s that? Oh, they’ve added pineapple. Num num num. There is no way spaghetti bolognaise should ever be able to be described as sweet and contain fruit other than tomatoes. A hideous, hideous mess. Made slightly worse by Craig giving me the money to pay whilst he nipped to the shop to get beer –  the waitress upon receiving the 1,000 baht note, put it underneath her bra strap and told me I had to get it from there. I had no clue what was going on, but this was apparently comedy gold for the other waitresses so I just stood there, laughing confusedly and blushing. I did briefly consider whether to take it out with me teeth – that would show her – but I thought she might call the police so gave that one a miss. She then asked me again, shaking her chest towards me…I just went for the same tack, laughing whilst hoping the ground would swallow me up and she eventually took it out herself. So odd! What is the Thai women’s obsession with breasts at the moment?!

The food issues continued the next day – the breakfast looked vile so I just had some water, thinking I’d be able to buy some snacks on the plane. The airport is tiny and there wasn’t much to do so I bought a Mars bar and a book (A Shattered Youth about a Cambodian girl growing up during the Khmer Rouge years, which was both interesting and disturbing) but this being Thailand, the book cost £11 as for some reason it’s really expensive to buy even used books here. But it kept me entertained and we got on the plane. As usual it was a lovely Airasia plane: new, leather seats etc but this time it was full so we didn’t have the luxury of stretching out like we have done on the last two. But they were serving food, which was chicken fried rice and as I was starving, I bought one and a Pepsi Max, which came to 180 baht…a fortune compared to what we would have paid on the ground.

How can you make chicken fried rice inedible? Put tiny whole fish in it of course! And basically no other flavouring! The disgusting tiny fish had their faces still on, complete with eyes. Except, some of them didn’t have eyes. This could only mean one thing…my rice contained tiny fish eyes. I think I’m not hungry any more. The irony of reading a book about a girl who was actually starving and forced to work all day on just a bowl of rice soup whilst complaining about tiny fish eyes was not lost on me, but I repeat, tiny fish eyes. I just couldn’t do it!

Our plane arrived early by 15 minutes, meaning the whole trip took just over an hour. We swapped the lovely Koh Samui

for this

Absolutely torrential rain. It was still warm, but just bucketing down. So after taking the bus to Kuala Lumpur city centre, we turned on our heels and headed to the nearest Burger King to wait it out and eat something that didn’t contain gross fish. We contemplated using the train to get to the hotel, but in the end decided this was too difficult in the pouring rain so we just got a taxi for 10 ringitts to the guesthouse.

A new language, currency, set of customs…unlike all the other countries we’ve been to bar Vietnam, the Malaysian language doesn’t look like a beautiful drawing, it looks like ours. Ours that has been shaken up – bus becomes bas, restaurant is restoran, taxi is teksi, central is sentral etc. It is confusing because it looks like English, but you find yourself wondering whether they can’t spell in English or whether that’s how they spell it in Malay as lots of words look the same. They also mix Malay and English on the same sign, so you have to look quite hard to work out what language it’s in and what applies to you. The currency also takes some getting used to – 65 baht for a night would be incredibly cheap at just over a pound, but 65 ringitts is actually £16. The whole place is very expensive, so we’re back to staying in grotty accommodation (but paying a lot more for it) to save some cash so we can do all the exciting things KL has to offer a little bit less guiltily.

So we found said grotty accommodation (would you like a room with a toilet or without?), dropped the bags off and headed off to explore the area we are staying in, Chinatown. First stop: umbrella shop!