Category Archives: Malaysia

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Big Adventure…done.

Travel dates: 2nd December 2013

Location: Berrylands

Well that was a long day. We are now back home in Berrylands. We were up at 4:30am Malaysian time and it is now 10:30pm UK time. Without the time difference that is an 18 hour day. Add in the 8 hour difference though and we have been awake for 26 hours (except for the short nap on the first flight).

The day didn’t start too well when we went to reception to check out of our Penang hotel (1926 Heritage Hotel if you are interested). We were greeted by our taxi driver who had managed to lock his keys in his car. Fortunately the hotel had already phoned to arrange a replacement taxi for us and there was no significant delay. We even saved 7 ringit in the price difference between the pre-ordered and last minute taxi. That was cancelled out though when the hotel “forgot” to give us back our key deposit when we checked out. In the fuss of sorting taxis it also slipped our minds too. Hopefully they will find a way to honour it and return it to us though.

At the airport we began our two leg trip back via KL. First a 55 minute hop and then a 12:25 marathon leg with luckily only a 2 hour stopover in KL. The flight was a flight like any other. We got what you expect from long haul economy. Quite a few films, mediocre food, lots of very noisy children and lack of sleep. I did entertain myself with quite a lot of Christmas music at least.

The taxi from Heathrow had no issues with locking in keys however his hand brake warning light did beep the whole way home.

Unpacking will have to wait for tomorrow as this evening we went off to running club. 4 miles was a refreshing change to the rest day sitting on the plane. We are now tucked up in bed and Steve has forgiven us already and come for a cuddle. So ends our big adventure, a story of Berrylands to Beijing, beyond and back again.

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Hawkers in Penang

Travel Dates: 28th – 2nd December 2013

Location: Penang, Malaysia

<<<You will notice that some photos are missing at the moment. These will be added in due course and the placeholders will be removed.>>>

Day 1: Hawkers (By Rich)

Arriving in Penang we got to our hotel by taxi with little fuss. As we drove along the clear skies we had flown through started to cloud over. By the time we arrived at the hotel a rain storm had started. This continued for 2 hours. As such we spent 4pm to 6pm hiding away in our room. We did explore the hotel a little and it took us several laps to find where the pool was hiding. It turns our we leave our room through the door behind a curtain, pass along the car park and hey presto a pool! Having gotten wet enough just finding it we didn’t go for a dip. Fingers crossed for better weather tomorrow so that it will get used.

By the time the rain subsided and we were ready to head out it was already getting dark. Having not been out already we decided to walk towards the central area of Georgetown. The centre of the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so we figured that we would soon encounter something worth seeing. We were wrong. For a start our hotel is further from the “good stuff” than we thought and secondly our sense of direction and sight tracking ability was failing us. Although we did find a few restaurants and bars what we encountered definitely wouldn’t be described as lively (or UNESCO worthy).

After wandering for some time we were a bit fed up. We decided to ask directions in a cycle hire shop. In return for a promise to come back and hire bikes (which we were planning to do anyway) we were pointed in the direction of the areas we were looking for. After over an hour wandering we arrived at the New Lane Hawker Centre. Hawker centres are eateries where street food is prepared on a number of carts and food served at tables in cafes along the street. We had been to a tame version in Kuala Lumpur so really weren’t prepared for the one we found here. As we were tired and grumpy we just wanted to sit down. As such we allowed ourselves to be ushered to the closest table where we ordered a drink and happily took up the offer of fried rice. This gave us an idea of how things worked. Food is brought to you and you pay on delivery. Feeling slightly revived we became a bit more adventurous and went to order food from some other Hawker stalls.

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Everything we tried was very tasty but once again we went more for appetiser type food of the fried/food on stick variety rather than real main courses. Tomorrow we will definitely be after a more healthy evening meal. We did finish the meal well though with a variety of fruit (plum, pineapple, melon, rose apple). The fruit stall seller did warn us that Vicki’s rose apple was expensive as it was imported from Thailand. We decided we could stretch to 50p as a treat though rather than the 10p/20p we usually pay for fruit portions.

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Our experience finding the food place this evening reminded us of two things. 1. We are no use when tired and hungry. We just get grumpy and don’t enjoy ourselves. 2. We need better plans of what to do rather than just wandering vaguely. Point 1 was solved by food, point 2 we set about solving after dinner. We headed over to the bus station to see how things worked. Having studied maps and information boards we successfully got the bus straight to our hotel door. This sets us up for some real exploration tomorrow rather than just wandering aimlessly as we did today.

Day 2: Hills and buses (By Vicki)

Today dawned bright and sunny, and so after a quick breakfast we braved the buses again to head up to Penang Hill. This is a big hill on the edge of Georgetown with a funicular up to the top, and views of the rest Penang island.

After  a 25 minute wait for the right bus, and then a 45 min bus ride (we got a lot of value out of our 40p bus fare) we arrived at the base of the hill all ready for the funicular. Luckily we managed to get the ‘back’ seats of the carriage, which meant Rich got to take lots of funicular based photos.

<<funicular photos>>

Having reached the top, we had a quick look round the summit – this was tourist attraction central with lots of ways of spending money, such as a (very small) Dinosaur exhibition, and the ‘have-your-photo-taken-with-an-exotic-animal’ stand. We bypassed all of this and went on a self guided tour of  some of the heritage bungalows at the top of this former hill station. However, most of them were hidden behind sculpted garden, probably to prevent tourists poking their noses in all the time! We did however find a little corner of England….

<<postbox photo>>

We had planned on just a short heritage bungalow walk before starting our actual planned walk – 5km down hill to the Botanical Gardens. 2 miles later (due to some path maintenance) we were finally ready to start the walk. And it was indeed down hill – at some points so steep it was hard to walk down. Luckily we had some (friendly) monkeys and a giant centipede on route to distract us.

<<Centipede photos>>

After about 1 3/4 hours, and a grand total of 5 mile walked in the heat of the day (do we never learn?) we finally arrived  at the Botanical Gardens. Lunch was a quick fried rice / noodles at a roadside cafe before we headed into the gardens. Just inside  the entrance was a miniature train offering a tour, and so we hopped on –  and then about 5 minutes later hopped off. It had to be the shortest tour in the world! The driver spent the tour on his phone, and seemed to get bored halfway through, and just sped round the rest of the gardens!

We then decided to walk round the rest of the garden and have a look at the bits the ‘tour’ didn’t cover.Again we were accompanied by some monkeys. luckily not the least bit interested in us, and we found some funky flowers for Rich to photograph – not sure of the chances of us growing them at home?

<<flower photos>>

A bus back in to town took much longer than it seemed like it should, and while we were on the bus, the heavens opened (spot a theme here?) and so we decided to stay on the bus and get a bit a tour of the heritage area, in the hope that it would have stopped raining by the time we got off the bus. We were lucky for about 10 minutes after getting off the bus, and then it started all over again, so we gave up and headed back to the hotel, and to the pool – we were wet already so figured swimming wouldn’t make a difference!

Dinner tonight was across the road from our hotel, in a little place call Ivy’s, which serves Nyonya food, basically a combination of Chinese, Malay and Thai. Not knowing anything about the food we opted for a set meal, with Stingray, prawns and chicken. It was delicious, although very spicy (great for Rich, not so great for me). The lady on the next table over from us was with her daughter who had just graduated from Imperial, having done Biochemistry – it’s a small world!

Day 3: Bikes (Rich again)

Today we went back to the lady that gave us directions and as promised hired some bikes. We used these to explore George Town. We had a walking tour in our guide book so used this as a basis however once on two wheels we could fully explore and really felt that we got a feel for the place. We finally managed to realise why this is a UNESCO heritage site. It isn’t so much about the individual buildings but the juxtaposition of cultures. As we cycled we quickly passed from British colonial to Chinese to Malay to Indian influences. The styles from each culture are sitting side by side here to create a fascinating mix that is full of life. You won’t see pristine buildings here but the mix of styles is very different to anywhere else.

We used our bikes to visit Chinese mansions heavily influenced by the styles of the colonial British, clan houses and jetties where different family lines that had emigrated from China lived, old British forts and much varied street art. An important part of the day that our bikes led us to was lunch. We dined in Little India as we had wanted to try roti canai. This is a thinly layered roti that is grilled with oil then served with daal. It was delicious. In fact we enjoyed it so much that our dinner later in the day was very similar with a meat based roti canai and tandoori chicken.

Our evening entertainment (after the excitement of returning our bikes in the dark, (Vicki – cycling the Penang equivalent of the A3…)) was a trip to the Eastern & Oriental Hotel for cocktails. This is Penang’s big colonial-style hotel and was owned by the same brothers as Raffles in Singapore and The Strand in Rangoon. Both of the others we visited but didn’t stay for a drink so this time we decided it was well worth staying. Some happy hour drinks and nibbles left me longing to have been around in the late 1800’s and living the colonial life.

Day 4: More exploring (by Vicki)

Today was our last day in Penang, and we were hoping that the weather was going to be kind to us. Many of the other days had seen rain in the afternoon, and as we wanted to go hiking in the national park, we were hoping for a clear day. Luckily, when we got up, the sky was blue and so we set off to the smallest national park in Malaysia for a spot of trekking in the rainforest.

We found the bus with little trouble, and by the time we reached the park we were the only ones on it – we thought the driver may have forgotten us as when at one point he did a U-turn in a carpark, but all was well in the end, and he delivered us to the gates of the park. The park is free to get in, but you have to sign and state your destination before heading off. There are 2 main options, both ending at a beach, and both taking about an hour and half walk – one is Turtle Beach and the other is Monkey beach….guess what you can see at each.

We had no real plan and so opted for the suggestion made by the ranger of Monkey Beach, but actually ended up going a different way, heading down to Turtle beach as the route looked more interesting. Provided we signed out at the end of the day and stuck to the well marked trails, we didn’t think this was too much of a problem.

<<Map of the Park>>

And so, we were off! The first 15 minutes were on paved paths, but as soon as we got into the forest proper, the trails rapidly became steep (both up and down), uneven and covered in roots, perfect for tripping over! We set a fair pace (for us) and were soon overtaking groups of people off for a Sunday stroll. It was very humid again, and before long, we were disgustingly sweaty, but the scenery, the sound of the Cicadas and the feeling of being in the rainforest meant that we didn’t mind so much. It was very busy though, and so we didn’t get to see any wildlife other than ants. They were pretty big ants though.

After an hour and a bit of steady trekking we arrived at the site of a Meromikitik lake, a rare type of lake that contains salt water underneath a layer of fresh water. However, it is only full in May – October, and so it didn’t look too impressive today.

Across a wooden suspension bridge was our destination – Turtle beach. This is a white sand beach, which when we arrived at about 11am was pretty deserted. The name comes from the fact that turtles use this beach to hatch their eggs. Whilst we didn’t see any in the wild, we did see a few at the Turtle Hatchery, and this made up for me not seeing any whilst snorkelling in Thailand.

After a couple of hours on the beach we considered our options, either walk back the way we came, or get a speedboat. Luckily a French family that were sat near us on the beach made that decision for us. Their boat was going back just as we were about to leave, and so they kindly let us hop on, thus saving us the long walk back. At times on the boat ride I wished we had walked back, the waves were quite high, and there was a lot of bumping and crashing about. It was nice to get another view of the park though, and we arrived back at the entrance slightly salty and windblown but distinctly less sweaty than if we had walked.

After waiting an hour for a bus (that is supposed to be every 5 mins at peak times….) we made it back to Georgetown in time for a late lunch. Having enjoyed the Indian food yesterday (and for lack of other options next to our hotel) we opted for some more curry, which in general was lovely, apart from 1 of the choices, which we are pretty sure was curried chicken skin.

After a quick dip in the pool during a rain storm (much to the bemusement of the young twin Chinese girls watching us, it was time for the Penang run. As usual, we tried to fit in some sightseeing at the same time, and headed up to Gurney Drive, another well known Hawker centre on the sea front to assess the options for dinner. As with other places we have run, Penang is really not designed for people walking or running – there is a distinct lack of pavement on virtually all of the streets. Once we got onto the sea front, there was a nice promenade though, and so we trotted along happily admiring the scenery.

<<Final Run photo to be added here>>

After sussing out dinner places on our run, we headed back to Gurney Drive after a shower. The main problem then was deciding what to eat – there were lots of things we wanted to try before we left. Char Keow Taoy (a kind of Malay Pad Thai) and Asam Laksa (fish soup with noodles) was followed by fried oysters, boiled spiky shell fish and then chicken and beef satay all of which were delicious, and ridiculously cheap.

<<Dinner photos will appear here>>

Dinner wouldn’t be complete without dessert, but to date, we haven’t been that impressed by the desserts, which seem to revolve around sago (or other gooey mess) or involve sweetcorn or beans which we don’t count as dessert. This time we went for banana pancakes, and then fruit –  the abundance and variety of which is something we will definitely miss when we are home. Being able to get good quality fruit like mango, melon and pineapple on very cheaply on every corner is something we have kind of got used to. Tesco just won’t be able to match.

Very sadly, having dragged dinner out for as long as we could, we then headed back to the hotel to pack for the final time, and try to sleep before our 4.30am alarm call.

<<Final photo from last night will be here>>

So that is it then, last destination is done. Next stop Berrylands. Hopefully Steve will be pleased to see us.

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A small furry employee of Willy Wonka (Koala Lumpa)

Travel dates: 25th – 28th November

Day 1: Arriving for dinner (By Vicki)

After another short flight we arrived in KL – or rather, we arrived in a warehouse somewhere near KL International Airport. As we were flying budget, we were dropped at the low cost terminal, which is basically a warehouse, with minimal facilities and very long queues. After a long wait for immigration, a bus ride to catch the train, waiting for the train, the ride into KL and then the metro to the hotel, we realised it took far longer (probably more than double the time) to get from the airport than it did to fly from Thailand to Malaysia – definitely something wrong there!

Our hotel is located in the “Little India” area of the city and walking to the hotel from the metro our senses were assaulted by the smell of curry, fried samosas, every colour of sari and hijab imaginable, and a cacophony of different languages. It is definitely a change from Thailand, and it feels good to be back in a city after our time on the beach.

Dinner tonight was street food from the Jalan Aloor street market – bbq pork, satay and chicken wings. Somehow we got carried away with ordering the meat, and forgot about accompaniments.

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We then went for a quick explore of Bukit Bintang, and found ourselves in one of the main shopping areas. Everywhere we looked were Christmas decorations, and some serious bling ones at that! Given that most of the country is not Christian, they really go over the top. Apparently Malaysians love to shop, and so a chance to go to the mall is not to be missed, even if it for a festival that they don’t really celebrate. Seeing all the Christmas decorations did remind us that when we get home it will be December and time to prepare for Christmas. It seems wrong since it is still so hot here, very hard to get your head round.

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Day 2: (by Rich)

Having failed to get an early start on the day we headed to KL Sentral to get the KTM Komuter train. As it appears on the city transport map we wrongly assumed this to be a fairly frequent service. In reality it runs as often as the Berrylands flyer. Unfortunately having missed the previous train by a matter of seconds (it was delayed and we saw it pulling away slightly late) we had to wait nearly 30 minutes for the next one. Frustrating but book reading passed the time and we were soon on our way to Batu caves.

Batu caves are north of KL at the end of one of the KTM Komuter lines. They are limestone caves that now contain a popular Hindu shrine used as a pilgrimage point. As all good pilgrimage locations should be, this was taxing to get to. Not just because of infrequent trains, but because you had to climb 272 stairs to get there. We tried to count and verify this however an elderly British couple we had spoken to on the train interrupted us part way with further small talk causing us to lose count. How rude!

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At the top of the stairs the caves are very impressive. The shines don’t hold you attention for long though. The most entertaining sight for us and most other tourists are the monkeys. As we arrived many monkeys descended the sheer cliff walls in search of food left behind by the tourists. The monkey’s climbing skills were very impressive and we spent quite some time watching. Sadly many tourists are slobbish enough to satisfy the monkey’s need for food meaning there is a lot of rubbish lying around. Hopefully there will be lots of bad karma for all those litterbugs.

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The way back our train ride didn’t require as much waiting. We were now on to them so we knew to get there at the correct time. It did however cost extra as we had decided to go to a different station on the way back. So for twice the price we went 2 fewer stops. Eh? Hang on a minute? Why are we paying twice as much to have a shorter trip. Apparently there is a special offer to KL Sentral. Ah well, you live you learn. I guess we can handle paying 40p each instead of 20p.

Our morning of sightseeing was pretty much limited to the caves. We did wander from Bank Negara station (we learnt this means national bank by looking at our money) through Little India however that was mainly to find some lunch. No Indian food this time though, just a quick Subway to take back to the hotel room before a refreshing dip in the pool.

Not long for lounging today as we had the sight I had been looking forward to most in KL up next. We headed for the Petronas towers where we had our advanced booking tickets waiting for us (top tip – book 24 hours ahead as you can’t get tickets on the day). After an outside photo shoot we headed up the towers. The tour was split into 2 sections, the sky bridge between the two towers and then a viewing gallery at the top of tower 1. It doesn’t matter which tower that is of course as these are identical twin towers, or at least they are from the outside. I assume the inside has some difference. If you must know though, tower 1 is on the left.

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We enjoyed the trip up the towers but felt it was a bit rushed. With 20 minutes at each level you actually had quite a bit of time however we prefer to look out at our leisure rather than being herded around in a group.

Back at the bottom of the towers we headed for a restaurant in the mall where we were meeting an ex-Imperial hockey player who now lives in KL, although not his real name we always called him Joe1 but for reasons known only to the DeIViants we will now call him 118-118. In any case 118-118 very kindly treated us to dinner and we caught up on his life in KL and what has been going on back in London. He works at Petronas co-incidentally but couldn’t give us a tour. For a start we are much to scruffy to pass for oil and gas people and secondly he isn’t allowed up to the top floors yet. We will have to come back in a few years when he is running the show.

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After dinner Joe returned to his family and Vicki and I went to explore the park next to the towers. There is a fountain that dances to music, jogging track, paddling pool and playground. As it was 9pm we just settled for watching the fountain but would have had a jog if we were in the right kit. Another hockey friend of mine from Kuala Lumpur, Dusty (or Jian if he needs a real name too) gave us a recommendation of a bar to visit. Unfortunately he wasn’t free to come join us for a drink but regardless we headed to the Traders Hotel to their SkyBar. First attempt was unsuccessful as they only opened at 9:30pm but after an extra loop of the park we were in.

The sky bar has a pool and a fabulous view of the Petronas towers. We edged around the pool to our window seat where we enjoyed the view and a couple of cocktails. I went for their Selangor Sling to make up for the Singapore Sling I never had. Not a big night for us as I have been suffering from a cold since arriving in Malaysia so just the one cocktail was enough. Probably a good thing given how much they charge.

Our views of the towers from the park and from the SkyBar:

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Day 3: Running in KL (still by Rich)

Today started with breakfast and then a nap. I had been knocked out by my cold so we rested first thing to let the associated headache subside a little.

Feel slightly revived we headed out for a walking tour of KL. This took us from Little India where our hotel is, through the colonial centre which closely resembled a country village green and then on to China town. Moving between the three areas showed the contrasts available in KL. Especially when you compare what we saw today with the vastly different modern side we saw yesterday at the Petronas towers.

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Not wanting to over do it we finished our tour with a ride on the monorail to Kampung Baru. This is a Malay enclave in the heart of KL. Right next to the Petronas towers this is some of the most valuable land in KL yet still it is undeveloped and remains covered with small Malay houses and has a real neighbourhood feel you would not expect from the city.

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Feeling better from being out for the day and having had a dip in the pool Vicki and I were ready for a run. Back in a big city, finding groups to run with was again easy. We opted for a run around the Lake Garden that we found on Meetup.com. This was a very sweaty affair as it was extremely humid. I was absolutely dripping when we finished our 4.5 mile run (others went slightly further but I was done). We were refreshed by a can of 100Plus, an energy drink provided by one of the other runners, Denise. Also on the run was Emily who works for the University of Nottingham in their KL campus and Danielle (who we ran alongside and then walked home with) who is a Canadian traveller who moved to KL when she met a chap here. All in all a very sociable if hard work run.

To refuel after the run we hit Little India. As we were walking back to get showered a man tried to tempt us in to his stall, as it looked good we promised to return after a shower. As we approached he greeted us enthusiastically and attentively served us. His stall was mainly based on his tandoor (oven) that was cooking fresh naan and chicken on the side of the road. In addition to these we had some keema (which was excellent) and a selection of vegetable curries. Excellent and very cheap food at only £4 despite getting drinks, 4 naans and the selection of curry. Yum!

Day 4 (by Rich again, at this point I will say I have written most of the post but Vicki wrote the title):

A 2pm flight didn’t give us much time to do anything in KL this morning. Normally we would go for a run and did have a potential route planned but since I was still feeling under the weather and after our efforts last night we gave this a miss. Instead we had a leisurely breakfast, packed and headed off to the airport.

As we had our bags to carry and had so far had luck with taxis we decided we should take another to the station. When we got in the driver wasn’t up for using his meter. As it says all over the taxi that he has to we weren’t taking his 15 ringit offer and proceeded to try to get out. Finding ourselves locked in we didn’t get far though. Luckily he gave in and turned on the meter. A short trip later (less than 10 mins) and we owed him 6.40 ringits. At £1.20 instead of £3.00 the amounts aren’t huge but still we won in principle.

Costs went the other way in the train station. Instead of the 12.5 ringit we paid to come in we paid 35 ringit to get back to the airport. We discovered this was because we were on the express train to the main airport instead of the slow train from the budget terminal we had been on before. We decided it was worth the cost though as we checked in at the train station and didn’t have to carry out bags any further. Today’s backpacking distance would have been less than 100m in total. Good job since our bags seem to continually get heavier, despite nothing new going in them.

At KL we had plenty of time for lunch (Malaysian fast food which was chicken burgers and curly fries), writing postcards and reading. Importantly it gave me time to finish my book. For the last 3 days I have been absorbed by Kane and Abel by Jeffery Archer. It was a book in one of the lists of books to read we looked at while drinking in Mr Long’s in Ao Nang (BBC’s big read). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and would strongly recommend it to others. It is a story of two men born on the same day in very different circumstances and how their lives cross without them ever meeting. It had me well and truly gripped all the way through.

Anyway…next stop, Penang!

1 Joe isn’t that far off his real name of Jauhari.