A Travellerspoint blog

Kuala Lumpur

...tis a long one

sunny 31 °C
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We have spent a week and a half in KL. Despite it being a rather large capital city, our verdict is that's way too long to spend here. We have flights booked to Bali on the 17th of December and hence why were in no rush to move on as we weren't too sure where to move on to.

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Initial impressions of the city were good, it had almost a Manhattan feel to it with the large amount of modern skyscrapers - the Petronas Towers are particularly impressive. The food is varied and usually of good quality and the views of the city from Menara KL (KL Tower) are great. We rejoiced at coming across more examples of the Asian brand of crazy (I use that as a term of affection) such as an immense indoor rollercoaster and an apparently Christmas themed musical show involving dancers dressed as some sort of futuristic, silver tin foil clothed, santa's elves with CDs for ear muffs. But...

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Maybe we haven't done ourselves any favours with staying in the commercial district of Bukit Bintang. It's very expensive here, even when you eat on the street you're still spending more than you would in Thailand (I know, I know, we should get over our love affair with Thailand) and beer prices are on a par with home. You think the taxi drivers in Dublin are bad, spend a few days in KL and you'll realise how lucky we are. The amount of times I've seen other people, not just us, being refused to be taken to their destination is unreal and as Will so eloquently put it, you'd have to hold a taxi driver's mother hostage to get them to turn on the bloody meter and not charge you four times the rate. They are KL's mafia and there's not a damn thing you can do about it - especially frustrating when each taxi in the city has "this is a metered taxi and haggling is prohibited" signs plastered along the outside of the car.

Everyone seems to be very concerned with how they look and what brands they're wearing to notice anything going on around them - these people seem particularly dozy when it comes to walking along a path and are notorious queue skippers (ok so it's probably a cultural thing I should accept and I am aware that my belief that walking too slow and getting in people's way should be a criminal offence is a touch intolerant). There are way too many men wearing Louis Vuitton handbags and people hanging around shopping malls pretending to smoke. It all seems to be too much show and little substance.

Now I know this might sound like the beginning of a rant against the "reckless westernisation of the east", it's not. I shamelessly like the comfort of knowing a McDonald's is around the corner in the event of a mammoth hangover and god knows I love the air conditioned escape of a shopping centre. There's just something that doesn't feel right about KL and I'm not sure why.

Perhaps this is why the universe provided us with cheap Air Asia flights to Sri Lanka. A destination that has never crossed our minds, ever, never mind for this trip. I have not the faintest clue what to expect, and I know nothing about the country other than the bad press surrounding the Tamil Tigers (to mothers reading this I hear this business is finished with and they're all living happily ever after...for the moment). So we booked our flights and we plan to spend two weeks in the country after a brief sojourn in Singapore.

Singapore was never on our itinerary either as a result of the perception of it being too clinical and boring - I'm hoping this will prove misguided - but in the effort to fill the aforementioned gap in the schedule we booked a weekend with our accommodation this time in the Little India area of the city and as a bonus we get another passport stamp for it.

Our trip has become very rigid now that we have booked certain things, this is both good and bad. We have booked our flights home for example - shocking I know but the price was right. We fly with KLM on March 2nd next year on a flight from Bangkok to Amsterdam where we spend a few days on a last hurrah before we land in Dublin on March 7th. We're spending a week in Bali either side of our 11 days in Lombok at Christmas after which we spend a few weeks in Borneo before heading back to Thailand to greet Will's mum and uncle Sonny who will see Bangkok and Chiang Mai over two weeks at the end of February.

So that's another smug free, not so positive post for you, I guess you wonder why we do it eh? You gotta take the downs with the ups and I think we've done well for being away for three months. We will have more chances to get under the skin of KL as it is the origin of several flights including those to Sri Lanka and Bali, I think there's more to the city than what we've seen so far.

Posted by suzebert 01:04 Archived in Malaysia Tagged kuala_lumpur malaysia Comments (0)

The Cameron Highlands

Cold, wet and mucky

rain 18 °C
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The town of Tanah Rata within the area of the very un-Malay sounding Cameron Highlands sits at about 1800m above sea level. In five hours of spectacular scenery and nauseatingly winding roads we went from 32 degree heat to 18 degree bloody freezing. Ok so I know you folk back home are currently cursing me at your computer screens and that 18 degrees is considered balmy back home but everything's relative (and yes I do fear what will happen when we eventually have to come home - hot water bottles at the ready please).
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Getting off the bus, boots, socks, full trousers and hoodies were immediately put on. It was also raining, and not the usual tropical downpour, it was the Irish kind, the damp dreary drizzle. Initial impressions weren't great. We came all this way to follow the dozens of trails that trek through the surrounding hills, we didn't entirely rejoice at the prospect of doing it in the cold and damp.

Our accommodation did not offer much comfort. The first room we were showed had an unhealthy amount of mould on the mattress so we requested a switch. The second one had a hideous stained old mattress but at least there was no mould!. It was at this point in the trip where myself and Will took a significant leap in our relationship and grew ever closer as a couple. The room was en suite, but by en suite the hostel actually meant they put a toilet in one corner of the room and threw a flimsy shower door around it...with no roof (to the left of the photo below). So you see boys and girls, the acoustics were fantastic and at this point I'll let you figure out the rest.
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The first day was a write-off because of the rain, so we wandered into town to discover there was one main street and not much wandering to be done. I had made the mistake of casually mentioning to the hostel owner that we were planning on doing some walks during our stay. This resulted in a startlingly loud knock on our door at 8am the following morning with the loud and joyous announcement that the sun is shining! Hurrah! This wouldn't have been so bad had I not been up until 4am the previous night staring maniacally at the filthy mattress waiting for potential bug atttacks.

We got ourselves up as it was indeed sunny outside and it seemed wise to get out before the rain returned. The surrounding hillside was stunning in the sunshine and we decided on a short tour for the day that included getting up to the peak of Gunang Brinchang (just over 2,000m/6,666ft) - I should probably come clean at this point and say our guide drove us up to the peak in his Land Rover - a short jungle walk, a visit to a local tea plantation, a butterfly farm and a strawberry farm. As a result of it's temperate climate the Cameron Highlands is covered in tea fields and fruit and vegetable farms, I even saw cabbage fields and felt a small pang for home!

The jungle walk was the clear winner and had us clambering over, under and through trees and vegetation while surrounded by clouds - loads of fun.
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At the Boh Tea Plantation and Factory, we finally got a decent cuppa and the tea fields in the sunshine are the greenest things I have ever seen, absolutely gorgeous.
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After two nights, we decided to book ourselves onto a bus bound for Kuala Lumpur and back to some heat and big city living. Here's hoping it can compete with Bangkok.

Posted by suzebert 13:16 Archived in Malaysia Tagged mountains trek malaysia tanah rata cameron_highlands Comments (1)

Bangkok to Penang

From the familiar to the unknown

sunny 32 °C
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Bangkok has become a second home to us now. We always get a great welcome back to our chosen hostel, and the same room each time, and we always discover something new about the city. This time around we discovered the luxury cinemas and a fantastic bar called Saxophone next to the Victory Monument which has live local jazz and blues bands every night. Throw in a bit of shopping and a great tapas restaurant and we had ourselves a very enjoyable few days.
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We flew to Penang in Malaysia in one and a half hours, we moved one hour ahead (we're now eight hours ahead of Ireland) and things are very different. Malaysia is the most diverse place I've ever been to. There's a heavy Indian and Chinese influence alongside the resident Muslim population with Hindu and Buddhist temples sharing the same block as mosques. Everyone is quite friendly and the language isn't such a barrier here as it seems most people have quite good English (and as a result I have yet to gain a word of Malay).

I haven't found much difference as a result of being in a Muslim country, although I am conscious of flashing a bit too much flesh as I'm surrounded by a lot of headscarves and the odd burka. I have got quite used to the call to prayer that you hear blasted from the mosques five times a day every day - at sunrise, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, dusk and in the evening - it's quite atmospheric.

Georgetown is the main city on the island of Penang and is a UNESCO World Heritage site (number three on the trip) and is a strange combination of old Chinese shophouses and modern new high-rise buildings. Oddly enough there's one particular street that could easily fit into Temple Bar, a strip of big very loud bars with lots and lots of scantily clad bar girls. There is an abundance of Indian restaurants so we gorged ourselves on naan bread (one restaurant had 13 kinds) tikka masala and chicken biryani washed down with a mango lassi (kind of a fruit smoothie made with yoghurt).
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Walking around the town there's a strong colonial feel to parts of it near the waterfront, in particular Fort Cornwallis. An old English fort which now serves as the most boring tourist attraction I've ever seen. It's basically a large field with a large old canon and some stone walls and an excuse for Will to create a ridiculous photo opportunity. There's a nice feel to the town but you only really need a day to take it all in.
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We took a local bus (they had screens displaying the time of arrival at the bus station, imagine the technology!) and got out of the city to visit Kek Lok Si, a huge Chinese Buddhist temple complex set high up in the hills. It had a very different feel to it than any other Buddhist temples we have visited. For starters you ascend the hill to the temple through a narrow walkway with hawker stalls on either side selling trinkets and tourist tat. There are at least three relatively large shops selling the same tat actually inside the complex and the whole thing is lit up like a gaudy Christmas tree at night. The strict dress code (of covering your knees and shoulders) is not observed here either and oh how the Chinese like to take photographs of everything (I saw a guy take a photo of a van filling up at a petrol station, something to show the family back home I'm sure) including their friends and family climbing on the statues representing the animals in the Chinese zodiac. There was even a girl with her little dog dressed up in clothes and a nappy! I found it all a bit strange but there were impressive prayer halls in which murals and Buddha statues displayed the original swastika symbol and there were good views from the top of the hill.
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Overall Penang is a good spot but I wouldn't be rushing back, Georgetown can be seen in two days and after that I would be inclined to get out to see the rest of the island.

I get the impression that Malaysia won't be so kind to us as regards accommodation as was Thailand. I think we'll have to pay more for the same standard we are used to. Things just seem to be that bit scruffier here which isn't what I had expected, but you know what they say about she who expects too much...

Next stop the Cameron Highlands.

Posted by suzebert 21:52 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia bangkok penang unesco islam georgetown Comments (0)

Beach Fail

Ao Nang, Koh Lanta & Krabi Town

storm 24 °C
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This may be my crankiest blog post, mainly because it was quite possibly the laziest and most boring week and a half of this trip yet. This was the result of a headcold and a wee tropical depression off the Gulf of Thailand that caused the worst floods in the southern provinces in quite some time.

So Ao Nang was the first stop after Koh Samui, it is a little seaside town in Krabi province on the west coast. The first day it rained, a lot, and throw into the mix a lack of power in the town from 6am to 4pm (for "construction") and it made for a nice day of napping. The second day we hit the beach, the sun was out and we were off. Surrounded by tsunami evacuation route signs and old men in inappropriately tight and tiny speedos, I kept a keen eye on the horizon and Will went for a dip. He returned after what surely must have been a massive tussle with a deadly man-eating sabre-toothed jellyfish and with a bit of a stingy ankle. I promptly removed the offending tentacles, we decided I probably didn't need to pee on him, shook our fists at the sea and ran away back to the hotel to clean him up (not before receiving some nice fresh pineapple from a lovely local woman for our troubles).

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Not so much fun so far (despite the free pineapple). We eyed Koh Lanta for our next stop, billed as a less commercial, cheaper version of Koh Phi Phi. We decided on a splurge and picked a rather fancy sounding resort to stay in not too far away from the main town on the island, Sala Dan. That's when it decided to rain for four days nonstop and, rather conveniently, also when my body decided that if I were at home it would be the right time of year to get a bit of a headcold. Will, the clear hero of this blog post what with his jellyfish fighting capabilities, took it upon himself to trek into town and get supplies - important things to fight off a cold such as beer and chicken soup. The resort itself was lovely, even in the rain and even though it seemed to be staffed by complete morons who wouldn't understand good service if slapped them in the face. There was a pool and a small private beach and even a swim-up bar, unfortunately none were enjoyed by us.

At this stage we were beginning to lose our travel mojo and any interest in Thai beach time. Plans for the next destination ranged from heading to backpacker party central on Koh Phi Phi to get some liveliness to going back inland to get the real Thai experience again. With four days of rain and news of floods islands were taken off the table, there was no point in weather like this so we got on a bus bound for Krabi town, the provincial capital on the mainland along the coast.

Krabi town is small enough to walk around but there's not a whole bunch to do. At least the weather was better when we arrived, and we decided on a boat trip around the nearby mangrove swamps the following day. And the following day was when the rain returned. We couldn't catch a break so there was only one thing for it...

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...after which the following day was a write-off. We had to decide on our next move, we could go further south to Trang and into Malaysia via Koh Lipe to land on Langkawi but that involved more islands and moving through an increasingly flooded southern Thailand. We then started hearing about flooding in northern Malaysia, and with a quick discovery of a cheap flight with Air Asia we decided to retreat back to Bangkok. Our home away from home, we'll be welcomed back by the hostel owners (and hopefully get more homemade cake), feast on fantastic street food for pittance, pick up a Rough Guide to Malaysia and get our mojo back while the weather settles down. After all, I have to keep reminding myself, we're in no rush.

Posted by suzebert 23:57 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches islands krabi ao_nang koh_lanta Comments (0)

Koh Samui

...and the Full Moon Party

sunny 28 °C
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We arrived at night. It isn't my preferred way of arriving anywhere, we couldn't see much on our approach into the airport or in the taxi to our hotel. When we got to where we were going, we were greeted by a tiny Thai woman (who went by the name of 'O', maybe she used to be an MI6 director or something) and a quite drunk half naked Brit (Andy) - we never did find out whether they were actually married, I hope for her sake they weren't.

After being shown to our room and dumping our bags we decided to be social and go to the bar to have a beer with Andy and O. This was the first of many times we struggled through conversations with a drunk Andy hearing story after story about his mates back home "long dead now of course" and trying desperately to make sense of the drunken slur. Thankfully a young Aussie bloke, who was also staying there with his girlfriend, came and broke the monotony. And so went our introduction to, and most evenings in, Koh Samui.

The beaches in my opinion were nothing spectacular, we went to two, our nearest beach Maenam and the most popular one Chaweng and neither compared to the beaches of Cuba which was the standard I was expecting (perhaps foolish to expect Caribbean standards in this part of the world I'm not sure). We explored the north east corner of the island on scooters and for most of the time I felt like I could have been in any Spanish beach resort town. All a bit underwhelming to be honest.
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So, we were a wee bit bored. All the incredibly rich young folk in our hotel (travelling for months on end at the age of 20 and debating about where they'll go to university - England, Australia, the US or Barcelona!) were heading to the Full Moon Party and in an effort to look cool and down with the kids we said, sure we're going too! Our mates who we had been travelling with in Chiang Mai and Pai were already on Koh Phangnan so we said we'd hop over on the ferry and hook up with them and see what all the fuss was about. Anyone reading this who doesn't know what a FMP is read this Wiki entry for a very bland explanation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_Moon_Party.

Our expectations were extremely low. I was expecting Saturday night in Coppers on a beach. Drugged up knackers listening to rave music beside drugged up hippies howling at the moon. We were, however, proved very wrong. We were on the beach early at 7pm. The setup was very impressive. The sky was clear and the full moon was shining down upon dozens and dozens of bars and stalls selling the famous buckets of booze (irritatingly impossible to get these things without Red Bull in them). Each bar was blaring it's own music - one even played a Muse song, imagine! Most had their own fire dancers. Here's a video Will took of the fire slide (probably not the safest thing in the world): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRwzUDBp10E

The tradition at these things is to paint oneself in dayglo body paint, for some reason at 2am in the morning it's the most amazing idea ever! There are guys up and down the beach who will paint whatever you like wherever you like for a few baht....I got a bit carried away...
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So you march from one bar to the next up and down the beach carrying your bucket of booze until the sun comes up at around 6am. And even though at this stage in the early daylight you can see that the dayglo paint is now flaking off your skin and looks somewhat like someone who overdosed on skittles may have thrown up all over your back, you're surrounded by rubbish and human debris on the beach and your head is slowly beginning to realise that there is a hangover lurking somewhere about to explode...the sunrise is absolutely totally worth waiting for...
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The next few days were spent sleeping off the effects and planning our getaway from the drunkard Andy after one too many ladyboy stories. Next stop Krabi.

Posted by suzebert 22:26 Archived in Thailand Tagged islands beach koh_samui koh_phangnan Comments (0)

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