2006 - Malaysia
Monday 13th February
We had enjoyed a wonderful three months in Australia and were really sorry to be leaving.
We had booked a hotel (43) near the airport since it is 78 km away from KL city. Unfortunately, because our plane was late we did not reach it until 12.45 p.m. and fell exhausted immediately into bed.
Tuesday 14th February
We left our airport hotel by taxi for the Swiss Garden Hotel in the city (44). After settling in, we went exploring by foot to try to find the tourist information centre. We had some difficulty and ended up hailing a taxi - whose driver told us that it had moved location and took us to it via the back streets of KL. Whilst there looking at brochures, the usual 4.00 p.m. rains started and became absolutely torrential. To shelter, we went into the adjacent hotel for a drink and discovered there was a dinner and cultural show there later that evening. Adie decided this would be a fitting Valentine's Day treat and Jill readily agreed.
A taxi was hailed for us as we wanted to go back to our hotel to change. There were major traffic jams in the city centre, however, and eventually we had to get out of the vehicle and walk back the rest of the way.
We did not attempt to get another taxi back to the dinner and show as traffic was still static. Instead we caught the monorail and then walked the short distance after travelling two stops.
The show itself was enjoyable and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening out.
Wednesday 15th February
In the morning we explored the nearby shopping malls and had coffee and a light lunch there. In the afternoon we went on an organised tour of the city - ending this at the Petronas Towers.
We had a Chinese meal at our hotel in the evening and spent time composing our fourth and final email to our friends and family.
Thursday 16th February
In the morning we left the hotel fairly early and took two trains to the Petronus twin towers. Just 1500 tickets are distributed free every day on a first come first served basis and we secured ours for 12.15 p.m. We used the intervening time to go around the shops and also to seek to find out more about how we might book tours.
When we arrived to ascend onto the sky bridge, we found that all tickets had been sold for the day. We were fortunate to go up when we did as the daily rains came early - at around 3.00 p.m. and anyone visiting then would not have had much of a view.
Rain was coming down in torrents as we finished visiting the tourist office and nearby travel agents, and so we took a taxi back to our hotel. Once there, we booked trips from the resident agent outside to Melaka, Langkawi and Penang.
Friday 17th February
Taking a tour, the two of us plus the driver, took the three lane dual carriageway out towards the airport and down to the old port of Melaka some 150 km away. Although we past palm oil plantations, the driver told us that petroleum oil was now the most important export and that rubber and tin had declined significantly in importance.
Melaka was settled by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century, by the Dutch in the seventeenth and by the English in the nineteenth. In addition, it has a high Chinese population and our visit included lunch in China Town. We also visited two Dutch churches (one later "Anglicised") and the Dutch Townhall before moving on to the Portuguese 16th century church, now in ruins but giving good views out to the sea.
As we had not been able to visit some of the places due to their closure on a Friday, our Guide very kindly took us also to Putra Jaya, the new administrative capital being constructed over a twelve year period a little distance from KL. This proved to be a very large, dramatic and beautiful new city with a great air of spaciousness and a mixture of modern and traditional styles in architecture. Their intention is to emulate Washington and it is certainly spectacular.
Saturday 18th February
We had opted for two three day tours but communication was somewhat difficult with the Chinese agent who sat at his desk just outside the hotel. Something was put together, not entirely to our satisfaction, in part because the six days shrunk to four but without any concession on price. Nevertheless it proved to be an excellent venture up to the north of the country.
Our first stop (reached by air on the equivalent of "Easy Jet") was to Langkawi. This is a travel agent's delight being a modest sized island covered with lush foliage of tropical trees and ringed with white sand. Our hotel, the City Bayview (45) was in Kuah about 25 minutes drive from the airport and we saw some of the traditional Malay wooden houses on stilts but also the development of new roads.
Our hotel room had the most amazing view over the turquoise sea to some of the 99 islands that form part of Langkawi. However this is seen over dilapidated corrigated iron roofed market stalls.
The evening proved adventurous as we negotiated broken pavements and deep drainage ditches at the road edges when going to phone the children. Modernity has not yet reached the telephone system of this place and the exercise proved somewhat frustrating, not least because every four minutes we were cut off!!
Sunday 19th February
Our package included a half day tour. A small car arrived at 10.30 a.m. and took the two of us around the island visiting some of the "man made" attractions with which Lonely Planet had indicated the natural beauty was being supplemented!
Our stops included an aviary that was of particular interest since many of the birds were native to this area but would not otherwise have been seen by us.
We moved on to a very attractive large new building housing presents given to the former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who had held the post for 22 years before retiring in 2003. He was responsible for the spectacular new airport at KL and also Putra Jaya as well as for leading the country through a period of stability and rapid economic growth.
We next visited hot salt water springs of boiling water at Air Hangat Village and a black sand beach looking out over the water to Thailand just 35 minutes away by sea.
Our final stop was the cablecar ride to the highest point on the island, some 705 metres above sea level. This showed us the beauty of the Langkawi island group with their unusual shaped mountains reminiscent of Guilin and Halong Bay.
Monday 20th February
We knew that we had the morning to occupy as we were to be picked up from our hotel at 1.00 for the 2.30 p.m. ferry to Penang. We therefore decided to go into the town on foot to explore it more thoroughly. Before leaving, Adrian went to the front desk to get some notes changed for smaller currency. Whilst there, a call opportunely came through for "Mr Andrian" from the taxi firm charged with booking our ferry tickets. They had been unable to get us on the ferry and we were now booked on that leaving for Penang at 5.30 p.m.! Revised pickup time: 4.00 p.m.
This gave us plenty of time for our walk and we covered quite a distance, avoiding the holes in the pavements, deep drainage ditches at the road edges and crossing roads where there was no provision for pedestrians at all - let alone those who wished to traverse from one side to the other!
It was intensely hot and we purchased a drink from the local KFC - feeling that it was likely to be served in hygenic conditions. We then walked back to our hotel and checked out at nearly 1.00 p.m., leaving our luggage with them whilst we went to the nearby internet facility. For just over £1.00 equivalent (7 RM) we were able to use two broadband enabled PCs for an hour and caught up on all our email and management of inboxes etc. We then returned to the hotel and had a late lunch - leaving the restaurant at around 3.00 p.m. to read for a while at the pool side.
A little before 4.00 p.m. a minibus duly arrived to take us to the ferry terminal - about 5 minutes drive away. Since the ferry did not board until 5.00 we had an hour to wait but met several other Europeans so chatted to them. The area where we had stayed - and certainly our hotel - had been frequented almost entirely by local folk so it was nice to be able to converse freely in English and know we were completely understood! Our impression was that we had been put in the Asian and less developed area of the island. This did enable us to see more of the typical living and working conditions but meant too that there were less facilities for us.
Two and a half hours by a fast boat (with no provision for luggage for a full complement of passengers) brought us to Penang. Once more we were approached by someone asking for "Mr Adrian".
Georgetown appeared very attractive by night but we soon found that our hotel was situated well out of the main town.
Arriving at the Copthorne Orchid hotel (46) at nearly 9.00 p.m. , the staff told us that the Agents had not yet paid and we would need to give security.
Tuesday 21st February
This hotel has a large number of Caucasian guests together with some Asian (Japanese or Chinese) but very few of the islamic people that had made up the majority of those staying with us in Langkawi.
"Due to its unique location, the hotel boast of a 'private' beach, away from hustling petty traders and prying eyes of the public. Here, you have the luxury to choose sun or shade but what you will value most is the privacy, the tranquality and the safe sanctuary that we can offer you to be in complete harmony with Mother nature." (hotel brochure).
We spent the morning there reading and enjoying the views.
Our afternoon tour took us to two Buddhist temples (Burmese and Thai), Chinatown (60% of the Penang population is Chinese) and the Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse. This last building had the appearance of great age. In fact, whilst following traditional Chinese design, it had been built only in 1906 to give succour and help to those fleeing from China.
We moved on to Fort Cornwallis, a late eighteenth century star shaped fort bearing similarity to those we had seen in Quebec and Scotland. A Museum with posters gave us something of the history of Penang and its fort.
The driver was very articulate in English and enabled us to increase our general knowledge of Malaysia:
1. A mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian. In the country as a whole, of every seven people four would be Malay, two Chinese and one Indian. In Penang 60% are however Chinese.
2. Consequently there is a mix of religions - Hindu, Buddist, Islam, Taoist and Christian. The country is officially Islamic.
3. Fast development is taking place, seemingly based on oil discovery. Much of the housing is high rise flats. In the country and in parts of the towns, traditional housing is poor and comprises modest buildings on stilts and also the dilapidated corrigated iron shacks that we have seen in other Asian countries. In contrast to those other countries, we have been told that "everyone owns a car". Higher purchase is available with no down payment, repayable over nine years at about 3.5% interest. With secondhand vehicles, loans often exceed the price so that the buyer goes away with cash as well as a car! In consequence, there seem far less pedestrians than one normally expects in a developing country and also less motorbikes although these remain fairly numerous.
4. Langkawi showed us the innumerable roadside eateries (including shacks) where food is prepared in very basic conditions and washing up is a cursory exercise in dirty water that is then poured into the open drains over which we often had to step at the side of the road.
Wednesday 22nd February
After a morning reading on the beach, we returned to the Swiss Garden hotel in KL - but in a different room on a different floor (47). We were collected at the airport by our same tour company but with six of us in the mini bus on this occasion. May be they are bigger than they seem!
Having settled into our new room, we went out to the internet in the evening.
Thursday 23rd February
To-day we took advantage of the lower costs of Malaysia, combined with the savings of internet booking through "Wotif". We transferred to the five star Crowne Plaza (48) but still for less than £50.00 including a full buffet breakfast. Our room was very tastefully fitted with a light wood finish unknown to us.
From our 16th floor window, we had a suberb view of the Petronas Towers just a short distance away.
We spent the afternoon visiting the other high rise attraction of the KL Tower, the fourth highest telecommunications tower in the world. From this we had great views over the whole of KL and this was enhanced by an audio headset that described what we could see from each viewpoint. Only at the last did we discover that its screen gave additional information and pictures regarding the various buildings of the city!
We noticed that there was a nature walk through a section of remaining rainforest near the foot of the KL Tower. We greatly enjoyed the idea of walking through this whilst still within a busy city. What we had not bargained on was the presence of biting flies that left us both with a large crop of swellings, with Jill particularly badly affected. Nevertheless, the sight of many monkeys playing in the trees and coming close to us offered some consolation.
That evening, we enjoyed one of the most formal (and expensive) meals that we had had since Christmas.
Friday 24th February
We had decided to take one more trip, this time heading due west to the port of Klang and a small island: Pulau Ketam (Crab Island). The island is some half an hour out from the mainland - reached by a long speed boat that travels extremely fast. It is home to a fishing community of some six thousand, largely Chinese, inhabitants. What makes it of particular interest is that all of the buildings and, indeed the paths and roadways, are on stilts in the water. The buildings range from poor looking corrugated iron structures to some smartly maintained single storey and rendered properties. It is difficult to entirely assess this community as there are signs of some poverty and yet are these smarter properties and all have mains water, electricity and access to television and telephone services. Between the buildings are channels where there is considerable rubbish and plenty of rats. As we walked along, we had to many times move aside for bikes and motor bikes, the latter mainly battery driven.
With a little trepidation we tucked into our seafood meal in a fairly scruffy restaurant. In fact the five dishes were very tasty.
As has often proved the case, our conversations with the driver/guide were very informative. Once again, there were just the two of us - in a Proton saloon car. This seems to be the way that most of the tours (at least for Westerners) are run.
Our trip home looked problematic. Our standby tickets had so far given us no trouble but for this final stage from Singapore, Keren had warned that there were few seats and that we might not get on at least the first two flights. We therefore visited a travel agent in the same building as our hotel and booked a flight from KL to Gatwick via Dubai. This unfortunately meant the loss of our proposed train journey to Singapore. Against this, we had seen much of the countryside and felt we would prefer the certainty that these arrangements gave.
Saturday 25th February
We left our hotel mid morning and took the monorail to Times Square. There we went into the exceedingly large shopping plaza that has a theme park built into it.
Debenhams there had a sale with stalls outside in the public atrium area - there was a watch that Adie liked and, with 30% reaction, it was a good buy.
Elsewhere in the Plaza we found a shop stocking outdoor and travellers' gear including Eagle Creek. Jill bought the larger size black shoulder bag that she had determined to get back in the UK.
We ate in the Food Court on the 10th floor and also visited Borders Book shop.
After shopping, we walked to the internet cafe and caught up with our email before returning to the hotel late afternoon.
We ate at the hotel restaurant before packing for the final time and watching television.
Sunday 26th February
Checkout time at the Crowne Plaza was 12.00 noon - as in other hotels that we had stayed in during our time in Malaysia. We were amazed to find that we had slept until 9.00 (although our night had been somewhat disturbed by thunder storms and fits of wakefulness).
We enjoyed our last breakfast before checkout and then read for a while in our room until it was time to leave. Neither of us felt 100% fit and so we decided against travelling to Chinatown and went back, instead, to the Times Square complex before again using the internet for 3.5 RM an hour (approximately 50p).
We returned to our hotel mid afternoon and read in the Lobby whilst listening to Australians at the adjacent table seemingly tell men from Saudi Arabia whether or not they had passed their driving tests and details of why they had failed - where this was applicable! We were not sure where the tests qualified them to drive.
A car had been booked for us at our request at 6.00 p.m. and we journeyed the 78 or so KM for the last time to KL's very futuristic and impressive airport. Once there, we "killed" the five or so hours to our Emirates flight departed. We changed planes at Dubai - with another four hours to wait there - and arrived back at Gatwick at around 12.00 noon.
For £40 we were able to get a taxi all the way back to Rudgwick.