A Travellerspoint blog

Melaka

overcast 28 °C

We’re hooked on Malay ‘rest and go’ massage chairs! What a guilty pleasure they are! Sucking you in with their 1 ringet for 3mins and before long you are spending all day in the shopping centre being wooed by these magical chairs! It's becoming a problem, fortunately it's time to leave for the Philippines and Christmas!

Melaka is a Unesco World Heritage site… and just happens to have a shopping centre where addicts can get their fix. Perfect. After 3mins in heaven you are ready to go. Elsewhere, many of the delights of Malaysia are on offer. Food mostly. Some delicious, some retch inducing.

The town is situated around an ambling river along which many ‘heritage’ attractions exist, though something odd starts to strike the curious traveller. Many of the attractions, from fort, to palace and water wheel are reconstructions of what is thought to have existed in the 1600’s, the originals long torn down or destroyed.

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Wondering the streets and alley’s we find a charming little place called Mod’s café. A must for anyone seeking good coffee and something different. It would be a hit in any western city. Coffee served from the back of an orange VW Combie, white teak furniture with drum kit out the back and guitars hung on the wall.

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Heading back to the guest-house for our final night in Melaka we’re feeling apprehensive. We suspect the bugs are in the bed! The scourge of cheap accommodation.

You can’t hear them. They’re almost impossible to find, regardless of how hard you look and for anyone interested, tears are not an effective pesticide. Upon rising one of the sneaky little critters finally reveals himself. Kaz (having spent most of the night awake in fear) calls me over for secondary confirmation. Yep, after referring to the ever trust worthy Wikipedia the inevitable is confirmed. All our belongings must be incinerated (KM’s preference). Or perhaps just laundered.

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Posted by karenandlach 18:01 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Cameron Highlands

rain 19 °C

The 14-hour journey from Langkawi to the Cameron Highlands included a 3-hour wait at Ipoh bus station. This was unlike any bus station we have ever been to…a big hall surrounded by about forty kiosks, all the vendors hanging out of their booths yelling a list of the destinations they were selling tickets for, it made for a very noisy 3-hour wait! They all seemed to be offering the same thing for the same price…I have no idea how they all survive – I am quite sure they could cut it down to one booth and still sell the same number of tickets.

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The Cameron Highlands is Malaysia’s most extensive hill station comprising a number of small towns. It is situated 1,500m above sea level, making it 10-15C colder than the rest of Malaysia and very rainy…a bit like Scotland actually (well, Scotland in summer at least!). The landscape is stunning with sprawling tea plantations, misty topped mountains and unspoiled jungle.

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We arranged a tour for the first morning to tick off some of the must see sights…a strawberry farm, a tea plantation and yet another butterfly farm! There was also an option to do a 3 hour jungle trek immediately post tour. With me not really being the trekking type I enquired about how tough it would be and the tour operator assured me it was an “easy, smooth path”…excellent, just the kind of trek I like. I later discovered that the LP describes it as “steep and strenuous with an undulating path”.

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After sipping some tea and sampling some strawberries on the morning tour it was time to start the trek…as we entered through the dense woodland I could already see that this would be testing…it was. Fallen trees littered the slippery muddy path, tree roots were used as stepping stones to climb the steep trail and at times we reached almost vertical “paths” and thought we must have taken a wrong turning. It was tough going (and poor Lach did have to endure a wee bit of moaning) but it was great to do something challenging and a bit different…and Alex, all those lunges in the gym definitely came in handy!

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On the second day we did another trek, the path was a bit more sensible this time yet still a fairly arduous climb. Although it is peak season in the Cameron Highlands we didn’t come across another soul during the hike, which makes it a little scary just in case you do take a wrong turn but it is also great to be out in the open with not another tourist in sight. The climb was tough at parts and the incessant rain didn’t help but the thought of afternoon tea when we were finished spurred me on! Lach reliably informs me that we have many more treks ahead of us in South America so I guess I better get used to it…although if they all have afternoon tea as a reward at the end I suppose it won’t be so bad!

A refreshing couple of days enjoying the countryside…time to escape the rain now though and head for the Melaka sunshine!

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Posted by karenandlach 00:40 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Langkawi

semi-overcast 33 °C

Apologies for back to back blogs, the Editor in Chief is claiming to have come down with a severe case of writers block in addition to heat exhaustion!

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Upon disembarkation in Langkawi the scrap begins. A few hundred bags, piled in opposing pits in the bottom of the ferry, collect at will. Mrs Murray retires with daypacks and other women to spectate from the pier.

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After 10 days, Malaysia is proving to be a curious country. Somewhat lacking a sense of identity, its hard to really get any feel for what this place is about. A mix of Indian, Chinese and Malay cultures, these all seem to co-exist independently, none appearing to show a real passion for the country they are promoting.

Langkawi, a predictable beach side strip, overflowing with restaurants, oversupplied with resorts and a water sports paradise. The perfect place to unwind and have fun. The sand is chalk white and powdery, though slightly spoiled by four-wheel drive tracks.

Having no need to unwind, and with the Cameron Highlands treks the next stop, Kaz decides its workout time. We hit the gym daily before taking in some sun by the pool.

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We compliment this with learning Spanish. Sth America is fast approaching and at present we can only say “The egg is blue”. A rather amusing downside to the Rosetta Stone voice recognition is its fallibility with words spoken in a Scottish accent. Lets hope the Latin American ear is more finely tuned.

Occasionally you need to treat yourselves, a £5 island hopping tour to see out Langkawi is just that! Starting with a 1 hour delay you swiftly move to an over-crowded boat, followed by stranding on a beach for an indeterminate amount of time while the boat continues with other deliveries (of other poor suckers).

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After arriving at one of the more interesting sights (Eagles diving for fish) you are moved on swiftly due to the over-running schedule. Throw in a fresh water lake for 45min so the catfish can nibble your toes and its all over. 4.5 hours of bliss!

Time to get to the highlands, but not before 14hrs of transit.

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Posted by karenandlach 07:36 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Penang

sunny 33 °C

High-rise developments, highways, and shopping malls. The typical SE Asian island escape found across Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia, Penang is not. Initial impressions are surprise and perhaps even disappointment.

“This is the hottest I’ve been in my life, I think I might die”. Stepping onto the curb of The Traders Hotel sensing this one could be challenging for the Scottish amongst us, I grab the bags and head for air conditioning.

The island comes to life after dark fortunately, allowing plenty of waterside/air conditioned leisure time.

Touted as a food lovers paradise, a veritable pan-Asian smorgasbord, Penang certainly delivers a diverse range of food.

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Hawker stalls selling any and every cuisine from around Asia fill Penang’s streets and alleys after dark. Tourists and locals battle with the traffic and each other to secure a roadside seat at a stall. The Red Garden ‘hawker centre’ gathers the best of these street kitchens in one place, mixes in some ‘live music’, which is more like dodgy karaoke, and creates an altogether different atmosphere.

Having indulged in so many food choices already, it was always going to be hard to get excited. The food certainly is great, though perhaps appreciated more when arriving direct from outside Asia.

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Lacking the gritty charm of less developed parts of Asia, Penang draws you in with its buzzing streets and traditions in food, how spoilt we are that we can be here and not fully appreciate all it has on offer…

An island tour allows for a much more rural view of Penang. A tropical fruit farm, temples with a range of standing or lying buddha’s and of course one of Malaysia’s favourites, a butterfly farm… still trying to work out what all this farming is for.

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Must be time for the beach, hello Langkawi.

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Posted by karenandlach 20:08 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Kuala Lumpur

sunny 33 °C

On first sight KL appears to be pretty much as expected…a city just like Singapore…high-rise apartment and office blocks littering the landscape, 5 star hotels on every corner, shopping malls aplenty. Dig a little deeper though and KL has streets lined with hawkers stalls, narrow alleyways bustling with market traders..a sprinkling of the grit and grime you expect in Asia.

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On arrival in KL we head straight out to Lake Gardens to sample the afternoon tea at Carcosa Seri Negara..yum! We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon walking through the gardens seeing what they had to offer and planned to end up at the bird sanctuary and butterfly farm. Unfortunately we just couldn’t find them, there are no signposts in the garden and the 2 hour walk in the blistering heat (even Lach found it hot) was very unsuccessful! We ended the day at one of the many hawker stalls on Jalan Alor…great food and great atmosphere!

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We decided, in a moment of madness, to buy tickets for the ‘hop-on, hop-off’ bus thinking it would be a good way to get around the key sights - walking can be a bit of a challenge because of the highways that cut across the city. If you are ever in KL…don’t do it. It was painfully slow. Lach described it as “the worst experience of his life” and literally moaned every second he was on it, well the ones he was awake at least! On the plus side it did take us to the bird sanctuary!

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All in all, a great couple of days in KL strolling around parks, enjoying afternoon tea, street stall dining, a wee stint at the shopping malls and negotiating our way through the markets of China town.

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Posted by karenandlach 20:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Phnom Penh

semi-overcast 32 °C

“The fans are really strong in here!” Looking somewhat bemused at Kaz I ask “are you serious?”

Sitting in the FCC (foreign correspondents club) rooftop (alfresco) bar reflecting on Cambodia it's hard to put aside the dismay at how little the atrocities carried out here have been publicised or acknowledged by international media.

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Having learnt of the millions of deaths from brutal torture, execution, forced labour and starvation, the disbelief that it could happen at all (and so recently 1975-79) is compounded further by the fact almost none of the perpetrators of these crimes have been prosecuted. The Khmer Rouge has effectively assimilated back into Cambodian society without charge. (The current Prime Minister is ex-Khmer Rouge).

Phnom Penh itself is an engaging quasi-cosmopolitan city with all the trappings of a capital city attracting western investment and embracing western culture.

There are buzzing markets with the usual lines of fake goods, cafés, restaurants and of course the odd rooftop bar where the breeze coming off the river (not fans) is a refreshing end to the day.

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A visit to Phnom Penh’s Killing Fields is an unusual and sombre experience. All of the infrastructure that existed to facilitate the mass murders has been torn down. The tour consists of an audio-guided walk through the fields of pits that once trapped thousands of bodies. The skulls now on display in a 17 level glass case as a reminder of what happened.

While Cambodia is trying to leave the past behind, there still exists a large underclass and widespread corruption amongst the police and government. The desperation of the tuk tuk driver to get a $2 fare across town only to be stopped by police and lose it to a bribe says a lot about how far they have to go. However, the people remain some of the friendliest we encountered and the country a fun and engaging place to visit.

Thanks again for all the comments, love reading them! Glad to hear the guys at RBS are dialing in, hope Declan is keeping the coffee’s topped up!

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Posted by karenandlach 16:35 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Siem Reap

sunny 33 °C

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We were greeted at Siem Reap airport by the tuk tuk driver from our hotel, Pang…after a couple of minutes I knew I liked this place already - he was just so happy and friendly! Also, the tuk tuk was like a horse and carriage but with a motorbike instead of a horse!

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We have loved our 3 days in Siem Reap, it has been a mixture of sightseeing and relaxing…from the temples of Angkor Wat to the floating villages of Chong Kneas, from poolside drinks to a do-it yourself BBQ lunch, and we even fitted in another massage - more on that below!

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Angkor Wat was always going to be a highlight and there is no doubt that Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples are amazing feats. We couldn’t help but draw a comparison between this and the Taj Mahal (not least because the Cambodian’s themselves claim this is the Cambodian Taj) and having seen the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal so recently, I would have to say that, for us, it still well and truly holds the top spot.

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It is unquestionably the temples that draw the crowds to Siem Reap but it has a lot more than just temples to offer. We could easily have spent longer here, enjoying the scene on Pub Street, wandering the night markets and just absorbing the generally relaxed vibe.

Anyway, I can’t finish this blog without mentioning the massage…this time a free Traditional Khmer massage, included as part of our hotel package. Lach chickened out of the free Khmer massage at the last minute and upgraded to an oil massage (this turned out to be a very good decision) but I stuck with the free option. We were both ushered into the same room..Lach was given some speedo like underpants to put on whilst I was given a full set of what I can only describe as old men’s pyjamas…very strange!

I won’t bore you with another long massage story but I will just say that this topped India as the worst massage ever…I was in so much pain…she used her fingers, her nails, her feet and even her knees as massaging tools…I was poked, prodded and stretched. No more Khmer massages for me!

Next stop on the world tour…Phnom Penh!

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Posted by karenandlach 07:27 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

Singapore

rain 30 °C

Driving past the prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers I look at my new wife and think to myself… you are full of surprises. We are booked at the ‘Fragrance Hotel Sapphire’ conveniently located close to the airport for our Singapore layover. What I wasn’t told is that it happens to be nestled right in the heart of Singapore’s red light district, what a treat!

Being awake most of the night due to the comings and goings of the local attractions was particularly appreciated.

Expecting little from Singapore, our first night and following morning was all rather predictable. Clean streets, huge malls, polite people.

That evening, however, we were really treated to a great night out. A champagne reception awaited us at Casa de Florence, with views across the city from the 18th floor balcony. Moving onto one of Singapore’s premier drinking spots, we started our night out with some live music and drinks at Altitude, the highest alfresco rooftop bar in the world, the views were quite spectacular. Following on we wandered the streets heaving with bars and restaurants to find ourselves at the Highlander, staff fully kilted. Delicious food and a buzzing atmosphere was just the tonic to prepare us for a return to the grit of travel. Next stop Cambodia.

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Posted by karenandlach 07:13 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Leaving India

Our time in India is over...18 days is not very long to experience a country of this size but it was a great taster! We have had an amazing time - I think few countries could provide the diversity that India does and we have only experienced a tiny fraction of what it has to offer. From magical palaces to sprawling slums, stunning beaches to sleepy backwaters, India really does have it all.

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It was definitely challenging at times; the poverty was heartbreaking, the dirt, dust and chaotic traffic was frustrating and the pressure for money exasperating. Overall though, India was rewarding. There is a constant buzz in this country, with market stalls everywhere you turn, tuk tuks lining the streets, honking cars, street sellers, smiley children, goats, cows, dogs, beggars and businessmen all living side by side in seeming harmony.

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The Indian people are some of the most welcoming and friendly we have come across. Despite the hardships many of them face and the poverty so many of them are living in, there is a general camaraderie amongst the people.

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Here are just a few things we noticed about India along the way:

- A foreign tourist is charged significantly more than an Indian resident for entry fees into tourist attractions (at the Taj Mahal this is 35 times more!)
- Most of the independent shops will offer you tea or chai while you browse.
- The airports are the most efficient ones we have been to...and the staff almost outnumber the passengers.
- It is cheaper for them to serve takeaway drinks in clay cups rather than plastic or paper ones.
- Diet coke always costs more than regular coke, often as much as double.
- As soon as you are away from a tourist hotspot (and sometimes even in them) Indians love to gather their family and get a photo taken with you.

Without doubt the hardest part of India has been seeing the poverty first hand, from families sleeping on the street to beggars with lost limbs, it has been an often very upsetting experience. Has any of this changed us? No, it probably hasn’t…but hopefully it has at least given us reason to stop and think the next time we are feeling that life is a little bit tough.

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Posted by karenandlach 06:47 Archived in India Comments (1)

Mumbai

sunny 36 °C

As the weary traveller says, when you reach Mumbai (though the locals still say Bombay), treat yourself. Unfortunately we discovered our booked accommodation was too far from the action, we upped sticks and headed for The Taj President hotel.

Wow, beautiful hotel, amazing service. On arrival we were upgraded to a room with sea views, nice start. Upon returning from lazing by the pool there were Indian bubbles (I hesitate to use the word champagne) and chocolate cake waiting… we are on our honeymoon!

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Mumbai is yet another contrast on the Indian landscape. Nothing like Rajasthan or Kerala. A typical buzzing, cosmopolitan city filled with all the extravagances expected of such a major hub. The bars and clubs are plentiful and the residents can be seen pounding the pavements along marine drive on a Sunday morning.

It didn’t take long for Karen to discover the Dome. A beautiful cocktail bar nestled atop the intercontinental looking out across the bay. The drinks were expensive but worth it.

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Venturing into the late night scene was an odd experience. No one seems to drink and more often than not the mobile is the entertainment of choice. One thing was consistent, Karen’s next day hangover!

So it’s off to Singapore. Nice end to a brilliant start of our trip.

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Posted by karenandlach 05:45 Archived in India Comments (2)

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