Archive for the ‘malaysia’ Category

and the winners are…

February 7, 2010

Last night we checked in to our 100th hotel. In celebration of this milestone, we reviewed our list of accommodation and decided to let you in on some of the best and worst moments. Note to our mums – I’ll give you the nod when it’s time for you to leave.

The good:*

Friendliest welcome – Tony’s Guesthouse, Melaka & North West Guesthouse, Mae Sariang
Tony – what a legend. The man is a kindred Little Creatures lover – need we say more? After tiring of “always screwing the union” as a government employee, his life now revolves around cooking the perfect eggs for his guests and fishing.

We only meant to spend a day or two in Mae Sariang, but a week later we were still lounging on the verandah at North West. We had no need that Tukta and Kitti couldn’t cater to – they let us take our own beers from the fridge; lent us their bikes and knew the best lady-boy in town to go to for a haircut.

Country with highest accommodation standards – Vietnam
Despite the fact that we encountered two of our most horrific hotels in Vietnam (see below), the general standard was very high. There doesn’t seem to be much of a culture of ultra-cheap dorm beds and shared bathrooms, but when $10 buys you a spotless fan room with TV, attached bathroom and hot water, who cares?

Best on ground – Zhilam Hostel, Kangding
We’ve already sung the praises of this place, but it deserves another shout-out. Dare I say it, Kris could charge double for this place and it would still be good value. Endless hot water in pristine bathrooms; crisp linen, and Kris and Lillian seemed to know exactly the right moment to ask you if you wanted a cup of tea. Worthy candidate in the “friendliest welcome” category, but we had to share the glory around a little.

OK, so I’ll quickly move on to the nasty bits because we all know they are far more interesting. Mums: leave now.

The bad:

Worst value for money – Prince of Wales Hotel, Singapore
How on earth did we land ourselves in a hostel above an Australian-themed backpackers pub? Our first stop on the trip, I can only think we were blinded by the excitement of it all. Apart from being full of shocking bogans, the wailing of dreadful covers bands blared from the bar downstairs until 3am every night and all the advertised “perks” turned out to be not nearly as appealing as advertised. “Free breakfast” = a few loaves of stale sliced bread, Nescafe and eggs you cook for yourself in a greasy pan, the stocks of which stop being replenished about 30 minutes before the ridiculously early cut-off time of 9am – so, if you’re us, you end up with cold coffee dregs and a dry crust for breakfast. “Air con” = will be switched on at 10pm and turned off at 6am. Even at $60 for a spartan private room, you still have to share a bathroom with the room next door and from the $20 dorm beds, you have to schlepp downstairs to use the toilets in the pub. Boo.

Biggest disappointment – Ko Tarutao
One thing we noticed consistently throughout SE Asia is a lack of concern for upkeep. New places go up and then are left to decay, quickly, as one might expect in a tropical climate, without a sniff of fresh paint or basic maintenance until they reach the point of no-return, when they are torn down and rebuilt again. Being government-run, there was a small army of staff employed on the island, but it was as though highly specific jobs (I mean highly specific, like “sweep this one square metre of concrete”) were allocated on Day One and that file was then hastily closed with a sigh of relief, never to be reopened. Broken windows, burnt-out light globes and wonky doors abounded and despite being promoted as an eco-resort, there was rubbish everywhere – but it was nobody’s job to fix it, so it never happened.

Bed bugs – Greens Hotel, Jerantut & Welcome Hotel, Bombay
Conveniently for Linds, both incidents occurred when we were sleeping in separate beds. My bout in Bombay prompted a response of “Oh my God” from the guy on the reception desk.

Weirdest – Lete Hostel, Xining
Where else but China would it be perfectly acceptable to rent out the top two floors of a high-rise apartment building to a youth hostel? An eerily deserted rabbit warren of rooms, with staff who looked at you as though you had two heads. And I’m pretty sure they used a damp mop to clean the carpets.

Most dangerous – Can’t remember the name, Xiahe
Apart from nearly dying from exposure during the night, going to the toilet involved taking your life in your own hands. Guests are required to take the most circuitous route around the outer perimeter of the courtyard to avoid a savage dog, whose chain is just a mite shorter than what he needs to reach you and sink his teeth into your leg. I knew he was there, but I was still half scared to death every time he barked – not really what you need as you’re scurrying towards the fetid loo, bladder bursting from already having delayed the trip for as long as humanly possible.

The ugly:

No categories here – there is one undisputed winner of this dubious honour:

Trade Union Hotel, Ben Tre
This place had the vibe of a private enterprise which had been taken over by the Communists at the end of the war… and never cleaned since. Cigarette butts in the shower drain, highly suspicious wall stains and a roach graveyard under the bed. It was after staying here that “presence of a toilet seat” became a mandatory item on our room inspection checklist.

Notable mention must be made of the place we stayed in Vinh Long, also in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. I was suffering a nasty head cold at the time and couldn’t face venturing outside our otherwise passable room, so Linds waited until after we left to tell me that there were soiled prophylactics down the side of the bed.

* excluding statistical outliers – namely, posh hotels funded by other people’s generosity

the great asian shirt drought

September 15, 2009
It’s time for a rant. I’ve had one brewing for a while now. At first, my ire was directed towards WordPress and its formatting idiosyncracies. I even went so far to draft an angry post about it but, thankfully for you, I lost it in cyberspace. However, a bigger issue has been making my blood boil throughout this trip and it’s high time I got it off my (shirt-clad) chest. This rant has the added bonus of making me feel especially righteous. And it’s far more satisfying bitching about real people than about a computer program.
 
It’s other travellers. Not all, not even most, but a highly noticeable minority. The sort that quibble over paying 18,000 dong for a beer in a restaurant when they paid 12,000 for one at a shop (a difference of about 35 cents) and then happily go and blow five times that amount on a crappy Zinger burger at KFC. Or those who are continuously wanting to know if they can have their noodles with vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, when it’s clear that all the noodles come out of one pot that has chicken bits bobbing about in it, all the while barking their demand at the vendor in English when it’s clear that the vendor doesn’t speak a word.
 
But those who get my goat most of all appear to be victims of a strange phenomenon known as “the Great Asian Shirt Drought.”* Would you walk down the high street of whatever godforsaken coal-mining backwater that you’re from without a shirt on? No. Would you even wait for a bus on the side of a highway or dine in a restaurant in the aforementioned backwater without a shirt on, exposing your flabby gut and bogan tattoos to all and sundry? No. Then why is it suddenly appropriate to do all of these things and more without a shirt on as soon as you touch down in SE Asia?
 
Clearly, there is some sort of acute shirt shortage! Somebody call the UN! Tell them to send urgent shirt aid!
 
PUT A SHIRT ON, YOU CHUMP.
 
 
*Nobody but Linds and me actually recognises this phenomenon. Yet. I’m hoping it will catch on.

malaysia round up

May 6, 2009

At various points during our trip, we’ve tried to implement a plan of rising early to sightsee before retiring to our guesthouse to seek refuge from the midday heat. Despite the apparent simplicity of this plan, our efforts have been consistently thwarted by various factors. During our stay in Penang, such factors included sensory deprivation (our room had no windows and hence, it appeared to be midnight at all hours) and the fact that using an alarm clock whilst on holiday offends our sense of morality. And so we slipped into a far less sensible routine of shuffling around in the boiling sun until the inevitable collapse into a roadside stall for a restorative lime juice.

All afternoon recovery efforts were focussed on preparing to seek out our evening meal. Hawker eating in Georgetown is quite excellent. Every few metres, a collection of carts offers up endless varieties of tasty treats. Fellow shoe-stringer and kindred appetite Colleen had sought expert advice from a Malaysian friend and before we could say “Old Trafford Burger“, we were on the bus to Gurney Drive. Announcement of our destination earned us sage nods of respect from the bus driver and fellow passengers. We adopted a “divide and conquer” approach and later regrouped to share our culinary loot. Thanks Colleen – we wouldn’t have ventured out there without you.

(We must digress at this point to say that Penang bus travel is at odds with the previously mentioned “abandon hope” strategy: it is seamlessly efficient and simple. And the vehicles don’t look like they were made in People’s Albania during the immediate post war period.)

Our day trip to Batu Ferringhi gifted us the rare sight of a woman parasailing in full burqa. We also dabbled in an activity which is quickly becoming habitual: trespassing upon the grounds of 5-star resorts and imagining ourselves happily ensconced therein. Not sure if the excuse of “my parents honeymooned here” would have cut it with security at the Rasa Sayang, but thankfully we never found out.

And so we said goodbye to Malaysia. We had only planned to spend a couple of weeks here, but it ended up being about six. In summary: diverse, absolutely hassle-free and yet to reach the critical mass of tourists that turns taxi drivers into rabid animals.

We read a lot of newspapers in Malaysia and aside from now being full bottle on the constitutional crisis in Perak state, we were also pleasantly surprised with the standard and frankness of a lot of reporting and commentary. It’s also worth checking out the New Internationalist’s recently published country profile of Malaysia. Perhaps a little bit harsh, but unfortunately for Malaysia when they get it wrong, they get it really, really wrong.

Of vague final interest is that Tourism Malaysia is the Carlton Blues’ joint major sponsor for 2009. But don’t let this stop you going there.

highland fling

May 4, 2009

The Malays and Singaporeans go nuts for the Cameron Highlands and my “extensive” public polling (read: hastily-formed presumption) leads me to believe that this is attributable to one factor: it’s cold; apparently never above 25 degrees. It is often described in tourist literature as a “hill station”, which conjures up images of the sort of place where infirm colonials would be sent to recover. And hence, an appropriate location for us to regain our strength after the excesses of KL.

But the immediately apparent downside of the CH’s popularity is the proliferation of enormous and mostly hideous apartment complexes to cater for weekenders from more hellish climates. Nothing like having your panoramic view of the lush, emerald green hillscape obstructed by a 20-storey, mock-Tudor high rise monstrosity.

Thankfully, there remain pockets of glorious countryside unmarred by concrete and we loved our hike through the Boh tea plantation, powered by visions of tea and scones awaiting us at the fairly impressive cellar door-style operation in the valley. Plus, as children of staunchly Anglo-Australian upbringing, we felt a sense of overarching duty to pay homage to the corduroy striped hills of tea goodness.

As an aside, CH also gave us ample opportunity to further test our “abandon hope” strategy for catching the bus:

Step 1: make extensive enquiries about the scheduled departure times and frequency of buses for desired destination.
Step 2: promptly arrive at departure point full of enthusiasm for the day’s planned activities.
Step 3: wait around at departure point for interminable period of time, noticing that departure point becomes increasingly hot/dusty/smelly with each agonising minute that passes.
Step 4 (integral step): Abandon hope.
Step 5: Bus arrives. Whoop with joy.

tropical beer notes #4

April 17, 2009

Jaz Beer – Malaysia – 5.5%

jaz

My aim for this beer note was to work in some sort of gag referencing ‘all that jazz (Stetsasonic)‘ and/or ‘all that jazz (Chicago)‘ unfortunately my segway skills are down right now. Anyhow this was actually pretty good, some upfront hops before it disappears down the throat. Did the job earlier today when I staggered back to our digs looking like I’d just been dunked in Georgetown Harbour. 10/20

hot in the city

April 1, 2009

petronas

We’ve both been to KL before and were unanimous in our recollection that it lacked the “je ne sais quoi” which makes the great cities of the world so great. Nevertheless, we had a few tasks in mind that would best be completed in the city and ended up pleasantly surprised when we stumbled across aspects of KL that exuded a certain sultriness not detected on previous visits.

Task #1: Celebrate Linds’ birthday city-style. This basically meant embarking on a multi-day overindulgence-fest which left us both washed up on the shores of shabbiness. The several preceding weeks of relatively clean living had left us dramatically out of form and by jove, we knew about it. Birthday Boy‘s number one request was beers and a burger of unforeseen proportions, so we made a beeline for the one place we knew could fulfil this tall order effortlessly: the Shangri-La. Insert painful food-induced coma here. Katie and Alex once again proved to be stellar companions as they enthusiastically kept pace with our celebrations and politely allowed Linds to explain the intricacies of AFL ad nauseum over beers and shisha. Alex even allowed himself to be foolishly duped convincingly persuaded to support the mighty Dees when their travels eventually lead them to Australia.

Task #2: Obtain extended Thai visa from embassy, because 14 days isn’t nearly enough. Our maiden encounter with the idiosyncracies of Asian diplomatic bureaucracy found us drastically underprepared and lacking in multiple photocopies of relevant documents, which meant we had to traipse out embassyland on three consecutive days. Hence, most of the activities related to Task #1 were preceded by activities relating to the completion of Task #2. Way to put a dampener on a party. We amused ourselves during the endless wait by spying on other applicants with weird passports (vision of hell: travelling on a Somali passport) and eavesdropping on the dealings of said applicants with “the lavender assassin”: a tiny lady official who, although cute in appearance, shot steely looks from underneath her lavender headscarf as she scrutinised and ultimately smacked down applicants deemed unsuitable. Hilarious, so long as we weren’t on the receiving end.

So back to the sultry part. We spent a lot of time exploring Chinatown and environs noting the weird and wonderful contrasts which, upon reflection, we think contribute to cities becoming great, as mentioned above. Within spitting distance of our hotels (we clocked up 3 in total: the good, the bad and the ugly) we discovered Confucian schoolchildren endlessly performing marching practice (and seemingly, failing to improve at all); wealthy Saudi housewives dressed in full burqa haggling over knock-off Prada; and immaculately groomed (and rather beautiful) Indian tranvestite prostitutes. Add a degree of chaos that comes with the daily oscillation between tropical heat and torrential rain and you’ve got yourself the makings of a half-decent city.

jungle boogie

March 29, 2009



linds1

My goodness, it’s been a while since we last wrote. Apologies, dear reader.

A 6am departure on the jungle railway saw us bid farewell to Kota Bharu under the cover of darkness. And thus began a stretch of increasingly sweaty days from which we were finally delivered by fleeing to the highlands – although notable mention must be made of the gang, who generously funded some brief respite in air-conditioned comfort while we celebrated Linds’ birthday in KL. Oh, to reclaim a non-sweaty state!

The jungle railway, although a decrepit old rattler, had a definite charm to it. This was despite the fact that we could have chosen another transport option that would get us to our destination in half the time. Although such travel is not necessarily always the less expensive option, at a mere AU$6 each for this trip, who could complain? It’s a luxury we’ve been able to enjoy a few times now by virtue of being on no fixed time schedule. Such travel also has a certain nobility to it (“nobility”: fostering a smug sense of self-righteousness) and somehow, you don’t seem to mind the uncomfortable seat and lack of ventilation quite as much as you might otherwise. And so we chugged along for nigh on 9 hours through the jungle, stopping at every tiny village along the way and entertained by the irrepressible Naomi and a scraggly but endearing family of German ferals.

Our home for one night only was Jerantut which, sadly, lacked the charm of the jungle railway – or perhaps Catie is just bitter about the bedbugs? Admittedly, we did enjoy “Happy Chicken” for dinner and a interesting chat about icecreams with the teenage checkout boy at the supermarket (aren’t all chats about icecream interesting?).

boat1

The boat ride into Kuala Tahan the next morning fell into the category of travel described above and the trip to the park would have been worth it for that alone. Insert numerous witty comments about journeying into the “the heart of an impenetrable darkness“. And thus began our fruitful relationship with fellow travellers, Alex and Katie, who we met on the boat and quickly identified as being top sorts. It may sound like madness to volunteer to trek through the jungle with virtual strangers, when patience is likely to be strained by the steamy conditions, but they were the perfect hiking companions. We only hope they are saying the same thing about us.

Hiring a guide was optional, but ours was worth the investment. Suhaimi (Mi) had an uncanny ability to mimic bird and insect noises and a keen eye for spotting tiny things we would never have noticed otherwise. Or not-so-tiny things, in the case of the elephant footprints he pointed out.

Now, the sixty-four thousand dollar question: did we see any wild animals? We knew the odds weren’t good but Mi told us he saw elephants on a few occasions each year, so we remained hopeful. As night fell, we waited on the viewing platform for a tell-tale rustling of bushes… but nothing. Some fireflies floated about and the cacophony of birds and insects crescendoed like an orchestra. Alex and Katie saw a tapir when they resumed watch at 4am after being rudely awoken by a cheeky rat – which must have coincided with the one hour period where we managed to snatch some sleep, because we missed it. Ho hum.

Other highlights included our inaugural “leeching”, giggling as we compared levels of sweat drench and the Korean guy we met at the campsite who has been on the road for three and a half years and has visited every country on the globe except Iraq, Sudan and North Korea. Highlights did not include the Swedish snorer and sleeping in my raincoat because I got cold from my damp, sweaty clothes… eeeew….

Upon our return the following morning, a celebratory meal of roti canai and banana milkshake has never tasted so good.

After our lengthy absence from the world of blogging, we are planning somewhat of a blog blitz in the next few days to make up for it, so stay tuned.

tropical beer notes #3

March 29, 2009


Guinness Foreign Extra Stout Malaysia – Malaysia – 6.8%

This is not Guinness as you know it. Foreign Extra Stout (FES) is a world away from the super cold, creamy-headed sessional that is lugged by the kilolitre at the local. It’s good. Really good; even Catie likes it. What’s so welcome is that it has the muscle to compliment the flavours of the local grub – most of the Asian regional flagships are really not up to the job. It has back bone – a big tasty structure that holds it all together. Viscous and black as the ace of spades; frothy brown “Bells Rapid” foam head; coffee, liquorice and molasses; high in alcohol but not so strong that a second will send you tumbling from your plastic stool.

Time for some historical revisionism: stout abounds in Asia, with most of the local breweries producing one. A legacy of colonial tastes in the 19th century. Only parliaments, cricket and railways are equals in the race for such a worthy legacy of empire.

guinness-can

And for the beer nerds (surely the only ones left reading – hi Beno): note the dog’s head on the neck of the bottle. It’s a nod to Guinness’ history of Dublin recruiting local breweries to produce a stout based on the original St James Gate recipe. An unfermented but hopped Guinness wort extract (isn’t that what Vegemite is?) is apparently shipped from Dublin, which is combined with domestic ingredients to produce a local version. Often the local labels made little or no mention of Guinness. In Malaysia, Guinness was once known as Dogs Head Stout. So the pooch remains. Pretty cool. Confusingly, St James Gate also produces another Foreign Extra Stout, coming in at 7.5% and occasionally available in Perthland. 15/20

waking up in malaysia

March 6, 2009

Mornings in Malaysia generally begin with us stirring to the sounds of the call to prayer wafting/blasting in through the window. From dusty hamlets to turquoise beaches to KL it’s nearly always there. It reminds me of our first big trip together, lying in Sultanahmet in June 2002 the call came roaring into my ears at 5 in the morning. I’d never heard those ancient lines before, but from that moment on it’s always reminded me of good times on the road.

Anyhow, translated from Arabic it reads:

Allah is the greatest
I bear witness that there is no deity except Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah
Make haste towards worship
Make haste towards the true success
Prayer is better than sleep
Allah is the greatest
There is no deity except Allah

Each line is repeated 2 or 4 times. Note line 6: perhaps Muhammad had a sense of  humor…?

tropical beer notes #2

February 25, 2009


Royal Stout – Malaysia – 8%

Easygoing, chocolatey, ‘same same’, sweet – you can feel the alcohol warmth. The label reminds me of a certain omnipresent chocolate brand, and coming in at a huge 8% it did reduce your humble correspondent to something of a cadbury.

Beers tend to fit into a ‘mega brand lager’/’very strong’ division up here. Perhaps with the cost of booze being quite high for the locals it’s temping to hop into a special brew or bear beer and let all your troubles quickly/far too quickly slip away. 12/20