And now for something completely different

Trip Start May 27, 2009
Trip End Nov 14, 2009

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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I arrived safely in Singapore which must have one of the most efficient baggage systems for a large international airport as my bags arrived at the carousel at the same time I did. I was met by my friend from Kuala Lumpur who had come down to meet me and catch up with a former work colleague from her time in Beijing. We ate out at the Newtown Circus hawker centre and had a mixture of local dishes such as carrot cake, which didn't involve carrots, and curried stingray which did involve stingray! I now have to get used to being very much in the minority as European and taller than the average– now that is different.

Time in Singapore was very short as we were catching the bus to KL the following afternoon – just time for a quick walk round the Clarke Quay area which is the old dock warehouses all gentrified into restaurants and bars. The bus journey to KL took just over 5 hours but the coach was very comfortable, it had more legroom than on most planes (well in economy class anyway) and there were movies - so time passed very easily. On approach to the bus station there lit up against the night sky was the KPMG logo – I nearly came out in a rash! Despite the shock I slept well after the start of catching up – it has been over 8 years since my last visit to KL and much has changed.

I reacquainted myself with the contents of my luggage and concluded that I still had too many clothes. If I were to do this again( wishful thinking) I would definitely cut down by at 30-50% as in most places there have been laundry facilities and here the maid does it – what can I say? Went for a walk to the local shops, past the lovely on site pool complex, and found my way to an enormous shopping mall, 1 Utama, which is one of many to have sprung up since my last visit. Lots of bargains – but as some wise person said "a bargain is only a bargain if it is something you need" – so apart from a pair of shorts I bought nothing else.

Next day it was off with my friend’s sister to the casino resort at the Genting Highlands, about an hour or so by bus outside KL. I wasn’t planning any gambling as I am completely clueless as to what you are supposed to do – and that includes slot machines – but it is fascinating to watch others and as you can imagine just like at home the punters were almost exclusively Chinese. Photography is not allowed in the casino which is a pity as it would definitely have been a different type of sight. Tea, coffee and juice were free so I helped myself several times to the Teh Tarik, a really sweet tea made with condensed milk. For the non gamblers there were other activities such as shopping, as ever, indoor and outdoor theme parks and, weirdly, a Snowworld. Back to base and a quick spin later round another mega mall – The Curve. KL is even more of a shopping destination than it was 8 years ago.

I ventured into the city proper next day by local bus and was confident of finding my way around as this was my 4th visit – but so much has changed with so many more high rise buildings that the whole landscape was different and I found myself quite disorientated for a while. However I eventually found my way to some old haunts near the Petronas Twin Towers including the lovely little park close by. I ended up spending more time than planned as I had to take shelter for over an hour from the afternoon downpour and when it rains here boy does it rain, so no chance of making it to the LCCT train station near the Towers without getting soaked to the skin. Why did I not just take an umbrella – well I had forgotten that there would be rain every afternoon.

And so from the wilds of the city to the wilds of Borneo as we all flew off the next morning for a weekend in Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo. My friend’s husband is a member of a Freemasons Lodge and he was attending as a guest a lodge meeting in KK. After checking in at our hotel we went our separate ways as the others were on a mission to shop for dried sea slugs (sometimes euphemistically called sea cucumbers) and I most definitely wasn’t! I have tasted one before and it was a never to be forgotten experience. I enjoyed walking along the waterfront and watching the fishing boats heading out into the South China Sea to get the catch for the evening fish market. There were several markets on the sea front, including a Filipino handicrafts market, a wet market and a dry market - mmmm dried fish smells – well very fishy. I had done quite a bit of wandering and as the weather was very hot and sunny it was time to head back to the hotel for a cool shower before dinner.

Dinner was at Krishna’s Fish Head restaurant so yes you can imagine the house specialty. This was an old haunt of a couple of Indian friends who were with us and had lived in Kota Kinabalu a number of years ago and who were friends of the owners. The restaurant is a very popular spot with the locals and there was a queue out in the street but a table had been set aside for us. Mrs Krishna did all the ordering for us and a feast appeared all of which was very tasty – if I were to not pick I would only say that the quail was a little dry – well one must have quail mustn’t one. Mrs K is credited with converting the local Malays to an appreciation of Indian food which they had previously thought too hot. Lots of hilarious chat over dinner including an old Indian remedy for a headache – did you know that sticking a small jaggy pine cone between your buttocks is the answer!  Apparently it works by taking your mind off your headache – well it would. Maybe as it is now pine cone season at home some of you might like to give it a try and let me know if it works.

I headed off next day on a tour to Kinabalu National Park which has at its centre Mount Kinabalu and is a UNESCO World Heritage Park. It contains an enormously diverse range of botanical and biological species many of which are unique to the park. For example over 800 species of orchid and the largest range of the carnivorous pitcher plant – oh and if you’re very lucky you might see an orang utan. I could see the mountain on the journey up but it was impossible to get a photo as the road was very winding and unfortunately when we got closer the cloud base was lower and it was impossible to see it. Also the normal access road to the park was closed as there was a race taking place on Mount Kinabalu. We visited the Botanic Gardens and I have to say given the blurb about the various species, I found them a bit disappointing apart from maybe seeing orchids and pitcher plants in their natural habitat – maybe it was the wrong season for the other flowering species. Next up the mountain 'resort’ of Poring Hot Springs which had a tree canopy walkway and then a walk to a waterfall which I have to say was more of a trickle. The hot springs and thermal baths were rubbish – really busy and not very clean looking. So on the whole a bit of a disappointing day – the drive up and down were good and I met a nice Korean couple on the tour and we are now Facebook friends. So a bit of a waste of money as I am sure you could get a normal local bus and go to the Park under your own steam.

Best part of the day was the fantastic seafood dinner at Restaurant Diamond with Krishna’s business partner Jalil as our chauffeur/guide for the evening. Crab cooked in the shell with a sweet honey/soy sauce, steamed prawns in egg white and Chinese rice wine and fish.

The small islands just off the coast are good for4 snorkelling so on our last day I took a wee speedboat from the pier and headed for one of the, Manukan, where I spent a couple of hour. The water was warm and clear and there were lots of different types of fish and coral so I was glad I had made the effort to go. One of the further out islands Sipadan is a world famous diving destination and I can imagine that it must be fabulous. It was extremely hot and sunny and despite having plenty of water, I developed a thumping headache which eased slightly but then came back with a vengeance when we were on the flight back to KL. Although it may have been triggered by the panic I had just before boarding when I discovered that the immigration control wifie had removed my Malaysian departure card – maybe she assumed that all foreigners would be leaving Malaysia but I was going back to KL and I would be in trouble when I did come to leave – so that involved running back upstairs, entering the No Entry and trying to explain my predicament. Luckily a very helpful lady flicked through all the cards and found it – phew. After a couple of Panadol from the air steward the headache eased and chatting to the Malaysian man beside me took my mind off it. He had only ever travelled outside of Malaysia to Saudi Arabia to complete his Hajj pilgrimage and was very interested in my experiences of travelling and keen to know my experience/opinions of Muslims – no pressure there then.

Had a lazy day next day, catching up on laundry and then relaxing by the condo’s pool complex and at last managing to finish the final Australian blog!

I didn’t have any digital photos so headed off the following day to join the hop on hop off bus tour, which seemed like a good idea as it works well in most cities. First stop the Central Market which mostly for arts and crafts but for 5 ringgit for 1o minutes I 'enjoyed’ the experience of having fish nibbling on my feet to remove dead skin cells – it was the weirdest 10 minutes ever but I recommend that everyone should try it. Chinatown as ever is the place to buy not the real version of almost anything but it is mostly for tourists as the locals must have only the real thing whether it is a Rolex Oyster or the latest Miu Miu handbag. I was shocked to see that they no longer play cricket at the Royal Selangor Club in the city – what is the world coming to? BY late afternoon the traffic had really built up and there was no hopping on and off – in fact there was hardly any movement at all – in almost 2 hours I think we hardly covered half of the route – I was trying to use the bus to get back to the Central bus station but eventually gave up – got off at yet another traffic jam and walked the rest. I don’t think the concept works here at all due to the traffic and I am not sure that I could recommend it unless you intend to treat it as a round city tour and not a HO/HO.

And so from the ultra modern KL with its gridlock traffic to the Cambodia and the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and travel by tuk tuk.  Details to follow in the next episode
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Agy on

It looks absolutely fantastic Ann. I can't believe the trip is coming to an end and this is the first time I've contacted you!! Look forward to hearing about it in person.

Love Agyx

BabsM on

Anne, can't belive your nearly at the end of your trip - will miss your blogs as I feel I have been on the trip as well. Awaiting the next instalment..........

Audrey on

Very informative yet again. Another great read. Our family holidays will now seem very boring and will want more out of a holiday now!! I guess I will keep sticking the lottery on!. I hope you still have that famous cardie - you'll neet it when you get back. See you on Monday xx

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