Tuesday, 29 May 2007

From KL to PL

A fine time was had in KL by all. It took three attempts to get up to the sky bridge crossing the Petronas Towers, the first time it was closed for the night, the second all the tickets for that day had sold out, I say sold, they're free to get, and then the third time we got it right. It's a double decker bridge that you reach by a service lift (very glamorous) with about another 30 people or so and shoot up, and then back down at a rate of two stories per second. We went for a peaceful stroll through the butterfly world, where Nic, deciding she wasn't excited enough threw herself down a set of stairs cutting her foot, trying to outdo my mum who threw herself across a pavement the night before. Both are still adamant that dinner was accompanied exclusively with soft drinks.

Transport across the city was undergone mostly by monorail or the underground trains which are driver less and all operate from the big brain hidden in the depths of the city somewhere. Roads were never really the fastest option, partly because everyone in the city who thinks they are important, and this goes right across the board down to minor politicians and such like, get escorted by a huge cavalcade of police cars and bikes. You could not sit in our 11th floor suite for 10 minutes without hearing the wail and honks of another apparently Very Important Person passing by. The PM back home wouldn't get a cavalcade half as big as some of these people who seem to be crippling the road infrastructure and the road police resources.

Evenings were spent either dining or window shopping. There was a big mall attached to our hotel and in the basement, there were no shops, but the floor is full of restaurants - all of them proper restaurants, not like a food court. The really neat thing was that you could pick the restaurant you liked the most and then ask for a menu to be brought to you from one of the other companies and you could order from their menu. We ate in the steak house, Dad and I ordering from their menu while Nic ordered from the Turkish restaurant and my Mum had Malaysian. At one point we had three different members of table staff attending to our table, and then at the end three different bills to sign. It was all lots of fun and very confusing.

After KL, Mum and Dad headed off to part two of their journey which was to an exclusive private Island resort called Pangkor Laut. We in turn set off following their shadow so as to spend more time with them again later and went for the less exclusive location of Pangkor Island, which to try and prevent confusion here, is the big island that people live and work on, and which Pangkor Laut (meaning Pangkor little) sits off the shore of.

We arrived on our Island (big) which is a popular holiday location for Malaysians and got a bright pink minibus taxi van thing to our little village that we had pre-booked our accommodation at. We had only about 12 hours on Pangkor in the end because my parents had got their customer service manager on side and had worked a very good deal for us to be able to come and spend a night on their island too. The first ferry onto Pangkor Laut was at 8am from the mainland town of Lumut, the same place the public ferry to Pangkor (big) departs from. To maximise our time on Pangkor Laut we decided we get the first ferry over from Lumut and then leave by the last ferry the following day. This meant though, that as we got off our ferry on Pangkor (big) at about 6pm, we would be getting back on the ferry at 6am the following morning to return to Lumut where we would get the next ferry back out to Pangkor Laut.

Still following this? It was all very confusing but meant that we basically had 12 hours to soak up an authentic Malaysian holiday spot where the Malays go on holiday and see how they do it before heading over to the posh private holiday resorts where the westerners do it - not quite so authentic but very very nice.

ANYWAY, first we had Pangkor (big) to enjoy and we had come during a holiday weekend. The village we stayed in had a lovely beach probably about a kilometre long but it was one of the thinnest beaches I have seen. Less than 20 metres of sand sat between the waves and the grassy verge which climbed up to the row of food stalls which hid the road from view behind. The beach was mobbed with people, all having a good time. Palm trees sprung out from between the stalls and leaned across the beach meaning you got your feet wet walking around unless you ducked underneath it, not an option for the few that had little rope swings with wooden seats hanging from them. Some people were offering rides on the back of jet skis and motor boats and these would roar towards the sand from the water and push up onto the shore as paddlers leaped out of the way as fast as they could. One of the things that stood out though was that it was mostly men and boys in the water - not a lot of girls. This small puzzle was solved on closer analysis which revealed most of the holiday makers were Muslim and as such the women dressed very conservatively and wore headdresses, not really an ideal swimming combination. A good time was being had by all though, including ourselves.

After the sun set the crowds (who were a well balanced mix of ages and families) headed to the restaurants and spent the night in what seems to be a national past time for Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia - Karaoke! I think I forgot to mention the Karaoke booths in KL and Singapore where you pay money to get sealed inside this big plastic pod and screech away to your heart's content. And these things are not confined to video arcades, in Jogjakarta (Indonesia) there was a row of them randomly in the middle of a mall. Anyhow, the howls from the restaurants (they don't have pubs or bars) rose into the night while, back at the hotel, I descended the complex into darkness by tampering with our ill working electric shower. An early rise the next day would take us to Pangkor Laut where there was no such problems with the showers.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

From Rags to Riches

There was nothing wrong with The Dragon Inn. It was clean, secure and had a separate shower cubicle within the bathroom, whereas most places have a habit of just putting a shower head somewhere above the toilet or sink. It had hot water, and the altitude of the 7th (6th) floor meant the cockroaches were tiny and generally scared of us - which hasn't always been the case.

But when my parents arrived in town, they treated us to a room in their hotel too for the next few days. It was time to pack up and head across town to the Ritz. Shunning the option of a taxi, we thought it would make far more sense to load our bags on our backs, and march through China Town in the midday heat, take the monorail to a station about ten minutes from the Ritz, choosing not to see the stop nest door to it, and then walk there.

We executed our plan with 100% success thus arriving in the opulent reception, soaking with sweat, looking rather downtrodden, with huge bags on our backs and fronts and a carrier bag or two in our hands for maximum gypsy effect. The doorman, to his credit, smiled under his moustache but wasted no time in opening the door for us as we slipped between the parked limos. The smack of the ice cold air on our faces was to die for as we entered reception. This was after all, 5 star air conditioning. Having forgotten to wipe our feet on the door mat, in our haste not to block the door, there was nothing to do but traipse across the luxurious Persian rug that filled the expanse of the lobby. Strolling past the fruit bowl and under the chandelier towards the reception desk, it was clear the receptionists didn't know what to make of these wayward backpackers who had obviously found themselves in the wrong part of town. Three of them busied themselves shuffling paper while failing to hide their enjoyment at our apparent intrusion while the forth politely asked if there was anything she could do for us. Resisting the urge, sadly, to put on my best gruffest drunkard Scot impression I said I was here to check in. Slowly the cogs started to turn, and sure enough, to everyone's surprise, there was indeed a booking under my name. The bell boy ran up to take our bags, and the others behind reception gave up their charade and stood blatantly over girl 4's shoulder to see for themselves this preposterous booking. After the formalities we were then escorted by the duty manager to our room, and invited to settle in.

Our room was unsurprisingly fantastic. We had an enormous bed, a living room space with two piece suite, plasma screen and DVD, a study and a massive bathroom. We thought we had hit the Jackpot and then we found out we had a personal butler!

Quandary in Kuala Lumpur

Borneo was finished, and it was time to leave the leafy jungle behind for the concrete one - Kuala Lumpur. We had a few days to kill before my Mum and Dad were arriving in town. They decided to take their holidays this year somewhere on our route and Malaysia, it was decided would be the place. But first, Nic and I had to find a place to stay, and having been well served by Chinese hotels before now, we decided to head to Chinatown.

The routine for finding a hotel is roughly as follows:

1 - consult our next to useless 'rough guide to south east Asia' book (we have scored out the word rough on it's cover and replaced it with our own description). And look for where the majority of accommodation is.

2 - either book ahead, or decide there is plenty of options and exercise increased bargaining power upon arrival.

3 - if not booking ahead, plan a route through our pre-chosen area and set off to hotel no. 1.

4 - upon arrival ask if they have a suitable room, what the rate is and if we can see it.

5 - after inspection, the hotel will be categorised into one of three groups: a; No Chance! - b; Let's move on but we'll maybe come back. - c; yes please, (varying in degrees of enthusiasm through to reluctant resignation).

6 - If a positive rating is given, bargaining is usually engaged in, which can sometimes be very worthwhile.

We chose to wait till we got there. Only Singapore has come close to being as tough a mission as KL was. The difference with Singapore though, was that everywhere was booked up already. Kl had plenty of vacancies though, and upon inspection it became apparent why. We spent somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, laden like pack donkeys, meandering through the streets and back roads looking for somewhere half decent.

In retrospect, we could have made things easier on ourselves though. For example the hotel with the locked iron gate across it's door, offered a big clue, but out of politeness we felt bound to inspect it after the prostitute/door-girl unlocked it for us. Also, the hotel where we climbed the long stairs into the dingy reception, climbed over the semi-permanent pile of stuff blocking the top of the stairs and then waited for the Chinese man in his underpants to finish shouting at the cigarette smoking receptionist while waving a toilet roll around, was also an unnecessary politeness.

Exhausted, and becoming increasingly unable to operate we decided we would park ourselves in McDonald's, buy a token purchase for the privilege, regain our composure and send one of us forth with executive decision making rights while the other sat with the bags, a finished small coke and an increasing sense of obtrusion. McDonald's lay across the six lane road of traffic, which seemed to be competing with Indonesia for the down-right-terrifying award. Slowly loosing the will to live, unable to find a gap in the traffic, we spied another McDonald's on our side of the road a few hundred metres away and headed for that instead, stopping only for one last desperate check of the hotel next door to it. After all our efforts, this one came up trumps and we happily took the lift to the seventh floor (though it was really only the 6th due to no 4th floor - a very unlucky number in China) and crashed upon our two single beds that would offer us sanctuary from the world until the roadworks started in the middle of the night.