Island Life

After our five days in Ipoh we drove down to KL. In the two hours it took to drive the landscape changed from hilly and green to flattish and green. As we were heading for Lombok we wanted to drop some of our luggage and fly with as little as possible. The Royale Chulan once again showed that they are truly a service minded hotel. We had rooms booked after our trip to Lombok and we were told we could leave our bags there, without a fee or anything. A hotel worth every single one of its 5 stars. So after the luggage drop we drove to KLIA2, the airport outside KL where the less expensive flights leave from. It is a huge place and much nicer than many of the airports I have travelled from or to. Our flight to Lombok left early on Friday morning so we spent one night at the Tune Hotel, about 10 minutes walk from the terminal. The Tune Hotel is like most airport hotels- too expensive and not that clean or special in any way. The staff at the reception was really helpful and sweet though as was the guy working at 7 11. The best thing about the airport hotels is that you wake up at the airport and don’t have to worry about taxis or traffic. We got at least two more hours of sleep this way which was good but we still had to get up at 5.30. Not my cup of tea at all….

The flight to Lombok went smoothly but there were some turbulence which I really hate. I get dizzy and nauseous as does my oldest daughter. My youngest tend to fall asleep or laugh her way through turbulence. Getting a taxi at the airport was easy and we drive off less than an hour after landning. The roads on Lombok are fine but a bit narrow and winding, especially in the northern part of the island. That is also where the mountain area is and the big (still active) vulcano. We took a speedboat to Gili Meno, a small island close to Lombok, and at about 4pm we checked in to our hotel. We had booked two small bungalows at Sunset Beach Bungalow and after a quick change into swimsuits we jumped in to the ocean. Excellent way to spend an afternoon!

After dinner we sat and watched the sun go down and only went to bed when the mosquitos forced us to.

Ipoh part 3

My mother in law joined us in Ipoh and as she had been there before she told us that the children would most likely love the water park Lost World of Tambun. That turned out to be so true and not only for the children, us adults loved it too. It can get really crowded during holiday season but we had lots of space and there were no lines to anything, not even to order food. That is a very uncommon sight in Malaysia! Anyway, the water park was clean, fun and we stayed until closing. There are plans to expand other areas of the park, there will be a zoo opening and also some more activity parts. We only really spent time in the water part of the park but that is because the whole family love to swim and play in the water. For more information about prices and such check out the website http://www.sunwaylostworldoftambun.com  

Ipoh part 2

After a late breakfast we decided to take a look at one of the temples located close to Ipoh. We drove about 20 minutes to Kek Look Tong (or Kek Lok Tong or Kek Lock Tong, as usual in Malaysia you get several spelling options). It is a Buddhist temple located inside a cave and as you walk into it there are several small rooms to visit. There is also a garden sorrounded by the mountain and it is really peaceful and quiet. The school holiday had ended on the day of our visit so it was not crowded at all. We could walk around and take our time which was really nice. The whole family enjoyed it. Near the entrance/exit there are signs telling the visitors not to feed the monkeys. As we exited the cave we saw people feeding the birds and of course the more courageous monkeys where quick to grab the food. They were macaques and that is not the type of monkey you want to feed. They tend to get very cheeky and agressive once they become used to the easy access to food. After our close encounter with aggressive macaques on Langkawi I am not overly fond of that particular breed of monkey. I do wish people would make sure not to feed them as the result more often than not is that the monkeys are shot. As they become so aggressive they are a danger to people so please, no matter how cute they are do not give food to a macaque. It rarely ends happily. 

The children were tired in the evening so my mother volunteered as babysitter and my husband and I went for a walk. Ipoh is the fourth (or fifth depending on which source you’re using) largest city in Malaysia but it is not that busy in the evening. The areas we walked through were nice and quiet and lots of shops and restaurants were open but closed around 10pm. There is a night market just of Jalan Iskandar called Tingkat Pasar that opens at 8pm and closes around 2am every day of the week. Not much food on sale but lots of mobile phone acessories and other trinkets you might not know you need.

We ended up buying some popiah and ice coffee at a hawker place and slowly walking back to the hotel.  

Ipoh part 1

Driving in Malaysia is not for the faint hearted or the driver that insists on following every rule in the book. I have mentioned it before and I most likely will again but Malaysian drivers are not that keen on sticking to the rules. Every lane is a fast, slow, turn, double park lane- it all depends on the driver. So the only advise I can give you is to go with the flow, follow the pace on the road and BREATHE. Our trip from Melaka to Ipoh went smoothly and took about 5 hours with lunchbreak and all. No heavy rain and a clear sky meant that we got to see the mountains as we approached Ipoh. It is such a beautiful landscape around that city, no photos can truly capture it.

The Ipoh sign pictured below is in reality huge. On YouTube you can find videos of people climbing it and it is so tall.

We had decided to stay five nights in Ipoh and after some research I booked us at the Sarang Paloh hotel in the Old Town of Ipoh. The hotel was amazing, the staff ever so helpful and the rooms were both beautiful and clean. Every day two guys spent over an hour and a half cleaning our room and to be honest it was cleaner than our apartment back home. The only drawback was the traffic outside our room but we had been informed about that when we booked so it came as no suprise. My husband, two children and I had a family room that was really two rooms and a bathroom (with both a shower and a bathtub!). Loved it. My mother and mother in law shared a room and as it was overlooking the garden it was a lot more quiet than ours.

The corridor leading up to our room. It had a lovely mural on one wall.


Our room wasn’t cheap but I can truly recommend the place. They don’t serve breakfast but there is a great little place right next door where you can get a nice breakfast and lunch as well. As a hotel guest you get a 20% discount so don’t forget to mention where you are staying.

I loved Old Town and it was perfect for us to stay right smack in the middle of it. We parked the car at the free indoor parking space provided by the hotel and then we walked everywhere. Ipoh might be a big city but it sure felt like a small town when we went out at night. 

Melaka

The drive from T6 to Melaka went smoothly but we ended up driving to the wrong place after following the gps’ directions. Apparently there are more than one Jalan Masjid in the city… So after making a u -turn and checking the gps a bit more closely we ended up at Hotel Hong, about 5 minutes walk from Jonker Street and smack in the middle of the old part of Melaka. Excellent location, free parking, friendly staff and very clean. Only drawback was the lack of a fridge and an elevator. Heavy luggage does not get any lighter when there are only stairs to get your room. Once again we have overpacked, strange how we never seem to learn.

The children wanted to revisit the Oceanarium at The Shore and we all enjoyed it. I found these shrimps that were colourful and looked funny. Camel shrimps, a fitting name when you look at their backsides.

My husband and I left the children with my mother one evening and went to the Pak Putra restaurant. They are well known for their tandoori chicken and I understand why. It was delicious!

We enjoyed our three days in Melaka but felt that it is not really our kind of place. The inner city is so crowded and getting more and more touristy, but it is still worth a visit. Three days were enough for us as it was our second visit. The market on Jonker Street was as usual packed and busy and after an hour I was exhausted. My mother was overwhelmed and when she realised the market is EVERY Friday and Saturday she just shook her head.
We packed up and headed north to Ipoh.

The Escape part 2

Two weeks have flown by and we have been busy. First three days in Singapore, then three days in JB and then onwards to the house in T6. We have been to Desaru on a day trip, gone swimming at Diamond Hill, been to two Pasar Malam and more. On Christmas Day we went to Segamat to attend my husband’s second cousin’s wedding. It was truly interesting to take part in a Malay wedding and I am so happy that they invited us.  

The day after the wedding we went to the waterfalls at Gunung Ledang, not too far from Segamat. The water was cool and the children enjoyed it immensely. Us grown ups did too. 

After a couple of hours in the cool waterfalls we drove home and about ten minutes from the house in T6 we noticed a small truck by the roadside that sold durian. Durian is the smelly fruit which you either love or hate. When I first tried it I must admit I wasn’t too keen but now I love it. It does smell like something you really shouldn’t eat but it tastes so good. 

Tomorrow we will leave T6 and drive to Malaka. Or Melaka, Malacca or however you choose to spell it. 

The Escape part 1

So we are in Malaysia  now, landed in Singapore late on the 13th and then we crossed the border on the 16th. Right now we are at the house in Taman Sri Lambak, our second home as we call it. I have really slow internet so the posts about Singapore and Johor Bahru will have to wait. I have loads of pictures from Gardens by the Bay and Legoland plus some other places we have visited. Be patient and as soon as possible I will upload them. The plan for tomorrow is a drive to Desaru for some ocean time. Then on the 25th we are invited to a wedding in Segamat. I am beyond excited!!!

They do have some cool buildings in Singapore. I watched a video on YouTube about the city and a guy said “it’s like I’ve arrived in the future”. It is very modern but not soulless in any way. 

Singapore

Nearly there.

It is slowly dawning on me that we are actually flying to Singapore on Monday. When we booked the tickets 12th of December seemed so far away but now it is just around the corner. The car is booked, hotels are booked, places to eat have been researched and so on. As you already know both my husband and I are food lovers and I have to admit that food is a big part of why we love to travel in Asia. Don’t get me wrong, you can get good food in Europe too but it is usually soooo expensive and travelling in Europe is also expensive compared to Asia.

The plan for Singapore, where we will stay for three nights, is to visit the ArtScience museum again. We went there in 2015 when they had the DaVinci exhibition and it was awesome. This time they have two exhibitions that really fit our family; Journey to Infinity: Escher’s World of Wonder and NASA: a Human Adventure. We are also planning a visit to the Gardens by the Bay (http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en.html) and as my mother is travelling with us I am really looking forward to that. As a child I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and she loved flowers and gardens. My mother and I always think of her when we are surrounded be beautiful flowers.

My husband and I are huge fans of Mark Wiens (https://www.youtube.com/user/migrationology), a man who like us travels for food. The big difference is that he is now able to do it for a living and I am so envious. Imagine being able to do two things you love, eat and travel, and getting paid for it! My husband has made a long list of places to eat and a lot of them are actually from Wiens’ youtube channel.

The only thing that sucks is that no one has invented the teleporter yet, you know as in Star Trek and “beem me up Scotty”.  I will have to suffer through feelings of near anxiety on the plane for way too many hours once again. Hopefully it will all be worth it. Staying in Sweden one more winter is not an option.

Escaping winter once again.

We have been back in Sweden for one year, 4 months and 6 days… but who’s counting?!? I miss Malaysia every single day. The food, the sun, the food, the people, the food, the warm rain, the food. Did I mention the food? Don’t get me wrong, it is great to be back home, to  hang out with my friends, the children are playing with their friends, see my mother, the big family we have here and so on but I miss Malaysia a lot. That is why we are going on a vacation this winter, we will leave the dreary winter cold Sweden for some weeks in Asia. We will arrive in Singapore on the 13th of December and fly back home from KL on the 19th of January. During that time we will visit Singapore, Johor Bahru, Kluang, T6, Muar, Melaka, Ipoh, KL and also Lombok (Indonesia). Some of those places are revisited; others are brand new locations for us.

This time, my mother is coming with us and for her everything will be a first as she has never been outside of Europe. The children are already looking forward to guiding her around at their favourite spots and eating dinner at Musa’s in T6. His satay is missed, and also the ayam soup which is to die for. They are also planning a trip to Legoland in JB and apparently there is a new water park in JB called Austin Heights something. My husband and I are mostly excited about not having to put on heavy winter clothes for at least part of that horrid season called winter. And the food, always the food.

So if there are any readers left, you can look forward to a new escape from winter and some ideas about where to travel in Malaysia- and Indonesia!

Aquaria KLCC, lots and lots of fish

When we arrived in Malaysia in October 2014 we stayed a week in Kuala Lumpur before we left for Taman Sri Lambak. We did this to adjust to the climate and also to do some sightseeing. Our visit to Aquaria KLCC was such a success that I had to promise my oldest daughter that we would return one more time before going home to Sweden.

So six months later I took both the children to Aquaria while my husband went on a photowalk through the city. It is easy to get to, either you walk in the airconditioned walkways or take a taxi or bus. As we were staying at the Royale Chulan it only took us about 15 minutes to walk there and if you choose the walkways there are no crossing the roads or anything that might feel scary if you walk with young children. Even in such a big city as KL people still managed to find time to help me lift the buggy down a short staircase. I never stop being surprised at Malaysian society and how different it is from back home.

The entrance fee to Aquaria KLCC is RM 53 for adults and RM 42 for children, I think it is free up to 3 years of age. It might sound expensive but it is a really nice and well kept aquarium. They have a petting pool area with a lot of fish for the children to touch and look at. The people working in that area are full of smiles and know a lot about the animals in the pool. Overall I found the staff to be very helpful and knowledgeable at both our visits. When we went through the long tunnel (the fish and sharks swim in a huge aquarium over your head and on the sides) a young man working there stopped us and told my children some interesting facts about the stingrays and other fish. If you have children that are interested in the ocean and all its creatures you can easily spend two hours or more at this place. The gift shop, named Atlantis, is actually pretty good and you can find educational things and cool t-shirts as well as a lot of other stuff. We ended up bying a few gifts and my youngest chose a t-shirt with dancing fish on it.

AquariaKL2014Bigfish

There is a small food court as you leave the Aquaria but there are nicer food and more to choose from if you keep on walking and go to two food courts at the towers. They are only five minutes away. My daughter did however find an ice cream stall at the smaller food court and she said it was really good ice cream. I myself had a smoothie that was pretty good but slightly overpriced at RM 9.90. The place is called New Zealand Natural, they have lots of flavours to choose from and frozen youghurt as well. I think you can find them all over Malaysia as they are a chain of restaurants.

If you want to know more about Aquaria check out their website on http://www.aquariaklcc.com

Six Months in Sweden.

Six months ago we arrived back home in Sweden. Time does fly… The thing is, the first couple of months were pretty good. It was nice to be back, seeing friends and family again and the summer in Sweden is usually pretty good. This year it rained. A lot. But the end of July and most of August was sunny and kind of warm, not hot and humid as in Malaysia, but warm enough.

Then September came, still not too bad but one morning when I walked out the door I could smell Autumn in the air. You might think that as a Swede I love the different seasons, the leaves changing colours, the crisp, cool air in the morning and blah, blah, blah. NO I DO NOT!! Well, the trees are pretty IF the sun comes out which it usually doesn’t. And it sucks to ride your bike to work/ school when it is 5 degrees. And it sucks even more when it is -15 degrees which it will be in like a month or so. Then we have the darkness, the endless hours of NO SUNSHINE at all. You get out of bed, it is dark outside. You go to work/ school, still dark outside. You come home, it is dark outside… If you are lucky you might get a glimpse of the sun around lunchtime. If you are lucky.

And don’t get me started on the food… I miss Malaysian food every single day. I miss not having to cook and I miss not having to decide what to cook. But most of all I miss eating good food every single day. The food in Sweden isn’t awful, it is just that everything is less fresh as it has travelled quite far to get here. We can’t grow everything here, far from it. And in the supermarkets everything is packed and neatly stacked, plastic fantastic. I miss the markets and the tiny shops where everything is fresh.

The children did miss grandma’s meatballs when we were away so they are happy when she comes around with a whole box of them. Yum…

IMAG1324

Leaving on a jetplane…

Sorry for not posting anything for quite some time, but I have had four busy weeks filled with things to do. Some of it boring and tedious, other fun and exciting. Sorting and packing all our stuff was stressful, selling our car and locking up the house was sad and strange. Leaving the village we have called home for six months was emotional,so was saying goodbye to all the people we have gotten to know. Our last week in Taman Sri Lambak went by so fast and all of a sudden we were on our way to Kuala Lumpur and our final week in Malaysia.

For our stay in KL we had chosen The Royale Chulan, a five star hotel in the Bukit Bintang area. Our oldest daughter had for some reason gotten it into her head that she wanted to stay at a five star hotel. I honestly don’t know where she got the idea from or how she even figured out about the star system. Anyhow, the Royale Chulan looked great and they had a good offer on their website. If we stayed seven nights we only had to pay for four. And when we arrived we were not disappointed. The greeting we got from the bell boys was ever so nice, as usual our children got most of the attention. We got an up grade of our room, it was a really nice and big room with a huge bathroom. The breakfast buffet was enormous, there was so much to choose from that on the first morning I just wandered around and ended up eating mostly fresh fruit and some really good indian food. I can honestly say it was the best breakfast on our trip, even the coffee was acceptable! And the staff was so nice and friendly, we were really pleased with everything. The children loved the pool area and we spent a lot of time there. We were all rather tired and our last week was slow paced and focused on what the children wanted to do. All to soon our last night came along and after a fish ball noodle soup and a sugar cane lime juice at Food Republic it was time to leave for the airport.

After about a million hours on the plane we touched down on Swedish soil again. Leaving the plane and walking in one of those narrow passages connecting the plane to the airport we all felt cold and our oldest daughter wondered why the air con was so cold. When I told her it wasn’t the air con but the cold air from outside seeping in she looked at me with big eyes and said: Really?? But it is so cold…

Welcome to Sweden honey!! In KL it was around 40 degrees (Celsius that is) and the humidity was around 90%. The day we arrived back home it was around 5 degrees and the humidity was around 2%. I thought I was going to die on the short walk from the airport terminal to the car…

After being home for nearly three weeks I still feel a bit lost and out of place. I miss so many things from Malaysia; the food, the sunshine, the friendly smiles everywhere, the coffee. As I write this I am sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee and looking out the big window at the people passing by. The sun is barely out, hiding behind heavy clouds and making everything and everyone look drab and grey. The coffee is more acidic than any coffee I have had for the past six months and all around me people are so busy, mostly with their smartphones and not the person sitting next to them. Our lives are back to normal, as if we have never been away.The youngest daughter has started kindergarten and loves it, our oldest loves playing with her friends again. And both of them are thrilled to be able to spend time with my mother again. According to them she is the best grandmother EVER. I love the fact that we have a chance to leave the children for a couple of hours sometimes, six months with the children 24-7 is a very long time. My pet name for them is “little monsters”, always said with love but if you have children you know it can be very intense at times.

I have lots more to write about so I will keep updating the blog for some time. And the prospect of spending a winter in Sweden ever again feels awful and we have already started talking about our next escape. I have heard good things about Vietnam…

Kota Kinabalu, the ocean and a cold from hell.

So we went on a final vacation from the vacation. As our departure date looms in the not too distant future we decided we needed some beach and oceantime. This time we flew to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah on Borneo. We chose the destination because it is easy to get to, Air Asia has about five flights a day from Johor Bahru, and the snorkelling is supposed to be pretty decent. And the flight time is about two and a half hours which is nice when you’re travelling with young (and very active) children. I hate flying and get really stressed which the children pick up on and then the whole family kind of implodes. So a short flight is easier on the nerves.

Senai Airport outside Johor Bahru is small but well functioning. We opted for the slightly more expensive long term parking which meant that the car was parked indoors and with security guards 24/7. Sometimes it is worth to pay a bit more, and feel that the car is parked in a safe place.

We had booked eight nights at the Dreamtel Hotel. Most of the hotels in Kota Kinabalu is located in the central part of the city, or the business centre as they call it. You can find really cheap hostels and very expensive high end hotels. Dreamtel is somewhere in between and was a perfect choice for us. Our room had a view of the city and the ocean, and the very busy road as well as a bus station. If you’re a light sleeper I think you should ask for a room facing the woods instead. Me and the rest of the family can sleep through anything and enjoyed watching the fishing boats, the sunset and all the people walking towards the night market.

On our first day we went to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. It is a semi big zoo that focuses on Asian animals. They have a show with snakes, birds and other animals which is included in the entrance fee and our children enjoyed it a lot. I liked the two tigers, especially seeing one of them sitting neck deep in the water and looking very happy and relaxed. The park is well maintained but some areas are looking old and worn. The two ostriches did not look happy, and one sun bear looked really depressed. But all the other animals looked healthy, even though I felt that some of the enclosures could have been bigger. Entrance fee was RM 20 for adults and RM 10 for children (below 3 years old free). Well worth a visit if you have the time and have children that like animals. Make sure you eat before going there though, the restaurant was closed and it didn’t look like it was opening again anytime soon.

Our main reason for the trip was snorkelling and on our second day we went to an island about 10 minutes away by speedboat. We actually booked one of those package deals, very unusual for us but we decided to try it. The package included buffet lunch on the beach, snorkelling equipment, transfer to and from the jetty, speedboat, a guide and entrance fee to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. It cost us a whooping RM 440 (RM 160 per adult, RM 120 per child, below 3 years old free) and for us it wasn’t worth it.
On the island we went to, Mamutik, the barbeque buffet lunch was really mediocre. I only ate because we had paid for it. When we went there on our own a couple of days later we had lunch in the small restaurant. Much tastier and cheaper!
But the snorkelling was good, the water was very clear and we saw fish as soon as we got off the boat. The children enjoyed our day out and so did we. Close to the beach the coral is stepped on a lot and it is a shame. Tourists that can’t swim that well end up walking around a lot and so they kill the coral. If you swim out further you will find live coral and also plenty more species of fish. My husband actually swam the whole way round the island and saw sharks!

If you want to go to the islands on your own you just take a taxi to Jesselton Point. From our hotel it cost RM 15 one way. Then you buy a ticket for one, or more islands, from whichever vendor you like the best. The price is the same, but they will shout and try to coax you into buying from them. If you go to one island the price is RM 23, then you have to pay a jetty fee of RM 7.50 and the entrance fee to the marine park is RM 10. For children under 3 years old everything is free, for older children you pay slightly less than the adult prices.

We also went to the Manukan island which we also liked but we felt that Mamutik was more childfriendly, or at least felt better for our family. On all the bigger islands there are food and drinks to buy, toilets, changing room and freshwater showers. If you read on Tripadvisor a lot of people complain about the cleanliness of the toilets and changing rooms but I found them to be clean enough. As usual, if you act like a pig the place will look like a stye, if you pick up after yourself and remember such a basic thing as FLUSHING after you’re done it is so much nicer for everyone. And we found the food to be good on both islands, as long as you skip the overpriced buffet lunch.

Going to the Green Connection Aquarium was a big disappointment, do not go there! A lot of tanks were empty, others were filthy and the whole place looked like it was in dire need of renovation. Or being torn down completely. Even our oldest daughter said the place was pretty awful and she is usually very easy to please when it comes to animals. She said the fish looked sad. I felt sorry for the people working there, they were really nice but the place was a huge let down.

I usually have one or two bad colds a year and one of them hit me midway through our vacation in Kota Kinabalu. So I ended up spending two days in bed, watching tv and resting. As much as you can rest with two children that are very attached to their mother and wanted to stay in the room with me for most of those two days. Sometimes I think about the life I had before the children and I realise I didn’t appreciate things like going to the bathroom on my own enough. Or eating a meal without having to chase a wild child in the middle of it, or sitting down and read a whole book in one day…

But hey, you do get a lot of positive things in your life when you have children, and I never forget to be thankful that I got not one, but two healthy children. On Langkawi we met a couple that had, in our eyes, the most amazing life. They were from Holland but most of the year they lived and worked in different countries in Asia. They had no children but were very sweet to ours and as we talked one day they told us that they had not chosen to live without children. They looked at our family and saw something wonderful that they had never been given. And there we were, looking at their adventurous life and thinking it was perfect.

As I lay in that hotel room, watching Night at the Museum with my oldest daughter I thought about that couple and how life takes us on so many different journeys. Our six months away are soon coming to an end and I am very curious as to what comes next. Returning home I will be unemployed for the first time in many years and it both scares and excites me.

But for now I am on vacation, at least for another couple of weeks, and I am going to enjoy every last bit of it.

Johor Bahru

The hot and dry season has begun and with it comes the water rationing. Here in Taman Sri Lambak we have water for 36 hours, then no water for 36 hours and so it goes. Coming from a country where water shortage is unheard of (unless you have your own well and the summer is unusually hot and dry after a snowless winter) it is a new experience to plan your water usage. It kind of sucks to be honest. So we packed the car and drove to Johor Bahru, not really knowing what to do once we got there but feeling we needed to get away for the weekend.

We have been to Johor Bahru (or JB as everyone here says) before, my husband has relatives there and it is also the city bordering to Singapore. I must admit I have not been too impressed by the city, there is construction going on everywhere and it is messy, noisy and a tad bit unorganised. We had booked two nights at Tropical Inn, a hotel that once might have been pretty good but is now decent at best. The room we got was clean enough and had a fridge, kettle, free mineral water and tea/coffee. But everything is rather tired and worn, from the towels to the furniture. And the aircon is old enough to be a relic, quite noisy and a bit smelly. But we got free parking, a queen bed, a single bed and breakfast for RM 162 per night which is pretty cheap in JB, at least for the hotels in the central part of the city.

But I have to warn you, the area around the hotel is not a good place to walk around in at night. Close to the hotel is a methadone clinic, and it goes downhill from there. We went out for dinner our first night and I must admit I felt rather uncomfortable. A lot of people were just hanging around, sizing us up to see if we had lots of money and valuables on us. More than a few people were obviously high. It is not common in Malaysia as the laws are very strict concerning narcotics and to see people in the streets with that glazed, hollow look was a shock. JB is so close to Singapore and a lot of people come for the weekend to shop and stay in the posher hotels, maybe go to Legoland and so on. The Singaporeans get a lot of ringit for their dollars so everything is super cheap for them. But it also attracts people with a different agenda, people looking for easy money, some of them turning to prostitution, others to robbery. The crime rate in JB is alarmingly high, it is number 28 on the list of most dangerous cities in the world. If you google around you will find stories of people being robbed in carparks, near the malls and at gas stations. Singapore on the other hand is number 4 on the list of safest cities in the world, which makes for a strange contrast for a Singaporean when they cross the border.

That being said, you can avoid the darkest allies and not walk around with too much cash or all your diamonds showing. There are interesting things to see and do in JB, just be aware of where you walk after dark. Usually I huff and puff when people tell me things like that, I am a very trusting person and try to see good in everyone. But I was defeated that evening in JB, and I will not go out at night in that area again.

We went to the Arulmigu Rajakaliamman Temple, or as it is perhaps better known, the Glass Temple one evening. It is a beautiful hindu temple and we were lucky to get there at prayer time. We spent an hour there, listening to the chanting and music and looking at the statues. I highly recommend it if you’re the least bit interested in religion and culture. My youngest daughter loved the Buddha statue! Yes, you read correctly, the hindu temple has a Buddha statue. They also have a Jesus statue. Tolerance, I love that word and people who understand its true meaning. As a tourist/foreigner you pay RM 10 (children free) and an extra RM 3 if you want to take photos.

There are a lot of shopping malls in JB, most of them fill up with Singaporeans during the weekend and holidays. Komtar JBCC and City Square are right next to each other and both are huge. We walked around in there for a bit, feeling out of place. Bought a Lat book we didn’t have and had lunch in a small noodle place. We are not shopping mall people! I got a headache from all the noise and the aircon that must have been set on arctic temperature.

For our third and final night we splashed and booked a room at KSL. For RM 331 we got a room with a queen bed, a single bed, fridge, kettle, tea/coffee, slippers, toothbrushes, morning paper, breakfast and entry to the waterpark on the 7th floor. We have stayed at KSL before and I love their beds! But I hate the floor to ceiling windows that have huge stickers on them warning you not to lean against them. Having a young child that have no understanding of words like “danger” or “be careful” those windows are scary. So we pull the blackout curtains and leave them, pretending there is no window. The breakfast buffet is good enough but soooo crowded it’s ridiculous. People push and shove and seem to have forgotten all manners. The amount of food being left on the tables sickens me. And the coffee is bad, even by hotel standard. This time it tasted burnt and acidic, the coffee lover in me wanted to cry.

The waterpark is actually three pools with slides and dinosaurs that roars and moves a bit. One of them spits water, which the children love. This visit there was even a man dressed up in a cool dinosaur outfit walking around the pool area. Our oldest was fascinated by the “real” dinosaur. But the water is cold, too cold for our liking. We stayed little over an hour and by then our youngest was shivering and saying she was done. It started to rain so it was perfect timing for us to go up to our room, shower and have dinner.

I asked one of the concierges at KSL where we could find some good food, preferable within walking distance. He recommended the food court behind Paragon Hotel, it’s called Cedar Point Food Court. It’s a big food court with lots to choose from, and everything looks good. The prices are good too, a lot lower than what you get at the shopping malls. I had black pepper shrimp that was delicious, RM 18 for six gigantic shrimps. And the pak choy in oyster sauce was really good too, it is a favourite of mine and I think it goes with almost everything.

On our way home the next day we stopped at the AeonTebrau shopping centre. My husband is looking for a new lens for his camera and there were some camera shops there. It is a huge place but I liked it a lot more than the ones downtown. It felt less trendy and there were a mix of brand name shops and Malaysian ones but I like it that way. The food court was small but good, I had an ayam penyet (literally means smashed chicken) that was really tasty. Then we drove home, to Taman Sri Lambak and water rationing.

My father used to say that some places are great just because you know you can leave and go home. I think I feel that way about JB, I’m glad I don’t live there but I don’t mind visiting once in a while.

JB

Singapore, again.

We went to Singapore again the first week of March. Didn’t have any plans, just wanted to see a bit more of Singapore City and have a city vacation. We booked a room at Fort Canning Lodge (YWCA), mostly for its location and price. Being Singapore, hotels are never cheap but this one is not too overpriced. There is a pool, but when we were there they had swim school for young children so it was pretty crowded and we felt out of place. The wifi was good though, fast and included in the room price. No breakfast but there is a Kopitiam nearby where you can get coffee and toast for 2.50 dollars. Or you can order breakfast at the hotel, prices start at 6 dollars. We chose to go to the Kopitiam, the coffee is really good there.

We changed hotel for our second night as the Lodge was fully booked and we decided pretty late that we wanted to stay one more night. Ended up at The Strand, on Bencoolen Street, right next to a huge building site for a new tube station. We thought we would have a really bad night’s sleep due to the noise from the building site (in Asia they usually work 24/7) but we heard nothing due to good and thick windows. The Strand is old and worn but it was one of the cleanest hotel rooms I have stayed in. The bathroom was spotless, nice and fluffy towels and the room had everything we needed. And the hotel staff was super friendly and helpful, especially towards our children. The breakfast was good, one of the best hotel ones we’ve had on this trip actually. Even the coffee was good.

I wanted to visit the zoo, we went there in 2010 and I really liked it. Normally I don’t care much for zoos, animals in cages stresses me and I usually end up feeling sad that I went there. But Singapore Zoo is well kept and the animals have large enclosures to wander around in. It is pretty expensive, children over 3 years of age is 21 dollars and 32 for adults. There are quite a few restaurants at the entrance and they are all expensive and rather dull. The funny thing is that there are two KFC restaurants, one at the entrance and one inside the zoo. I myself don’t like their food but after eating a very limp and tasteless salad for 6.90 dollar I have to say that you can get worse than KFC at Singapore Zoo. But if you want good and inexpensive food, make sure to eat before you get there. Even the drinks and snacks are overpriced, even by Singapore standards. But I know it is the same in almost every zoo, amusement park, theme park and such, you pay double for everything in those places, at least in every country I have been to.

A funny thing happened as we were looking at the otters. Our youngest daughter was walking around and her shoes made the usual “peep peep” noise. Most shoes for toddlers have that sound effect here in Malaysia, it is both adorable and annoying as hell. Anyway, three young women were standing next to us and, in Swedish, said: I don’t understand why people buy that kind of shoes to their children!?! That noise!
Imagine their surprise when I turned around and spoke to them in Swedish… The looks on their, now a bit reddish, faces made my day!

If you want to see everything you will have to plan for a whole day at the zoo. We aimed to see most of it but not all and stayed for about 4 hours. March is still not the hottest month but it can get really warm and humid anyway and we were so tired when we got back to the hotel. And our oldest daughter had a sore throat that turned into fever and coughing so our last day in Singapore ended up being a late check out from The Strand and then we drove home to rest and recover.

White Tiger

The importance of a good cup of coffee.

I love coffee. Not in a slightly scary way as the people who can smell which plantation the beans are from, but in the “life without coffee is a life half lived” kind of way. I can go days without drinking coffee, but I prefer not to as I love the taste, and smell, of it. As I am quite the opposite of a morning person, one of the few things that makes the morning bearable is when I get that first whiff of the coffee in the kitchen.

If you come to Malaysia and only stay and eat in hotels and/or resorts you will end up sitting on your plane back home thinking that the coffee in this country is sad, pathetic and not really worthy of being called coffee. I have had coffee so weak I could see the bottom of my cup, some has tasted like bad tea, other like what I imagine asphalt tastes like and… Well, the list of bad cups of coffee goes on and on and on. The one thing they have in common is that they have all been had in hotels or resorts. I don’t know why they serve that stuff but it has nothing in common with the kopi (coffee) you get from the tiny restaurant around the corner. Or the crowded nasi kandar place, or the old man selling hot drinks from his old and battered stall or the busy noodle place. Trust me, Malaysian coffee is the stuff you drink in the morning and feel it was actually worth getting out of bed for. The hot, brown liquid the hotels serve you will knock you right back to bed, screaming for a real cup of coffee!

Even the kopi ice (ice coffee) is excellent, served with sugar, creamer or condensed milk and lots of ice. You can get it black but I prefer it with creamer and even the sugar, which is strange because I normally take my coffee black and I hate sugar in it. I guess the ice makes it a totally different beverage for me.

So when you get here, walk into a small, crowded eatery and order a cup of kopi. Enjoy!

Melaka, so much to eat!

As you might have guessed by now, we like food in this family. One might even go so far as saying we are obsessed with finding new things to eat, but I am not so fond of that word. Passionate, that is a word I like, we are passionate about food.

So this is a post about what and where we ate in Melaka. I will start with the most boring and bland experience. After finishing our visit at the Oceanarium we were starving. That is not good as we all get really bad tempered when we are hungry. Sadly, the food court at the Shore (the Oceanarium is located in a shopping mall) was still under construction. It looks promising but you never know with those shopping mall food courts. In any case, we ended up having lunch at Starbuck’s. My spicy chicken pocket was actually pretty good and the ice tea, or “iced shaken lemon tea”, was lemony and no too sweet. I still think RM 62.20 for a lunch is just ridiculous when all we had were drinks and sandwiches. But sometimes you grab what you can to avoid the family imploding!

The food in Melaka is amazing, if you like seafood you will have so much to choose from it will make your head spin. Be sure to try a Nyonya restaurant, it is an interesting version of Chinese food going back to the first Chinese immigrants in the city. I had a laksa that had so many layers of flavour it was more than yummy. My youngest daughter loved it too, she ate nearly half of it, spicy as it was. My husband had pineapple prawns that tasted sweet, sour and of the sea. So good! The Nyonya pineapple tart is also worth trying. It is a small, somewhat dry cookie with a soft and sweet centre of pineapple. It is sold almost everywhere in the city. We bought ours at LW Nyonya Pineapple Tarts House on Jonker Street, if you’re lucky you get to see them make the cookies.

One day we had lunch in the Portuguese Settlement. The Portuguese came to Melaka centuries ago and their descendants are still living there and keeping the traditional cooking alive. The grilled fish we had was so good I forgot to eat my rice. Simple flavours like garlic, lime and oyster sauce blended into bliss. Yum. The restaurant was called the Lisbon and was one of the few that was open for lunch. During the evening there are plenty of restaurants to choose between and you can sit near the ocean and eat while watching the sunset.

You can find nasi ayam (chicken and rice) everywhere in Malaysia and in Melaka they have it too. But here they have rolled the rice into balls and somehow that adds a new dimension to the dish. Be sure to try it! There are plenty of chicken rice ball restaurants to choose from, pick one that looks busy and clean. Next to the Hard Rock Cafe you will find Kedai Kopi Chung Wah where people stand in line for quite some time to have lunch. You will not be able to choose a table, you are ushered in and placed. They only serve chicken and rice balls so they just look at how many you are and food will arrive on the table. Don’t expect any smiles or friendly gestures from the staff, but the food is good.

As the nightmarket on Jonker Street goes on for three nights in a row (every weekend) we browsed around, looking for stuff to eat. There are plenty of food stalls to choose from, just grab what looks good and try it. Everything is cooked in front of you and is super fresh. Dive in!

Melaka, so much to do!

So we went on vacation from the vacation again. This time we went to Melacka, or Melaka, or Melacca. There is always at least two ways to spell anything in this country. We booked three nights at Swiss Heritage Hotel, thinking that would be enough. We ended up staying five nights and leaving already thinking about returning.

Melaka is great! It’s quite a big city, one taxi driver said 800 000 inhabitants, another said 650 000. Anyway, it feels like a much smaller city in a very positive way. The hotel we chose lay just off Jonker Street in the UNESCO protected area. This is the old city, packed with tiny shops, wonderful museums, hotels and restaurants.street Christ chuchIt is a beautiful part of Melaka, everything is within walking distance. We parked the car at the hotel on Thursday and didn’t use it again until Monday. Only time we used a taxi was going to Oceanarium at the Shore, a new aquarium located in a shopping mall about ten minutes drive from Jonker. Our children loved it, and we enjoyed it too. Entrance fee is RM 28 for adults, RM 18 for children over 3 years. There is a petting pool where you can touch different sea creatures, nicely lit and maintained displays and lots of interesting information written in Bahasa Melayu and English. There is a small Shell Museum and a Mangrove display. The gift shop is not huge and actually offers some cool stuff that isn’t too costly. Our oldest bought a paper mache turtle with watercolours and a brush for RM 5.90. The place is worth a visit if you like fish and other sea animals, you can easily spend an hour or two there.

We went to the Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum which was really good. The entrance fee is RM 15 for adults, children free. They give a guided tour of the upper floor and on the lower floor you are free to look around and take pictures. The museum shows the history of the first Chinese immigrants and their descendants, the men called Baba and women Nyonya. The displays are filled with jewellery and there are clothes and furniture to look at. The guide we had, Julia, was really good and could answer any question we had. She showed the children the smaller statues that they could sit on and the fish in the big bowl and so on, making it a nice visit for the whole family.

We went up the hill to Saint Paul’s Church, or the ruins of it. Half way up, with lungs on fire, I felt that maybe it wasn’t the best decision to climb all those stairs at 3 pm. Even after four months in Malaysia we got knocked off our feet by the heat and humidity in Melaka. Apparently this February has been unusually hot and humid due to lack of rain earlier months. That being said, it is a warm city anytime of the year so be sure to drink a lot and by that I mean water and juice, not beer. A lot of tourists make the mistake of drinking a nice, cold beer at lunch and forgetting to add some other kind of fluid like WATER that actually hydrates your body. It is so easy to get dehydrated if you forget to drink enough. And make sure to keep out of the sun during the middle of the day, walk in the shade and wear a hat. They sell lovely sunhats in almost every shop in Melaka, mine cost RM 10 and looked really nice. st paul

There is a night market on Jonker Street every weekend, so three evenings in a row you can wander around, looking at things and people. The market is almost too crowded and there are a lot of plastic toys and knick knacks on sale but overall it is a nice market with lots of local food and snacks.

Unfortunately some of the museums we wanted to visit were closed due to renovation. The signs said they should be open again in January 2015… Being Malaysia they will open when they open, forget what the signs say. I had wanted to visit the Anthropological museum and the Literature one but both were closed. But the Melaka Sultanate Palace was opened and I’m glad we went there. I think we paid RM 2 per adult and nothing for the children. It has interesting dioramas showing the history of Melaka and traditional clothing and more. Outside the museum they are recreating a garden and it will be beautiful, when and if it gets finished.

We also visited the Melaka Straits Mosque that is located on the island Pulau Melaka a short distance from the old city. It is a beautiful mosque with a stunning view of the ocean. moskeAs a non Muslim woman you will have to cover your hair and dress appropriately. Don’t worry, there are veils and robes that you can borrow and the people working at the mosque are happy to help if you are unsure of how to dress. At the entrance a woman will offer you some perfume to put on your hand, please accept this. It smells lovely and it is part of the custom in the country you are visiting. If you have issues with the veil and robe, don’t visit the mosque or just have a look from the outside. If you do go inside, don’t forget to remove your shoes!

Even though we stayed two extra nights I still feel Melaka is a city I want to visit again. My husband saw this revolving thing that took you way up high to view the city. Apparently we need to go back so we can go up that thing. Hm, yes and no. Heights are for other people.

Where to eat, where to eat?!

When looking for a place to eat in Malaysia you have to leave your western ideas behind. The best place to eat is more often than not the one that looks old, worn, has plastic chairs, no table cloths and an open air kitchen with woks that look ancient.

I had some issues about the look of the restaurants when first coming to Asia in 2007, I later realised I used my Western eyes and looked for other factors. Back home, the nicer restaurants usually spend a lot of money on the interiors, fancy furnitures and what not. In Malaysia, I have had great meals sitting on a battered plastic chair, eating off a plastic plate.

We are lucky to live in a small village that has quite a few good restaurants. Musa serves awesome satay and his chicken soup is to die for. The stock has been boiling forever and after eating a bowl of Musa’s soup you will go home smiling.
You will also find a restaurant named Hana Maju after its owner and head chef. We eat there a lot, she is an excellent cook and also very nice and friendly. If you are unsure of what to order, just ask and she will guide you through the menu.Hana-3

The menu, yes that is also interesting. In Sweden we usually have two varieties of nasi goreng (fried rice), one with chicken and one without. Here, you have anywhere from five to endless varieties to choose from. Nasi goreng china is not spicy, nasi goreng kampung is more spicy and have lots of ikan bilis (dried anchovies). I love nasi goreng kampung and my youngest daughter loves the ikan bilis. I usually end up with only a few fish left on my plate, the rest is on hers and she munches away happily. Some nasi goreng comes with a fried egg on the side, some have chicken, others have beef. All of them have vegetables, but what kind varies.Menu

More often than not the menu is a sign next to the kitchen, sometimes they have a printed version as well. At some restaurants you have to ask what they serve as there are no menus at all. Nasi goreng and mee (noodle) dishes are always a sure bet if you want something filling, fresh and satisfying. It might not be the most experimental dishes but they will not disappoint you.

I am still clueless as to why the Malaysians eat at KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and other chain restaurants from West. Not only is the food very bland but a lot more expensive than at other places, a family eating at KFC will pay at least double.
So if you want good, authentic food, look for the plastic chairs and stay away from the chain restaurants and the posh looking ones.

Langkawi, island life.

As we are on a six month long vacation it might seem weird that we go on vacation from the vacation sometimes. But that is what it feels like, going to a place like Penang or Singapore or Langkawi.

We felt we needed to see the ocean so we hopped on a plane from KLIA2, the new and very swanky airport right next to KLIA outside Kuala Lumpur. After an hour long planeride (and 50 minutes spent waiting on the plane as one passenger apparently forgot to check the time and head for the gate when he was supposed to) we landed on Langkawi. The island is perfect for a short, or long vacation, if you like the ocean and nature here in Malaysia. Langkawi is not too crowded but you will find plenty of tourists, mostly families and couples. This is not a party island, this is a place for peace and quiet. And going on hikes, boatrides, snorkelling and what not.

We have been to Langkawi twice before, last time in January 2013 for two weeks. That time we rented a car for 10 days and went exploring a lot. This time we decided to stay a week, 8 nights in total. We rented a car but only for three days and we mostly hung at the beach, looking for shells and digging holes. That is what you’ll end up doing with children. I enjoyed it immensely.LK-5

We had booked a family room at the Cactus Inn which opened last year and is located a stone’s throw (if you throw long and hard) from Pantai Tengah (Tengah Beach). That is in my opinion the best beach to stay at, Pantai Cenang is far more crowded and there is usually more jellyfish there. During January and onwards through June you will unfortunately find jellyfish around Langkawi and it is the stinging kind. We were lucky and none of us got stung but we met people who had been less fortunate. If you get stung, pour some vinegar on it and it will stop hurting in a bit. If you get stung really bad, have someone take you to the closest hospital and try not to move around to much as that will make the venom spread faster. That being said, most of the stings will be harmless and only a bit annoying for a short period of time.

The Cactus Inn was really good, the family room turned out to be two bedrooms, two bathrooms and one livingroom. Sweet! The people running the place are so friendly and helpful that you feel more like a guest at someone’s house than at a hotel. If you book directly with the hotel and stay for a couple of nights they will give you a really good price. We booked via Air Asia as they had a package deal with planetickets and hotelroom. There is a restaurant right by the inn, they are owned by the same couple and is called the Cactus. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is good and at the same pricing as most of the restaurants around the hotels and beaches. If you are looking for really good and authentic food on Langkawi you will have to leave the tourist areas. For example, in Kuah you will find Wonderland which is a really good seafood restaurant. And as usual you will find hawker stalls that serve tasty food for less than RM 6.

One day we went to Pantai Tengkorak, or Skull Beach. It is a really beautiful and secluded public beach with lots of shade and really clear blue water. Sadly the tourists have fed the macaque monkeys that live in the jungle close by and they have become very bold and aggressive in their search for food. When we were about to start packing our stuff two male macaques ran up to our bags and starting to pull at them. I clapped my hands, no reaction. I shouted as that usually makes them run away. Not these two. Instead they snarled at me and showed me their teeth. And then they started running towards me. Our youngest daughter was sitting in the sand a couple of meters away from me, suddenly one of the monkeys changed direction towards her. I ran up to her, grabbed her and ran into the water. Luckily the macaques are scared of water and so they stopped, all the time showing me their teeth and being very hostile. My oldest daughter had run to get my husband and has he came running towards us he shouted and waved a big stick he had in his hand. Still the monkeys started to run towards him, not away as they normally do. When he threw sand at them they finally retreated but not far. I have never packed our stuff so fast in my life, and my heart has never beaten so hard and loudly. I can honestly say that this is the most scary situation I have been in and I am not fond of macaques at the moment.

The sad thing is that they are normally pretty friendly and easygoing monkeys but as we humans feed them their behaviour change and they become more aggressive. In the book A Naturalist’s Guide to the Mammals of Southeast Asia by Chris R. Shepherd and Loretta Ann Shepherd it says:

People often feed them, especially in tourist spots, and this is heavily discouraged as it alters their behaviour, and can make them aggressive and overly dependent on people. As a result, aggressive macaques are frequently killed.

So please, they might be cute, especially the young ones, but do not feed them!! The macaques we have met in the jungles around where we live on mainland Malaysia are very shy and that is because the Malays don’t feed them. Ever. They have to live with the monkeys close by, the tourists get to go home.

Luckily there are friendly monkeys on Langkawi too, every morning a group of Dusky Leaf monkeys gathered in the trees outside our hotel to eat. They are very shy and totally adorable, our youngest ran to the trees shouting “apa!” (monkey) every day.LK-4

The Cactus Inn also have two cats that are friendly and sleep wherever they want to. Our porch was a favourite place as it was always shady. Felt like we had a feline doorkeeper!LK-3

After a week we left Langkawi, probably not for the last time.

End of a roadtrip.

Driving to Singapore is really simple, just make sure you remember your passport. As Singapore is so close to Malaysia it is easy to forget that it is in fact a whole different country. It will become very apparent once you cross the border, the somewhat chaotic and fast traffic will give way to smooth driving and drivers actually obeying the laws! Singapore as a city is clean, designed and expensive. I myself prefer Malaysia but as my husband says, it is sometimes nice to go to a more organised place…

Crossing the border by car means you have to have an autopass for your car. This you get on the Singaporean side, after passing the customs and everything. We stood in line for about 30 minutes to get it, all in all it took us about 50 minutes to cross. If you go by buss it usually takes anywhere between one and three hours. Once you have the autopass it is smooth sailing when you cross the border, it took us less than 20 minutes going back. The amount you have to pay for having your car in Singapore is 35 SD per day, but you do get 10 free days on the autopass, and holidays are always free. If you find the rules difficult to grasp they have a great help line you can call.

We decided pretty late that we were going to Singapore for New Years so all the cheaper hotelrooms were long gone. And being Singapore, cheap doesn’t really mean cheap but rather less expensive. If you want to stay downtown, or around Orchard Road, be prepared to pay. We finally found a place called Hangout@Mt Emily at a walking distance from Orchard Road and YWCA where the rest of the gang had booked rooms (over six months ago). As we booked only a few days before going we ended up paying close to RM 1350 for two nights, breakfast included. And that was the best price we could find, other hotels had rooms for double that sum, for ONE night. Thanks but no.
Turned out to be a nice place, no frills but clean and comfy beds and our own bathroom. The breakfast was bad though, and very crowded. I suggest you eat out instead. They also had parking outside the hotel and it was free for hotelguests, always good to know if you come by car.

The main reason people come to Singapore for New Years is the fireworks down Marina Bay. People sit around for hours, having picnics and just chatting while they wait for the display to start. We hung around for quite a while but at 11 pm our children were so tired that the oldest begged us to go back to the hotel. So we did. I ended up watching the fireworks through the windows of our room, traveling with children means you have to adjust a lot and change plans all the time. Sometimes it can be stressful but most of the time we try to go with the flow, it is easier on your nerves that way.
New Year’s Day we went to the Art & Science Museum and saw the most amazing exhibition about Leonardo da Vinci. They had 13 original sketches on display and loads and loads of stuff to play and experiment with. Our children loved it, and we did too. Da Vinci has always interested me and the exhibit was definitely worth the somewhat steep entrance fee. I think we paid SD 35 per adult which is a lot.

We left Singapore the next day, with our wallets a lot less heavy. Be aware that everything costs at least twice, usually three times, of what it does in Malaysia. But you will find nice shops, the malls are big and if you like spending you have come to the right place. We didn’t do any shopping but looked at all the Christmas decorations that were still up. In that department I can assure you that the Singaporeans have never heard the phrase “less is more”.
We spent the night in Johor Bahru, meeting up with the family at my husband’s cousin. Ended up outside their house, eating satay and talking, with the children running around and playing. English, Malay and Swedish were spoken, the children understanding each other perfectly. And with that, our roadtrip came to an end.

If you want to see photos from Singapore, my husband’s blog can be found here.

The roadtrip continues…

Road-2

Leaving Penang on the 28th of December we headed towards Kuala Lumpur (KL). There we would make a pit stop for two nights before heading to Singapore over New Years. So the gps said it would take about four hours to drive, but of course it was way off. The thing is the gps doesn’t know about the weather, road works or traffic jams. And we ended up getting caught in the mother of all traffic jams. About 170 km from KL the traffic slowed down to 20-40 km/hour. I immediately thought there had been an accident but we saw no sign of any such thing. It was just slow driving for a very, very long time. The children were fast asleep in the backseat but I was wide awake and complaining the whole time. Or so my husband claims. Road-5

After going really slow for over two hours it suddenly changed and we could drive faster again. Then it started to rain. At around 7.30 pm we drove into KL, after nearly 8 hours on the road. We had booked a room at the Swiss Garden Hotel, again we chose the hotel based on parking and price. You can make really great bargains on hotel rooms if you spend some time on the internet looking around on Agoda, Booking.com and other such sites. Then you go to the hotel’s own site and look at the prices there. Surprisingly often you will find the best price at the hotel’s own site as they have things like early bird special or other great deals. This means that you can end up staying at pretty decent hotels for a hostel price.

The Swiss Garden Hotel has four stars but I was not impressed. The room we got smelled like wet dog and something worse, so I went down to the reception to ask for a different room. The receptionist looked scared when I talked to her and quickly handed me a new keycard. Turned out we got a suite with two bedrooms and both a shower and bath. Not too bad. But the next morning we came down to one of the worst hotel breakfasts I have ever had. There wasn’t enough food, the fruit was gone in two seconds and a lot of things tasted, if not off, at least not fresh. My husband had a chicken sausage that was spoilt and that kind of made us feel that the Swiss Garden Hotel wasn’t worth a second stay.

The first night we had dinner on Jalan Alor, the touristy street with lots of restaurants. The food is decent and not too pricey, if you can stand all the people trying to sell you stuff it is a nice enough place to have dinner in KL.
On our second evening in KL we went to Berjaya Times Square which is a huge shopping mall. It is so big that they even have a rollercoaster in there. Yeah, a roller coaster. Sadly the place isn’t being well maintained and it has gone downhill a lot since we were there in 2010. You can easily spend a couple of hours there if you like shopping and browsing around but the place has seen better days. We had dinner there, in the Teppanyaki restaurant. Good food but not excellent, but the staff really made it worth the money. A young waitress spent our whole meal playing peekaboo with our youngest which was really sweet. And it meant that we could focus on eating instead of making sure our daughter didn’t escape from the babychair and disappeared into the crowd. She is a high energy, curious and happy child which means we as her parents have to be on top of things ALL the time. If she sees something interesting she just wanders off, no worries in the world. My hair has greyed a lot since she started to walk at the tender age of 10 months…

After checking out at noon the 30th we left KL and drove towards Singapore. On the road again…

Roadtrip!

If you have a low stress tolerance and/or are a strong believer of driving by the book don’t ever go on a roadtrip in Malaysia. Ever. If you are interested in trying your nerves and patience go ahead, get in your car and drive.

For Christmas we had plans to meet my husband’s family in Penang, they were all in Malaysia for the holidays. We decided early on that we should take the car and make a roadtrip out of it. The gps said it would be a 6.38 hour long drive, not including breaks. So we packed the car and headed north. After about an hour it started to rain, and it rained Asian style. Not that slow, gentle pitter patter that comes down over Europe, this rain is something else completely. It is like a wall of water and I would be lying if I said I was not scared the first time we drove in rain. But after spending a few months in Asia you get used to the rain, but it is still not a pleasant drive when it starts pounding down on your car. Most people slowed down to around 40 km/hour but there were some (idiots) that sped along at 120 km/hour.

It rained for about half the time it took us to get to Penang. Including a break for food and another one for petrol it took us close to 10 hours to get to our hotel. The last couple of hours it was dark but at least it stopped raining. Around the city of Ipoh the landscape is really something else, steep mountains and so green you can hardly believe it. Even if it was dark it was so beautiful that it was like driving in a painting. We all felt we had to go there someday.

We chose the Bayview Hotel because it was located in Georgetown, had parking and wasn’t too expensive. It also had a small pool area that the children liked. The breakfast was okay, nothing to write home about but enough to keep you full until lunchtime. The parking garage had cctv and guards so we felt safe to leave the car there. It was free for hotel guests, which is always nice.

Georgetown is where you find a lot of the restaurants and also plenty of museums, churches, mosques and old colonial buildings. It is a nice part of Penang to stay in if you like to travel somewhere to see more than just the hotel and a big shopping mall. But if you happen to like shopping you won’t be let down as there are plenty of shopping malls. Queensbay Mall is huge and the newly opened 1st Avenue is bright and shiny and packed with shops. We went there for the Christmas tree, it was huge and you could walk inside it. Our daughters were very pleased.

We went to the Penang Time Tunnel which was interesting as it told the history of Penang in photos, text and replicas of an old kitchen, a coffeeshop and other places. Well worth the visit. We also went to the Camera Museum and that was great. Not so big but big enough for our family. If you are the least bit interested in photography you should go there.
One day we went up to Penang Hill. You go up by traincarts that are slanted so you kind of glide up the mountain. If you want to skip standing in line for two hours (going up AND down) you can pay extra and just walk past everyone. We did that and it was so worth it. Standing in line for two hours with two young children who also happen to be hungry is not my idea of having a good time. It was a really bad day to go up the hill if you wanted to see the views. It was so misty and we could see the rainclouds closing in but it was nice anyway. And for the heightskepticist it was excellent as you couldn’t see that far down.Penang-2

A really nice thing to do is take a drive up the mountains and leave all the tourist attractions, shopping malls, hotels and resorts far behind. There is still jungle left in Penang, we saw monkeys and a lot of nice, brightly coloured flowers and trees that were huge. Sadly they are building almost everywhere so hurry up if you want to see some of the true Penang, soon it will be gone and replaced by ghastly resorts. My father in law said this would be his last visit as he no longer saw any of the Penang he loved when he first came there. That was in the 60’s and I can imagine how it must have looked back then. He said the beaches were really good and there were hardly any hotels, now there are hardly any beaches left as there are buildings everywhere along the coastline. Luxury apartments and hotels with an ocean view but the water is too dirty to swim in.Penang-4

Last but not least we ate. And we ate good. The weather was awful, it rained every day and it rained a lot. So we ended up having dinner in places close to the hotel so we didn’t have to walk too far in the rain. If a place looked good (crowded and not to posh) we ate there. At Sup Hameed I had one of the best tandoori chicken I’ve ever had. My husband ate nasi dalca and that too was awesome. At the Red Garden food court we had a prawn mee that was supertasty, our youngest daughter ate about half of my portion!

Our eight days were soon gone and we packed up the car and left Penang. On the road again…

Bahasa Melayu.

If you know English you will find it interesting to learn Malay. As the country used to be under British rule a lot of the English language has seeped into the Malay language. It might not be spelt the same way, it might sound a bit different when spoken but there are plenty of English words for the keen listener/observer to find. What follows is a brief example of common Malay words that are almost the same as in English. See if you can understand them all.

“You ride the bas to the post office to go to the kaunter to pay your bil. And then you go to the buku store to get something new to read. On the way there you feel a bit peckish so you buy a sosej in a bun, and some epal juice with ais to quench your thirst. In a shop window you see a leather beg and remember that your old one has a broken zipper. Then you keep walking and see a nice blaus in another shop window. You like it so much that you buy it and on the 50 ringit bill you pull from your wallet there is a picture of the gabenor. The cashier hands you the plastikbeg and you walk out of the store.”

There are of course plenty of words that are pure Malay, in which you can’t find any trace or history connected to the rule of the British. There are so many nationalities living in Malaysia and has been for years and years, all of them leaving words in the language. As it is in every country, in every corner of the world. And languages change over time, they evolve and new words are created as we humans invent new things and change our way of living. Back in 1852 no one knew there would ever be the need for a word like computer or wifi because those things didn’t exist. Other words lose their importance or their meaning is changed. When you read a text written a couple of hundred years ago in your native language you will stumble upon words you barely understand.

So I am trying to learn a new language, and it is not as easy as I wished it would be. Luckily all the Malaysians I have met so far have been kind and helpful in my endeavour. And not a single one has laughed at my pronunciation, at least not to my face. On the contrary, they have looked surprised and happy that I at least try to talk to them in their own language. And here is a tip if you ever plan to visit Malaysia; the first word you should learn is makan. It means eat.

Bas=bus
Kaunter=counter
Bil=bill
Buku=book
Sosej=sausage
Epal=apple
Ais=ice
Beg=bag
Blaus=blouse
Gabenor=governor
Plastik=plastic

Time is not a theme park’s best friend.

Our expectations were low as we drove from Kluang to Ayer Hitam to visit Tropical Village. The theme park was opened in 1993 and things can go downhill fast here in Malaysia, if not maintained properly things break and fall apart very fast indeed. Nature is quick to reclaim areas not used, and if you don’t cut the grass the plants and trees will move in and not leave without a fight.

So with that in mind we paid the entrance fee, RM 10 for adults, RM 5 for children (under 3 for free) and RM 5 for the car. On our visit it was hot and humid, which is the normal weather any given day here, so we chose to bring the car. Most people did. Or, the three other families that were there at the same time as us. As it was a Saturday and a school holiday as well we had expected it to be a bit more crowded. But as we drove and walked around in the park we came to understand why it wasn’t.DSC03843

The years have not been kind to Tropical Village. In its glory days I believe it looked amazing. There are smaller versions of famous buildings and statues from around the world. We saw a pyramid, the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, the Taj Mahal and so on. All in dire need of some paint job and general cleaning up. There is a mini zoo, or there used to be. Now there is a peacock in a biggish cage and a monkey all alone in a small cage. It did not look happy. The manmade lake was green and did not look inviting at all. All areas of the park looked old and worn down, some were closed and looked like they had been for years.DSC03761

I think our children found the small fishpond at the entrance to be the most interesting part of the park. The big cat fish was a success as it even caught a small shrimp right in front of us. Show off!
To be fair there were people working in the park, some were painting the statues in the cartoon character area and others were sweeping and washing the pathways. But the park looks old and run down, in a few years time it won’t be worth your time or money at all. As it stands today you can spend an hour there, if you have young children. They are not as picky as we adults are and therefore oblivious to the flaky paint on the Great Wall of China.

Hello Kitty, goodbye Kitty!

Having a 5 and a half year old is both wonderful and totally exhausting. Sometimes you end up feeling you have somehow been persuaded to do something you don’t really want to do. You have lost the argument and to a child that is no way near as old (or smart) as you.

So we went to Hello Kitty Town in Johor Bahru. On the way from the hotel one quarter of the family was super excited, one quarter was talking pure gibberish as per usual and two quarters wanted to turn the car around, strongly suspecting they were on their way to a place most horrid.
I had googled around a bit and knew that it was kind of expensive to get in, it is RM 110 per person (free for children under 3) if you choose to buy tickets for both Hello Kitty Town and The Little Big Club, if you choose just one it is RM 75 per person. I strongly recommend you splash out and buy tickets for both places.

Hello Kitty Town is on the first floor and if you are a fan you will find yourself in heaven. You can walk around in Hello Kitty’s house, take a photo alongside her, find her missing friend and so on and so forth. BUT first you have to stand in line, for a long, long time. And listen to really loud music. And if you’re really (un)lucky the carnival will be performed in and around the stage smack in the middle of the place. My daughter thought the carnival was too loud so we went upstairs. Hooray! I must admit I am biased in this matter as I do not really care much for Hello Kitty to begin with. But I do think they are robbing you blind when you buy your ticket to this place. It is not that big, not that much to do and it is really all about how much money they can make you spend.
Luckily we had bought the tickets for The Little Big Club as well. On the floors above Hello Kitty Town you will find Bob the Builder, Pingu, Barney, Thomas (you know that train that is always super friendly and helpful) and Angelina Ballerina. You can go on a short train ride, a ferris wheel, bumper cars and some other things. There are some great play areas with huge enclosed jungle gyms and both our children loved them. My husband ended up chasing our youngest through the biggest playground as she laughed and just climbed and ran as fast as she could. She slept like a baby (pun not intended) on the way home.

And I went on the ferris wheel, finally I found one small enough for me to climb aboard and not feeling I would die as I looked down. It wobbled a bit when you moved in your seat though so I sat very, very still and instructed my daughter to do the same. As I have said before, any normal and sane person has great respect for heights.
If you like good food like us, eat lunch somewhere else. I had a chicken burger meal, don’t have that. Really no taste at all, but it was freshly made so that was nice. My husband had chicken and rice and he said that it was okay. I think we paid RM 38 for us two so it wasn’t too bad but still, I have had better for way less.

There is of course a shop that you have to pass through on your way out. Be prepared to spend a lot even for a small trinket such as a keychain. We had talked about this before going into the place and it went smoothly thanks to that. No drama in the gift shop, phew!
On the way home our oldest talked more about the jungle gym than Hello Kitty which I feel quite happy about. Bye, bye Kitty.

A phone in the loo, what a great idea… said no one ever!

We are in Johor Bahru for three days. Drove down on Friday and we are going back tomorrow, Monday. The main reason for the trip was to visit my husband’s cousin and his family and so we did on Friday. We went to their house, talked and played for some hours and ate really tasty food. Homemade satay, beef and chicken, and the best peanut sauce so far on this trip. Food made with love always taste better, doesn’t it? We booked a hotel over internet, just chose one that wasnt too pricey and had free parking as well as a pool. Turns out we are staying in a new hotel resort, called KSL Resort, that is huge and built on top of a shopping mall. So here we are, lots and lots of shops and restaurants just a stone’s throw away. And the best part is that not only are there two swimmingpools but the resort also has a water park with slides and three different pools. Free entry for the hotel guests, otherwise 50 RM which is a bit on the pricey side. We have pretty much stayed at the resort the whole weekend and for us that is a new experience. Not being that interested in shopping we have spent a few hours at the mall, amazed at how much stuff you can buy. Do we really need all that stuff? Bought two dictionaries as I am on a mission to learn Malay on this trip. At least enough to be able to do a bit more than ordering food and asking for directions, which is pretty much all I can do now. So the children and I are learning a new language together which is nice. Tonight we had dinner at Taiwan Recipe, one of the many, many restaurants downstairs. We paid nearly 70 RM for all of us which at first felt like a lot. We are used to the prices in Kluang which means we rarely pay more than 30 RM for a meal for the whole family. But compared to back home it is still so cheap it is ridiculous. I had 3 cups chicken which tasted great. Lots of garlic, sesame oil, chili and ginger. The fresh watermelon juice was also good, a real thirst quencher. IMAG0503 (2) The hotel has like 30 floors and we are on the 16th. Great views of Johor Bahru but for someone having a great respect for heights (as every normal and sane person should have) the floor to ceiling windows are a pain. Good thing there are black out curtains in the room. And in the bathroom there is of course a phone on the wall by the toilet.Who has ever, in the history of mankind been sitting on the toilet and suddenly had the urge to make a call?! I myself have other things to do once I sit down in that particular room. IMAG0508 Notice the state of the art bumcleaner installed on the toilet. Do not set it on high, or you’re in for a surprise.

The odd one out.

It is humbling to be in a country where you are the foreigner, the visitor, the one looking like no one else around. People stop me in the street, just to ask me where I’m from and why I’m here. They are always so polite and truly interested, they really can’t grasp why anyone would travel so far just to come to Malaysia. And then we talk some more, about the weather, the food, the children. Children stare at me and can’t quite understand what I am, I am so white compared to anyone they have ever seen before.

Of course there are other foreigners here but not around Taman Sri Lambak where we live or Kluang, the bigger city about 11 kilometers away. I saw a white man in the supermarket, we waved at each other. That is how few white people you get here. In Kuala Lumpur it is of course different, there you have loads of tourists and people working in the city for some big company. But still people would stop us just to look at our children and me and ask where we were from.

I am a social person, sometimes a bit too much I guess. I love talking to people, and I guess that is one reason why I have fallen head over heels over this wonderful country and its people. I have had long talks with people in the shop, people that I probably will never meet again but that doesn’t matter. The thing that matters is that here, people truly see each other and have time for each other. Sure, the smartphones are here too, we see families eating in restaurants with a phone in one hand and fork in the other. No one talks, everyone tap taps away on the teeny tiny shiny phones. But they are few and far between. Here, family is the most important of all, everything else comes after it.

In the last few days we are feeling the distance from our own family. Back home my husband’s older sister has been through hell. She was attacked at work and is now in intensive care in our local hospital. The attacker used a knife to her throat and it was very close to ending very badly. Being so far away at a time like this is very surreal, it is hard to believe that it has happened and to her of all people. And in Sweden, a country that used to be known for being such a safe and lovely country. The times are changing and fast. Sometimes I don’t feel like I belong anymore, I am beginning to turn into that cranky old lady who complains about how things are not as they used to be.

But things are not as they used to be and I guess that is a curse and a blessing all mixed together into something we call the present. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow hasn’t arrived. Let’s do our best to make today a wonderful day. Hug your loved ones, help a stranger cross the road, give a hungry man a meal, just do something. And put your smartphone down, it won’t kill you.

Vacation vacation vacation.

So we are on vacation. Yes, I know, the whole trip is one long vacation but now we are on vacation from the vacation. Sort of. We are at the beach, Desaru to be precise. Three nights at the Pulai Desaru Beach Resort. They have a great pool, the children love it. Which is good because the waves are massive right now so the beach is only visited for making sandcastles and looking for shells. The monsoon is here so the trip to Desaru was a gamble, it could easily rain for five hours at a time. But so far so good, it rained last night and there were some lightning and thunder but nothing during the day.

The first night we were really tired so we ate at the hotel. Food was not bad but not great either. So last night we drove 6 kilometers to some local restaurants and boy was it worth the drive. Fresh apple juice, amazingly tender lamb and vegetables in coconut. We paid 23 RM for all of us, at the hotel one juice is 14 RM. And only half as good. So you do need a car when you stay at these kind of hotels, if you want good food like we do.

We are definitely coming back here but after the monsoon season. I like to swim in the ocean as well as the pool so we have to come back when it calmes down a bit. Now, off to the pool, the family are waiting for me. Oh, and don’t forget to check out my husband’s blog, winfredk.wordpress.comkr

Finding your inner child.

Logged in on Facebook today and it seems the first snow has come back home. Do I miss it? Nooooooooooooo!! But my oldest daughter sighed and said she will miss building a snowman. And then she rushed off and started playing with her sister. Children are funny that way, their minds are so fluid and open to what the world has to offer. I miss that sometimes, that feeling you had as a child that anything could happen. Life does get a bit more boring as you grow up. The washing has to be done, food has to be cooked and so on and so forth.

I remember looking at adults and thinking “I will never ever become as boring as them, I will never stop playing”. And here I am, some 30 years later and I have stopped playing. So when my daughter looks at me and says “why do you have to do so many boring things?” all I can answer is that as an adult you have to do all those things. But for a couple of months I get to do less of those things and it is great! I have time to play again.