Month: February 2015

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.

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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.