Month: March 2015

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!