Travels

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

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

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.