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…

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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