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Trip Report Trip Report - KL, PP, Siem Reap, Krabi, Melaka. Part 1 - KL

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Thanks a lot to this board for help in planning our trip. Bit about us before I start - 30 year old married, professional couple from London. I like rushing about, my wife likes relaxing; I like cities, she likes countryside; I like non-touristy places, she likes to be well on the trodden path; As you can see we have a lot in common! We do both love eating out and going to bars and consider seeking out good restaurants as being one of the most fun bits of a holiday. You will forgive me, therefore, if this trip report is perhaps more about restaurants than it is about monuments...

Also just before I start I should say that we've never been to Asia before. We've generally travelled in Latin America and love it, but having read so much about South East Asia we thought we'd give it a go though I must say that the fact that we speak Spanish and can blend in quite well in South America made me think that Asia wouldn't quite be my kind of place.

I know that many on this board would shake their heads exasperatingly at our itinerary of visiting 3 countries in 2 weeks but we really wanted a bit of a sampler of the region, if only to see where we'd like to return to in the future. Also where my wife would have been quite happy to go to Thailand for 2 weeks of luxury and I'd have been happy to spend two weeks solely in Cambodia, marriage is, i'm told, all about compromise and so our itinerary was born.

Anyway enough chat. We flew Malaysia Airlines Heathrow to KL (£700 return flights) and were not at all impressed. Perhaps I had fallen too much for the seductive images of beaming air hostesses on the website but I found the reality really surprising. Quite an old plane with slightly dour service plus it was very difficult to get a proper drink. Yes they came round with beers but it wasn't like a normal air service where you get a full choice of drinks. As for the food, it was beyond terrible. My wife is something of a pasta fiend but even she found the pasta offering inedible while the Malaysian chicken dish was a mysterious, miniature pile of goo that smelt awful and tasted worse. Entertainment was also fairly poor as the personal systems kept breaking down while the choice of films seemed a little dated.

Anyway we were, as you can imagine, delighted once the 12 hours was up and it was time to land. As we were only staying one night in KL at the start and weren't arriving until 6pm on a Saturday we decided that the quickest and best way of getting in would be to take the express train to KL Sentral, and it was for this reason that I booked the KL Hilton as it's just opposite the station. As soon as we arrived in KL we were taken aback. The airport and train were just so hi-tec and sparkling that they made the Europe we'd left behind seem grey and backward. The train tickets were about £30 and the train whizzed us into KL in less than half an hour. The Hilton was very easy to find and as soon as the staff spotted us with our big backpacks they rushed up, all smiles, and took them from us. We had booked a club floor executive room and it was simply incredible. Huge corner room with unbelievable views and with an enormous bathtub for two that was right up against the window. I never realised the Hilton would be this good as we'd really just booked it for convenience, and it made me a bit concerned that our final two nights at the Mandarin Oriental would pale in comparison. (To find out whether or not they did you will have to read on....!)

As we had arrived on Valentines Day we wanted to go somewhere special for dinner to celebrate. We did wander around the Hilton 'Studio' restaurants as they are known but I have to say they all seemed a little soulless in a shopping centre kind of way. We therefore got a cab to Bijan which was recommended by some on here and we had a fantastic meal. Bijan is set in a very romantic bungalow which only took us around 10 minutes to get to from the Hilton. The food was traditional Malaysian and the service incredibly charming even though we'd turned up quite late. I would highly recommend Bijan for a special meal and price-wise it was only around £60 for two including some nice wine.

The next morning we had a phenomenal breakfast at the Hilton - I honestly don't think I've ever seen such a choice - Sushi, Dumplings, Curries, Omelettes, Fruit, Meat. Then having eaten like a pig it was time for a swim in the stunning Hilton pool (I'm surprised we didn't drown...) before getting a taxi to KLCC (the low cost airport) for our early afternoon Air Asia flight to Phnom Penh. KLCC was around an hour away from the Hilton and, perhaps as it was a Sunday, there was very little traffic. We would be coming back to KL for two nights at the end and having had a little taster we were looking forward to returning. Next part Phnom Penh...

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    Great start. Surprised to hesar about Malaysian Air. Of course, having taken many 30 sojourns on horrible US carriers, I have no real sympathy for a por 12 hour flight. How about the Northwest DET-Nar flight on which the entertainment system was broken and the reading light did not work. We also found that chain hotels that are mediocre in the US can be delightful in Asia. Timely report, no penalty.

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    Great start! One of my favorite flights ever was on Malaysian Air... but it was First Class. Talk about bliss! I'm of the belief that all economy flights are torture, just some more than others.

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    Thanks for your kind comments. When I left you we were off to Phnom Penh. So it was that we flew on an immaculate Air Asia plane with lovely stewardesses that departed exactly on time and cost us about £20 between us. I was sat next to a Cambodian prostitute - well, maybe escort - who spent the flight phoning her latest English boyfriend telling him how much she missed him while polishing her nails and looking round the plane for her next target! To be fair she was really friendly (shame my wife was sat next to me...!) and chatted to us a lot about Phnom Penh and Cambodia.

    We got off the flight and then proceeded to the extraordinary Cambodian passport control. About 15 men in full army regalia sat po-faced in a straight line with rubber stamps in their hands. Each man looked up at us inquisitively, frowned, slammed down the stamp and then slid the passports to the next man in line. It all looked very severe but we got through fast enough. We had read that you need passport photos to get into Cambodia and while I had brought in 3 photos my wife had forgotten. No problem as it turned out, though she had to pay about $5 dollars as a 'fine'.

    Once we'd got our luggage we were met by the representatives from the Quay hotel where we were staying. I say plural as there was not just a driver to greet us but also a translator. The car was very comfy and it sped us into the centre of Phnom Penh which was less than half an hour away. I began to realise that however sweet the translator was, she was essentially there to sell us trips and to advertise the hotel's restaurants so we amused ourselves by looking out of the window. And outside, what a sight. This was the Asia I had been dreaming of. Frenetic energy, stalls selling everything, schoolchildren rushing past in gaggling groups, motorbikes, tuk tuks, animals. Before long we were at the Quay which is situated bang on the waterfront.

    I had heard that Cambodia has become trendy in the last few years and I suppose the Quay sums up the transformation. Its double french windows open out onto the river and you step into an amazing bar/restaurant playing chill-out music to minimalist white chairs. I felt as if I was in a Cambodian Ibiza. The room was sensational. Funky stark white furniture with a huge bed and an amazing bathroom. It also had the biggest TV and DVD player that I have ever seen (reception had a collection of free-to-rent DVDs, many with a Cambodian theme).

    We went to the rooftop bar for a drink which was oh-so-trendy but not in a pretentious way. The staff were lovely and we had a few cocktails staring out at the life on the streets below. When evening came we went for a wander up the riverfront, had some drinks and soaked up the street scenes. Oddly it was during this walk that we had our only unpleasant experience of our whole trip. We were looking for a certain bar and got out our Lonely Planet book near a bar called The Green Vespa to look at the map. Now we like to think of ourselves as a far cry from brash, guidebook-toting tourists so just subtely got out the book and had a quick peer. No sooner had we stopped but a fat, shaven-headed Irish guy came charging out of the bar aggressively shouting 'what the f*** are you two doing? Either come into my bar or stay out but put your f***ing guidebook away!' We explained we were just having a quick look at the map and he carried on shouting, telling us to **** off and put our guidebook away and that the way we were acting we deserved to get mugged. Now I can appreciate helpful advice but no-one we walked past had been in the slightest bit threatening except him. Extraordinary.

    Anyway while my wife was a bit upset we didn't let it ruin our evening and we went for a few drinks in some slightly friendlier riverside bars followed by a lovely meal in the Bouganvillier hotel on the waterfront, right next to the Quay. The food was quite frankly as good a French meal as I have ever eaten. Amazing steak, awesome fish and such incredibly friendly service. I really should stop writing that as almost without exception in Cambodia the service was spectacular. And not in the kind of way we have experienced in the Middle East or even, perhaps, Central America where the service seems to be linked to an anticipated tip - here the people we encountered seemed to just genuinely want us to have a lovely time.

    Next day we went to the Killing Fields with the driver from the Quay and again found the streets on the way absolutely fascinating. The Killing Fields themselves were clearly a very sombre experience and I appreciated the quiet of the place and the fact that you could just wander around to contemplate what had happened there. The only thing I found slightly unpalatable was the queue of tourists lining up to take their photos next to the skulls that are on display. It all seems rather too recent to be posing for those kind of photos.

    After the Killing Fields the prison was closed so we spent the rest of the day having great fun tuk tuking around Phnom Penh. We visited the incredible Russian market which, despite the areas given over to tourist goods, I was pleased to see still had a very vibrant fruit and meat section and where we watched some fascinatingly gory food preparation! We also went to a rather more modern shopping mall where there were very few tourists and which was by contrast very peaceful to wander around.

    For lunch we visited Friends, the restaurant where the profits go to the local community programmes to support the street kids. I must say I thought the whole thing might be a bit of a gimmick but the restaurant was superb. Amazing tapas-style food (and I mean really amazing - melt in the mouth ravioli, mount-watering chilli...) and fantastic service by the young waiting staff.

    After lunch we visited the royal palace - very beautiful but as a city person I confess that I just wanted to get back onto the streets and have more of a look round the city.
    My wife began to complain of aching feet (perhaps something to do with the ridiculously high heels that she chooses to wear...) so eventually we headed to Raffles to have a look at the hotel and to have a cocktail in the famous Elephant Bar. The hotel is very grand from the outside but it was a little stuffy in the bar and we decided that drinking on the waterfront was a bit more fun.

    For dinner we got a tuk tuk over to Malis which is a really trendy Cambodian restaurant set, very romantically, around a black swimming pool. They serve a gorgeous beef dish, lok lak, slow-cooked inside a bamboo cane which was very special. After dinner we tuk tuked back to the main drag and had a couple of drinks in the FCC. We did enjoy the atmosphere by the large open windows looking down on the street below though we were quite disturbed by how many seedy old white men seemed to be coming out of a nearby house with very young looking ladies on their arms. While I did enjoy the drinks at the FCC I was pleased that we had stayed at the Quay, which is their sister hotel. Where the FCC seemed a little tired the Quay felt much fresher, and there are far fewer tuk tuk drivers hanging around outside the Quay! Talking of tuk tuks I think both my wife and I were really taken aback by the tuk tuk drivers all over Cambodia. I'm sure it's just because we've never been to Asia before but we never really got our heads around the idea that the drivers seemed to really want to wait for us while we had dinner just so they could take us back afterwards. When we went to Malis our driver asked if he could wait while we ate. We felt bad about making the driver wait and said no, but he seemed so disappointed that we said fine, and that he should go off and come back in a couple of hours. Of course he didn't go anywhere and just waited, and without wanting to sound corny this did bring home to us just what a few dollars meant to so many people here.

    Overall I loved Phnom Penh for its atmosphere and its energy, though my wife, despite enjoying the food and the people, found it too desperately poor to be enjoyable. I could see her point but i'd still like to return before it becomes yet another indentikit Westernised city.

    Next day we got up early for our 5 hour drive to Siem Reap. So, next report Siem Reap.

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    My regular tuk tuk man in Siem Reap told me that fuel is a big expense. Sitting round waiting costs them nothing (and they do a lot of it!). Therefore they are happy to sit instead of driving back to their street corner without a passenger. Many westerners have little conception of the financial plight of the poorer Khmers. A girl in one of the SR massage places told me she got paid $40US a month for a 5 day week. Hours were between 10 AM and midnight. She did get to keep her tips. I asked her if everyone tipped and she said 'no'.

    I've seen quite affluent looking westerners trying to beat locals down by the equivalent of a few cents. (500 r in one case)

    Glad you have enjoyed your trip, it sounds great. Phnom Penh is fun, the first time I went there I was very timid but now I love it.

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    rhkkmk - yes, I'm afraid the high heels are a staple! Hiking around Lake Louise last summer was particularly interesting...

    Our cab from PP to SR cost around $75 which seemed fairly standard. The first hour or so of the drive wasn't for the faint hearted - the blind overtaking certainly made things interesring - but we did really enjoy the trip. We had been umming and aahing about going by boat but were really pleased we drove as we got to see at least some fleeting glimpses of the Cambodian countryside and the little villages that we passed through. We also stopped for a while in Kompong Thom which was quite a busy town and good for a wander.

    Our hotel, Pavillon d'Orient, was outside the centre of Siem Reap and it took our driver a little while to find but once we stepped through the unassuming gate we were very impressed. The staff, led by the charming owner Sebastien, were extremely friendly and they showed us around the small, stunning hotel. The hotel is set around lush gardens and a covered patio while it also has a beautiful infinity pool - perfect for relaxing after a day at the temples. Our room was extremely romantic with a lovely terrace overlooking the garden, a large bed with mosquito net (not that we needed the net but it made the bed look nice) and a well equipped bathroom with a good power shower. At around $100 per night it was good value compared to most of the Siem Reap hotels I had looked at and we loved everything about it. It's not pretentious or bling, but if you're looking for laid back luxury then I'd highly recommend it.

    A few points on Siem Reap and Angkor. Firstly the time you should spend in Siem Reap is the subject of some debate on this site and others. We were told by quite a few people that 4 nights was too much and we'd get bored, while a few others said it wasn't enough and we would need a week! Well for us I think 4 nights and 3 and a half days was pretty perfect. We spent 2 and a half days at Angkor and then on our last day the hotel chartered a boat for us to go to Kompong Khleang on the Tonle Sap after which we were back in time for a couple more temples before sunset. I reckon that unless you're massively into your temples 2 and a half/3 days is enough as this gives you a chance to see the major sites plus some of the ones further away.

    Of course so much has been written about Angkor that it would be pointless to go into too much detail. We did the whole thing in a way that would probably make many people despair in that we didn't have a tour guide nor did we have a strict timetable. Instead our hotel provided us with a driver who was a great guy, incredibly friendly and helpful and took us wherever we wanted to go but really other than reciting the names of English footballers spoke basically no English at all. But that was fine because he would just say 'temple?' and we'd say a name and off we'd go. We didn't care whether we saw temples at sunset or sunrise but the photos we took were great and so i'd take with a slight pinch of salt all the blurb about recommended routes etc.

    As I say we didn't have a guide (except at Ta Prohm where we stupidly fell into the trap of being led around the temple by an independent guide which was fine for the first half hour but then the detail began to get a bit much...) but did have a really interesting and comprehensive guide book to all of the temples. We never felt that we missed having a guide but then we do really like to run about and do our own thing and would have felt a bit restricted having someone with us the whole time. But hey each to his own.

    In terms of what we saw, well we were both totally blown away by the whole Angkor area. We did have very high expectations and in general weren't disappointed at all. I think what really affected our enjoyment of the particular temples was how crowded they were. Angkor Wat itself was, as we knew it would be, jam packed, but many of the other temples were surprisingly deserted especially in the afternoons. The Rolous group in particular were amazingly empty of hoardes - sitting at the top of an almost deserted Bakong in the sunshine staring down at the forest below was simply an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime feeling. Sunsets were a completely different feeling and often had the air of a bit of a party. Children selling beer everywhere, hoardes and hoardes of people - a bit like Santorini but with ruins...

    We also went to Bantei Srei and Bang Melea - two of the temples that are some way from Siem Reap. Banteay Srei is a bit nearer and is certainly bang on the tourist trail. I didn't like it as much as many of the others as it wasn't all that atmospheric but my wife loved the pink glow and the intricacy of the carvings. Bang Melea by contrast was by far my favourite of all of the temples. We went first thing in the morning and it's about an hour's drive from Siem Reap down some very bumpy roads. For me this temple was simply extraordinary. What I loved most about Angkor was the sense of collapsed civilisation and the power of the forest so for me Beng Melea was the perfect place for soaking up that feeling. You need to have a guide lead you around as you basically clamber through the jungle-consumed ruins - there are lots of guides at the gate so you don't need to find one in advance. Again the temple was near enough deserted - we saw one other family in the whole time we were there - and we both thought it was a magnificent experience. I'd particularly recommend it if you're going with children as they will love the clambering about and pretending that they're Indiana Jones!

    I would also highly recommend spending a day on the Tonle Sap and visiting a village and school. We arranged this with our hotel and I'm sure that other hotels can sort out something similar. Our driver drove us for about 45 minutes out of Siem Reap to a little jetty where he arranged for a couple of teenagers who had a boat to take us down the river. We didn't really know where we were going which made things more exciting - we had only said to our hotel that we didn't want to only go to the most touristy of the floating villages - Chong Khneas. We passed Chong Khneas where there were lots of other tourist boats and which was about 20 minutes from the jetty and it was, admittedly, a fascinating place with floating schools etc but we headed on. We probably sailed for another hour or so through the unbelievably vast lake, passing little fishing boats and tiny huts along the shore. It was an incredibly peaceful journey. Finally we headed towards the shore and through a flooded forest until we reached Kompong Khleang. What a spectacular place! We were greeted by schoolchildren and they were so sweet and friendly, chattering away and leading us from the boat and through their town. The town was like something out of a fairytale with stilted houses and with huge carpets of shrimp drying in the sun. Some of the children spoke fantastic English while others were much more shy and just smiled. The school was another building on stilts and we met the very friendly teachers before being swamped with offers for schoolbooks. Again I have seen some debate on here about what to bring schools. We took a bag of footballs that we bought in Siem Reap and the children seemed to really love these and were playing with them in the streets. We also took exercise books which seemed a little unnecessary when the children in the school clearly weren't going to allow us to leave without buying any books from them!

    We had a bit more of a wander through the town, took some amazing photos and everywhere we went children shouted greetings at us in English and asked us lots of questions - they all seemed very curious and were most surprised that me and my wife didn't have any children! Clearly they get quite a few visitors (though we didn't see any others when we were there) but not so many that they didn't find us a bit peculiar! We absolutely loved our trip to the village and school and were really impressed with how well the children were obviously being taught and the fact that all the children go to school (even if only for half the day).

    Before I move on to Thailand just a few thoughts about Siem Reap itself and the restaurants etc. Every evening we went into Siem Reap on a tuk tuk and had a good wander around. The town itself isn't going to win any beauty prizes but there are some nice buildings and a generally vibrant air. Bar Street is exactly how you imagine it. Tacky, loud and full of sunburnt tourists though we were surprised by the fact that the average age of the tourists seemed to be fairly high - of course there were teenage backpackers but there were also lots of middle aged Europeans and Americans.

    As far as restaurants go we were very impressed, though we did have to adjust to eating slightly earlier than we would do normally as people don't seem to eat late in Asia - whereas we normally eat around 9 we found that by 9 people were beginning to finish their meals. On the first night we ate at Madame Butterfly - a restaurant set slightly out of Siem Reap in a beautiful colonial building. The Cambodian food was very well done and the atmosphere romantic while the French owner was very attentive. Second night we ate in Bar Street in a place called the Red Piano - quite a fun restaurant/bar with charming, giggly service. Food was OK without being great - standard Asian/Western fare but it was fun looking down on Bar Street as we ate. After that we ate at the FCC, which is located in a stunning colonial-style building on the edge of town. Such a beautiful place, much more stylish than the FCC in Phnom Penh and it has a beautiful garden which we overlooked as we ate. I'd highly recommend the FCC - we had a wonderful, lazy meal and the food was absolutely exquisite. We shared the Cambodian feast which was oustanding and which contained loads of local delicacies. On our last night we ate in the Passage near Bar Street in a place called AHA. The restaurant is below a trendy boutique hotel and has an Asian tapas style menu - yes, even the food trends of London seem to have caught up with Siem Reap. Despite our fears the food wasn't in any way style over substance. I would say in fact that it was technically the best meal I have had for a long time - the chef is remarkably talented. The service was also very charming and considering the quality on offer it was remarkably priced. Eating a meal like this in a chic Siem Reap restaurant made me understand why so many people bemoan the effect that the recent influx of tourists has had in Cambodia. It's true that Cambodia - or at least the tourist areas - have clearly changed immeasurably but at the same time I'd challenge anyone to have a meal at AHA and not love every second of it!

    In the morning we left for the Krabi area of Thailand which I'll say a bit about in the next report.

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    We decided that the best way of getting to Krabi from Siem Reap was, because of flight timings etc, to fly from Siem Reap to Phuket on Bangkok Airlines and then get a car to take us to Krabi.

    First a bit of clear up about the flight from Siem Reap to Phuket with Bangkok Airlines. There was a bit of discussion on this board about this flight before I left so let me clarify what happened. Yes the flight stopped in Bangkok as we knew it would do. But while we did have to get off the flight and show our passports we were all given transit stickers and were ushered through the terminal in Bangkok by the very helpful BA ground staff and then immediately back onto the same plane where we sat in the same seats. Some posters had said there was no point in getting this flight as it wasn't the same plane but things must have changed. The fact that it was the same plane meant there is obviously no need to worry about baggage or about missing your connecting flight.

    Anyway the flights were the best we had in the trip - I'd highly recommend Bangkok Airlines - and we got to Phuket in the early afternoon. On the recommendation of someone on the tripadvisor forum we had got in touch via email with a Thai driver called Mr Charlee (Chay Patong) and we agreed a price - 2500 bhat - for the trip to the Sheraton Krabi at Klong Muang. At Phuket airport we were impressed by all of the nice, sparkling 4X4 cars that were picking people up and looked forward to our car being the same. Instead we were greeted by a battered white van which looked as if it had been in a couple of bashes - this was our ride! Mr Chay ushered us in and put our bags in the back. The drive was 2 and a half hours or so and while Mr Chay was perfectly friendly (well, he didn't really speak but he did give us some water) there is no way i'd recommend using him. The inside of the van matched the outside and reminded me of being in a school bus in the early 1980s. No seatbelts (though the driver had one - nice...) and seats that kept sliding back and weren't properly fixed to the floor. Mr Chay's driving was a bit dodgy at times so we were sliding around the back hoping we didn't go flying! I must say the tripadvisor reviewer who recommended this guy must have pretty low standards!

    Anyway we got to the Sheraton Krabi in one piece and walked into the incredible reception area. The reception is vast, white, minimalist and partly open air creating a beautiful, peaceful atmosphere. We were then whisked through the grounds to our club room. We were incredibly impressed by everything about the Sheraton. I had researched for hours, weighing up between the Sheraton, the Nakamanda, the Amari and the Tubkaak and we were so so pleased with our choice. The room was perfect and very stylish - the only possible thing missing was a DVD player but these could be hired at reception if you wanted one. The communal areas of the hotel were magnificent - amazing swimming pool, lovely dining/bar areas and the general feeling of lots of space. What I really loved was the fact that it was set on a mangrove so you could walk around and underneath the walkways see alligators and all sorts of wildlife - it is truly a hotel that seems to blend into and work with its environment. The beach was paradise - like the front of a glossy holiday brochure - and my wife loved Rara the teenage elephant that came out for washing every afternoon.

    The location of the Sheraton is also perfect. It's just across the road from a handful of shops, bars and restaurants which means you don't feel trapped and it's only about a 20 minute taxi from Ao Nang. The shops and restaurants were great and the local people (as well as the hotel staff) were really friendly - perhaps because this area hasn't been developed for tourism for very long the locals seemed a lot less tourist-weary than in Ao Nang. By the way the beach massage place just to the right of the hotel beach was awesome - about a tenth of the price of the hotel spa and a perfect setting. The sunset massages we had listening to the waves crashing down were simply bliss.

    From the Sheraton we went on two trips. The first was an all day boat trip which we booked with one of the agencies across the road. The trip was one of the standard Phi Phi islands, Hong Kong island etc excursions and was pretty terrible. Yes the islands themselves were beautiful but there were so many tourists on our boat and on others that everywhere we landed just felt spoiled and swamped. Our boat, despite the tourist guy promising a small boat with maximum 12 people - was actually a big boat with about 50 people squashed together. We had a row with a Danish guy who called us British imperialists and I dropped my camera in the water so all in all it was a pretty unsuccessful trip! I think if we did it again we'd try to get one of the longtail boatmen to take us out by ourselves (though we never found out how much this cost).

    The second trip was booked through the Sheraton and was a half day of elephant trekking with Nosey Parkers. This was absolutely wonderful and I'd recommend it very highly. The elephants were treated so lovingly by the staff, you learn to ride an elephant yourself and you go on a mini trek through some jungle.

    One night we went to Ao Nang which we didn't really like at all. Where Klong Muang was quiet and laid back, Ao Nang was brash, loud and full of western old men with their Thai girls. We did eat at quite a nice place - the Blue Mango - and the seafood alley looked quite fun but we wouldn't rush back. Another night we ate in the hotel, at the very romantic but pricey Malati restaurant while another night we ate at The Terrace which was right opposite the hotel. This was really popular and deservedly so as it was about a third of the price of the hotel restaurants and the food was stunning.

    On our last night we went to the Amari to have a look at the hotel and to eat in the Italian restaurant there. The hotel itself was about 20 minutes away and totally isolated. The entrance was pretty and we then walked down endless flights of steps to the Italian restaurant near the sea. The restaurant was in a beautiful setting but the food was terrible. It was possibly our most expensive meal of our whole Asian trip - nearly £100 - but it was if the chef had never eaten Italian food before - my veal with breadcrumbs was a slice of veal with a greasy omelette on top! We were pleased we visited the Amari but I have to say that the Sheraton was in a different class. The Amari seemed so narrow and stifling (and also rather deserted) where the Sheraton was breezy and just seemed so much more special. We didn't visit the Tubkaak but it was bang next to the Amari.

    Overall we absolutely loved our stay in Krabi. I hadn't realised that the scenery would be so beautiful or that the Klong Muang area would be so peaceful. My wife would have liked to have stayed longer but after 4 nights we headed off back to Malaysia to visit Melaka and have 2 more nights in KL.

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    We didn't have the greatest of arrivals in KL. Firstly as we were waiting for a taxi to Melaka I realised I had left my rucksack somewhere - with camera, ipod etc inside - so for about half an hour proceeded to run round the airport like a deranged lunatic pleading with various security guards to let me go back the way I had come. Luckily after checking in a few places it turned out one of the Air Asia staff had picked it up. I nearly jumped on her with relief.

    While running around the various areas I was meanwhile getting wetter and wetter as a torrential thunderstorm had started meaning that sheets of rain were coming down. Anyway we got our cab to melaka in the driving rain which made driving conditions pretty slow and miserable. Owing to the rain and my rucksack mishap we ended up arriving in Melaka not much before 7. It was a thursday evening, it was still raining and our first impressions were therefore not great. The streets also, no doubt due to the rain, were pretty empty.

    Our hotel, the Puri, was right in the centre of Chinatown and was a very old, interesting looking building. The reception area was very old fashioned but pleasant enough and the welcome was cordial if not particularly friendly. We also had to take our own bags upstairs as there didn't seem to be any porter.

    Our room, one of the junior suites, was a duplex with a funny little living room and bath on the ground floor and a bedroom on the upper floor. The room could have been very nice as the decor was quite interesting but it needed a lick of paint and just lacked a certain something. Also the only window looked onto an inward patio and so there was no natural light.

    We apparently qualified for a free pre-dinner drink so went to the bar area to claim it. Unfortunately as it was still raining the only place to sit was in the rather miserable covered courtyard which just added to the general sense of gloom. From the guidebooks I had been quite excited about the food options in Melaka but it seemed that quite a few restaurants were closed except some of the cafs on Jonker Street. Eventually we stumbled across Harpers which is in a prime site right on the river and which is housed in one of the old warehouses. The interior was peculiar and didn't really have the feel of a restaurant - no ambience whatsoever and slightly awkward service but we did eat an absolutely sensational meal of little tapas size dishes consisting of both Malaysian and European influences. Incredible that such a unassuming place could have such a remarkable chef. We then wandered out and found the backpacker bars where finally a few more people seemed to be out and about. So we pretended we were 18 again and got drunk until the early morning listening to rock and watching cockroaches scuttle along the street. A great night.

    Next day we thought we'd see what Melaka had to offer which didn't really turn out to be very much. A square full of Japanese tourists and some Dutch style buildings, a ruined fort and a river boat tour which wound its way past, well, past not very much really. We also went up a really random, very high tower which gave us a view of the whole of Melaka - which, again, wasn't very much! I then had a famous chicken rice ball (delicious and cheap) before lunch in the Geographer's Cafe and then heading back to KL.

    Melaka is an odd place. It really doesn't have very much going on but despite my comments above I did actually really like it. It is very chilled out, and it doesn't yet have the kind of tourist niceties (fancy restaurants, lovely hotels etc) that have hit the rest of the SE Asia circuit. Which means it's left to the backpackers and to other Asian tourists who think that seeing a windmill in a square is worthy of a hundred photos. It's also incredibly atmospheric and the Chinatown really is quite unique. I reckon it would be a great place to just relax for a week or two, my wife on the other hand thought it was quite scummy and was quite happy to leave! So each to his own!

    We drove back to KL and had 2 final nights in the Mandarin before going home. Having stayed at the Hilton at the start the Mandarin was a great disappointment. The rooms were so incredibly old fashioned, but not in a charming way - in a floral print wallpaper, musty yellow floors, total lack of amenities kind of way. Considering how much we were paying I was really quite annoyed - even the swimming pool area just seemed a bit run down compared to the Hilton. I mentioned this to the manager who admitted that the hotel was in desperate need of a refurb and admitted that the Hilton, where he apparently used to work, was better! He also moved us to a corner room but to be honest it wasn't much better.

    We still had a wonderful time back in KL though. My wife loved the malls - especially the KLCC one - and we did a really interesting walk through Little India and the Old Colonial heart which seem so different from the rest of the City. And as for eating? Wow. We had lunch in Shook! which has live cooking stations and is very trendy and we also had a wonderful dinner in Top Hat which is in an old colonial building and had charming service and great traditional food. On our last night we got a cab out to Tamarind Springs which someone had recommended and it was the perfect end to an amazing holiday. Set on the edge of the jungle you can dine on the terrace eating SE Asian food listening to the sounds of the animals. Life does not get better than that!

    Overall we loved our trip so much that we are most definitely SE Asia converts and are now planning our next trip. I would love to go back to Cambodia and Laos also sounds amazing. Thanks again to the board for helping us plan a great trip which I would highly recommend.

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    Yes, thank you very much OP libero7,
    I particulary liked your review of Melaka since that's one place I do want to visit soon. Great that you were able to get your rucksack with photo equipment back. NO jumping on the flight attendants! Your wife will take you to the dog house.

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