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Trip report: Malaysia and Singapore - an assault on the senses!

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My husband and I got back on Sunday from a 17 day trip to Singapore and Malaysia. While I'm still trying to gather my thoughts, edit pictures and get over the time difference, I thought it would be good to share a few of my thoughts and experiences on this board, as many posters here were a great help to us when we were planning this trip.

Our itinerary
Day 1: Arrive Singapore from Brussels (via Heathrow), 2 nights staying with a friend living in Singapore.
Day 3: Singapore to Melaka (express bus), overnight at Renaissance Melaka hotel
Day 4: Melaka to KL (express bus), 2 nights at Shangri-La
Day 6: KL to Cameron Highlands (express bus), 2 nights at Hillview Inn in Tanah Rata
Day 8: Cameron Highlands to Penang (express bus), 3 nights at E&O hotel
Day 11: Penang to Johor Bahru (AirAsia flight), land/boat transfer to Sibu Island, 3 nights at Rimba Resort
Day 14: Sibu island to Singapore (land/boat transfer), 2 nights staying with our friend
Day 16: Singapore to Brussels (overnight flight, via Heathrow)

First Impressions
As a first-time traveller to Asia (I'm not counting the hour I spent having lunch on the Asian side of Istanbul), I had no idea what to expect, but the sights, sounds and smells came crowding in and left me thoroughly enchanted, if not a little overawed.

A few snapshots of Malaysia - Scenes that have stuck in my mind
- An old Chinese woman in a crumbling Penang shophouse, broad paintbrush in one hand, pot of fluorescent pink paint in the other, carefully painting giant Chinese characters onto sheets of cardboard.
- Rolling hills clad in corduroy green (the tea plantations of the Cameron highlands)
- Coconut-throwing monkeys on the steps of the Batu caves near KL
- Cartoon-esque clown fish darting in and out of improbably blue anemones in the coral reefs off Sibu island
- A girl and boy giggling, holding hands and tickling each other in KLCC shopping centre, he dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, she in the niqab, black-veiled from head to toe.
- The hustle, bustle and bright lights of the hawker centres, where we let ourselves be carried along on the currents of sights, smells and sounds.

Memorable tastes and new flavours
- The taste of our first hawker-bought satay, hot from the grill, peanut sauce dribbling down our chins.
- Searingly hot som tum (papaya salad) and tom yam soup at the Golden mile food centre in Singapore
- Finger-licking, claw-cracking black pepper/chilli crabs at the original Jumbo seafood restaurant in Singapore
- Stir-fried sambal asparagus from a Penang seafood restaurant
- Mee goreng from a Singapore hawker centre at 3 a.m, the perfect anecdote to all the beers we'd just drunk ;)
- Afternoon daiquiris by the swimming pool at the E&O hotel in Penang
- A seemingly neverending steamboat banquet in Tanah Rata
- Banana leaf meals so good and so cheap we could have eaten five a day


Malaysia is more diverse than I could ever have imagined. Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian; forward-thinking and modern, yet traditional and conservative; colonial buidlings and Chinese shophouses standing cheek-by-jowl with skyscrapers; trishaws weaving between SUVs.
And Singapore was even more of a mix - the veneer of order and cleanliness was much thinner than we had imagined. Scratching the surface, we found a place bubbling with life in all its scuffed reality...

To be continued
(Hopefully I'll have time to write up some more details of our trip in the next few days.)

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    From Brussels? A compatriot then. Very interested in your impressions as I am planning a trip overlapping partly with what you did: KL, Melacca and SIN. In retrospect, how much time would you spend in these three places? The same of what you did?

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    Thanks for the encouragement :)
    I'm still working on the details of our first few days, but will hopefully manage to post something later on tonight...

    Cram, we live in Brussels although I am Scottish and my husband French. In response to your question, I think that yes, we did spend about the right amount of time in KL, Melaka and Singapore. I suppose we could have spent another couple of nights in KL and seen more of the city, but we were keen to get out of the big city environment and see more of the country so 2 nights was fine for us.

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    In the end it worked out at about 1.5 visiting days in KL, 1 day in Melaka and about 3.5 in Singapore (we stayed two nights when we arrived and another two before we departed).
    The express buses we just booked at the bus terminal a day or two before we wanted to travel (with the exception of Melaka to KL, where we walked up and got tickets on the next departing bus). We booked the "super VIP" coaches and paid around RM 20-25 (approx 5 euros) for each ticket, depending on the journey.

    Anyway, here is the first proper instalment of our trip.

    Day 1

    My husband (W) and I travelled from Brussels to Singapore via Heathrow (BA/Qantas codeshare). Naturally, given the recent security issues I was concerned about carry-on luggage, connection times and the like, but everything went smoothly and our 1.30 hour transfer time in Heathrow proved ample - we even had time for a little light shopping before boarding.

    The flight was comfortable, we were served killer G&Ts before dinner, decent white wine with, and even a pretty good chicken curry.

    Needless to say we slept pretty well and by the time we landed in Singapore at 8.30 the next morning, we were feeling surprisingly spritely.

    On landing, we were struck by the clean, sleek organisation at the airport (our bags were on the carrousel before we got there) and the friendly and smiling immigration official who insisted we take a candy while she stamped our passports. Welcome to Singapore!

    A short taxi ride and we were ringing the doorbell at my friend's condo (H, a friend of mine since high school, who now lives and works in Singapore). Within 30 minutes we were sitting at H's local food centre on Adam Road, sipping mugs of sweet Malaysian coffee (me and H) and frothy ginger tea (W) and trying to take in the sights and smells of stir frying noodles, curry, pastries and all manner of fruits, juices and drinks. (Oh, and wiping the sweat from our eyes as we adjusted to the heat and humidity.)

    Fortified by the tea and coffee, although not quite ready to sample fish-head curry (much to H's disappointment), we set off for a walk into central Singapore, which took us through the beautifully landscaped botanical gardens, past ranks of neatly uniformed school children exercising on the lawns, strolling families and t'ai-chi-ing grannies, through our first Singapore shopping mall - where we stopped for chicken rice and fizzy drinks - and on to Orchard Road.

    At this point things became a bit of a blur: we just followed blindly as H pointed out this hotel and that building, this bar and that shopping mall.

    Before we'd had time to work out quite where we were, H had picked up on the fact that W was hoping to buy some electronic goods while in Singapore and had bundled us into a cab bound for Sim Lim square, where he assured us we'd be able to haggle for electrical goods to our hearts' content.

    We were thinking about buying a video camera and H assured us that Sim Lim was the place to go to get the best prices. We picked a few stores at random and were quoted what sounded to us like good knock-down prices. Luckily we decided not to buy straight away - and when we checked the prices online later we discovered that they were no cheaper than if we'd bought our goods in Belgium.

    After Sim Lim we were in need of sustenance, so H took us on a walk through Little India.

    What a contrast! As we walked through the colourful arcades we picked our way past stalls selling all manner of fruit and vegetables - mangoes, papayas, snake beans, chilis, ginger, galangal, sheaves of coriander, cinnammon, curry leaves.... garlands of flowers and fluorescent effigies, sacks of rice. The air was thick with jangling Indian music and the smell of spices.

    We rounded a corner and H took us into his favourite Indian restaurant, where for the princely sum of 8 Singapore dollars (4 euros) we ate onion and egg puri (fried flatbread), fish curry, rice and dahl off a banana leaf with our fingers. And washed it all down with a Tiger beer.

    More Tiger beers followed in a nearby expat/backpacker bar called the Prince of Wales, and then we took a cab back to H's place where we cooled down with a swim in the pool before setting out again for dinner.

    That evening, H was keen to take us to one of his favourite dinner venues - a Japanese buffet called Kuishin-Bo in the Suntec City mall. I was dubious: buffet meals in Europe are usually best avoided, as are restaurants located in shopping malls. Still, H was always pretty serious about his food so we would have to trust him.

    Boy were we glad we did! We feasted on fresher than fresh sashimi, sushi, king crab claws, teppen-yaki, tempura and a host of other dishes that I can't even remember. The atmosphere was a little "shopping-mall-y" but the food was delicious and the place was packed. I think we paid around 45 Singapore dollars each (we opted for the higher priced option which included free-flow beer and soft drinks).

    Naturally, our eyes were far bigger than our stomachs; as the restaurant had a "pay for waste" policy we were obliged to eat pretty much everything we'd greedily piled on our plates. After about two hours we rolled out of the restaurant and lumbered out into the steamy Singapore night.

    H wanted to take us to a famous bar at the top of a tower (I can't remember the name) but the queues were too long so we ended up taking a stroll along the pier, and then wandering through the Raffles hotel complex to another expat bar called the Lock Stock and Barrel. By this time it was midnight and I was absolutely exhausted - not only had we eaten and drunk too much, but we were beginning to feel the effects of jetlag and travel fatigue. H and W eventually took pity on me (when I actually fell fast asleep at the table in the middle of a joke that H was telling me) and we took a cab back to H's place, where we slept like babies.

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    Day 2: Thai food, Arab Street, Chinatown and Durian

    We woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed and by 11 o'clock we were in a taxi headed for the Golden Mile complex. H reckoned this would be the best place for us to get bus tickets to Melaka, plus it was where many of Singapore's Thai food places and stores were located. H being a big Thai food fan, he decided it would be a perfect place for us to indulge in a late breakfast, and for him to introduce us to some of his favourite Thai dishes that we wouldn't find in Europe.

    First the bus tickets. The Golden Mile complex is flanked by a row of tour company offices offering all manner of bus tickets and tours throughout Malaysia and beyond. Every company had an express bus going to Melaka, but to our dismay they all departed at 8.30 in the morning. We were not keen on the idea of making such an early start the next day, so after much quizzing and questioning, we learned that the bus companies operating out of the Lavender St bus terminal offered a greater range of departure times, so we decided to head there.

    But before that, it was time for breakfast. H led us to his favourite Thai food place and we let him order for us all. I have to say that what we ate was probably the best Thai food I've ever had. Spicy tom yam soup, full of aromatic lemongrass, chilli, prawns and fish balls. Green papaya salad (som tam) which was refreshing and tasty, with a vicious chilli kick that almost left us gasping, but strangely moreish all the same. Rich spicy pad thai with egg and pork, and a delicious glass noodle salad.

    Feeling refreshed and revitalised, we headed off to find Lavender Street bus terminal. The taxi driver dropped us at Lavender MRT station, but it took us a lot of walking before we eventually found the bus terminal, as it's not as close to the MRT station as you'd imagine. We bought tickets for the Delima VIP bus leaving the next day at 10.30 (S$16 each); although there was a cheaper, more frequent service (called the Melaka Express or some such), we saw the bus and it looked a bit old and uncomfortable, so we opted for the slightly more expensive service.

    Glad to have accomplished our one "must-do" task for the day, we were ready for some more sightseeing. H decided it was time we saw another side of Singapore and hailed a taxi to take us to Arab Street. We emerged onto a street bursting with colour, its arcades housing a mix of fabric and carpet shops, pavements stacked high with rolls of rainbow coloured sari silks and piles of rugs. We stopped at an Egyptian café for (rather insipid) mint tea before wandering back up the street, past more fabric shops, wending our way through more rolls of cloth, bicycles, mopeds and store displays (including one shop selling a impressive range of plastic fruit, vegetables, biscuits and cakes). We stopped to admire the Sultan Mosque, and then followed H as he led us through a maze of streets and onto the MRT bound for Chinatown.

    I have a silly ongoing competition with a colleague to bring back the tackiest, most tasteless gifts we can find when travelling abroad. Chinatown, therefore, seemed like a good bet – and to my great joy we found a host of gift shops offering all sorts of tat – glitter-snow domes with laughing buddhas, chinese fans, hats, statuettes, plush toys and figurines galore. We struck gold with a garishly coloured plastic figure of a dragon and Chinese man with a fan which, at the flick of a switch, emitted an excrutiating screeching noise while the man lurched back and forth, and the dragon danced and flashed multicoloured lights on its head. (Needless to say, my colleague was gobsmacked when I presented her with her gift!)

    Having achieved our goal, we spent another half hour meandering through the busy streets, past t-shirt vendors, noodle stalls and fruit sellers, until H, with a gleam in his eye, led us around a corner. There, under an arcade, was a vendor surrounded by baskets of spiky green fruit, and all around him people sat at plastic tables sucking and slurping on the yellow flesh.

    From the smell, we realised that this must be durian. Always ready to try something new, we bought one and the vendor split it open with a sharp knife. The smell that emanated was reminiscent of some of the more pungent French cheeses, but I must admit that I was expecting it to be a lot worse. We gingerly tried a piece of the flesh and found that the taste was somewhere between custard, cheese and hand soap – not altogether unpleasant but not particularly delicious either. In fact, I was a little disappointed by the whole experience, having imagined that the durian would smell worse but taste better. Still, we were glad we'd sampled it.

    H was not a fan of durian and insisted we stop off at a nearby bar for a Tiger beer to take the taste away. Well, who were we to argue! For the next two hours, we sat and drank beers, ate peanuts and watched two Indian women drawing an orchid in chalk on the pavement in front of a Hindu temple.

    The evening's plans to eat dinner on the East Coast were scuppered when the weather started to look like rain, so we ended up eating pizza and drinking Belgian beer in a neighbourhood bar near H's place.

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    Days 3 and 4: Singapore – Melaka

    Although the jetlag had decided to put in an appearance, we somehow managed to drag ourselves out of bed and into a taxi in time for our bus to Melaka.

    The journey was unremarkable, fairly comfortable (we'd been warned about extreme air conditioning so had brought sweaters!) and took around 4 and a half hours, including the border formalities coming out of Singapore.

    I'd been carefully reading up on Melaka – my Lonely Planet guide implied that the bus station was relatively close to our hotel (Renaissance) - so, as we hadn't got any Malaysian currency yet, we figured we'd be able to walk there. But when we pulled into the bus terminal it didn't seem to be anywhere near the address indicated on the LP map so we ended up finding an ATM and then wandering aimlessly around the confusing bus terminal-cum-shopping-centre until we happened upon a taxi stand.

    10 minutes and 15 ringitts later we were pulling up at the hotel. I didn't much care for the area (it seemed a bit characterless) and the building was a bit of an eyesore (though some might find its curving shape pleasing to the eye). But once inside it was very swish and comfortable. The receptionist tried to sell us an upgrade to a room on the Club floor, and we initially agreed, until she admitted that no Club rooms were actually available but for the same upgrade rate we could have access to the Club floor facilities. Seemed like a big rip-off to us so we refused, and indeed we were perfectly happy with our room.

    We were ravenously hungry by now, having eaten nothing all day, so our first priority was to head out and find somewhere to eat. We'd checked in our LP guide and in W's French "Routard"' guidebook and agreed that we should head down to Chinatown and get a bite to eat at Jonkers Melaka Restoran, which was well reviewed.

    We set off and soon discovered that being a pedestrian in Malaysia was something of a challenge. In the fifteen-minute walk from the hotel to Chinatown, we'd clambered up steps, over drains, through arcades, around parked cars and scooters and across roundabouts with no pedestrian crossings and streams of enthusiastic drivers who had no intention of stopping for anything or anybody.

    Still, on the way, we'd also peered into Indian grocery stores packed to the gills with foodstuffs, plastic-tabled cafés in which a few noodle-slurping souls were taking refuge from the afternoon heat, what looked like an old bicycle repair shop, and a snoring old man taking a nap stretched out on the pavement…

    We eventually found our way to Chinatown and set off looking for the restaurant using the map in our guidebook. Ha! The teensy little dot showing the restaurant's location on the map was in the wrong place, and so we spent a good fifteen minutes wandering up and down the wrong street. Eventually we found the place but by the time we'd got there, it was shut.

    So back we went to another eatery listed in our book (I forget the name), but it looked very empty and we wanted somewhere with a bit of atmosphere. So after a few cross words (me) and a compromise solution (W), we made our way to Geographer café (www.geographer.com.my) on a corner of Jalan Hang Jebat (formerly Jonker Street), where we spent a very pleasant hour cooling off under the ceiling fans and enjoying spring rolls, dumplings and satay.

    Feeling a lot less grumpy, we wandered back down Jonker street and enjoyed looking at the antique shops and snapping pictures. We walked across the bridge to Town Square, where there was a congregation of tourists, brightly decorated trishaws (flags, bunting, tinsel, flowers, you name it, it was stuck to the trishaws!), and souvenir stalls selling fans and umbrellas.

    We climbed the steps of the old colonial Stadhuys and then walked up the hill to the ruins of St Paul's church, enjoying the vistas of the city, harbour and old ship in the distance (actually a replica, housing the Maritime musuem, and based on the Flor de la Mar, an old Portuguese trading vessel that sank in the straits with a priceless cargo of treasure looted from the city) that made an otherwise unremarkable view quite picturesque.

    We walked back down to what's left of the old Portuguese fort A Famosa (answer: not much) and then meandered back to our hotel.

    That evening we decided, again based on guidebook recommendations, to eat at Harper's restaurant in Chinatown. The place was pretty empty (a few tourists here and there) but we had a pleasant meal of Nyonya fare (chicken rendang for W, fish tempra for me, and a rather incongruous dessert of blueberry cheesecake), sitting at an outside table overlooking the river.

    By the time we'd finished eating I was really tired, and didn't fancy navigating the obstacle course back to the hotel in the dark, so we decided to ask the restaurant to call a taxi for us, and it arrived fifteen minutes later. W was our designated taxi-haggler so before we got in, he started talking to the driver, asking him to agree on a fare. The poor man looked more and more confused until I realised that W was offering him "10 rendangs" to take us back to our hotel, rather than 10 ringitts. Fortunately the driver seemed not to realise that we'd been trying to pay him in curry. I, on the other hand, was helpless with laughter as poor W offered first "rendangs", then "ringdings", then eventually ringitts.

    The next morning we went for a quick swim in the hotel pool, which was pretty big, and totally empty. We quickly cancelled out the exercise by indulging in an enormous breakfast. W is a a big fan of hotel buffet breakfasts, and he was keen to try all the eastern and western specialties on offer. I believe he ate eggs, sausages, tomatoes, croissants, pastries, bread rolls, dim sum, rice, noodles and goodness knows what else. I was much more conservative and stuck to eggs, bread and cheese. Still, it was all rather fun, apart from the dodgy Richard Clayderman (who is, incidentally, France's biggest selling recording artist by a mile) cover of "A little prayer" that was playing over and over on a loop (surely, one shouldn't have to listen to that cover version more than once in a lifetime).

    We checked out and stored our bags with the concierge, and then set off for a last walk around town, and a visit to the Baba Nyonya heritage museum (50-51 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, formerly Heeren Street), which was enjoyable, although it would have been nice to have more information about the different exhibits. It took us about 40 minutes to wander round slowly.

    We then strolled to Cheng Hoon Teng temple (http://www.chenghoonteng.org.my/) on Jalan Tokong (Temple Street), the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia. It really is a beautiful place, and I was fascinated by the patterns of smoke from candles and incense swirling against the black, red and gold of the temple, and the intricate ceramic bowl decoration on the roof.

    From here we wandered back to our hotel just as it began to rain.

    We took a taxi to the bus terminal (about 15 ringitts) and, on the recommendation of the hotel concierge, we bought a ticket from the KKL counter for the next departing express bus. (This was the only time that we didn't buy our bus tickets in advance, but there were so many services from Melaka to KL that we had no problem).

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    Oh the rendang story is already becoming a bit of a chestnut! my poor husband will never live it down ;)

    I'm not sure that I'd recommend more than 1 night (or perhaps a weekend) in Melaka, insofar as we managed to get a good overview of the city in the time that we were there, and felt that we'd seen what we wanted to see.

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    Thank you for your report. You make Singapore seem very vibrant and colorful...makes me want to got, whereas I was never interested in it before.

    Your photos are beautiful. You have a great eye and the colors seem so bright!

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    Apologies for taking so long to post this. And sorry for the length of it - this report is turning into a bit of an epic! It's probably far too detailed but I can't decide which bits to leave out and which to include.

    Anyway, here's some more.


    Days 4-6 - Kuala Lumpur, Batu caves, and a close shave with a monkey and a coconut

    Our bus trip to KL was fast and comfortable, although arrival at Pudu Raya bus station was a bit confusing. The bus stopped down the street behind a long line of buses, rather than in the station itself. I didn't realise we'd reached our destination till I noticed that everyone else had got off the bus! We managed to trundle our luggage up the street and towards the station, where lots of taxi drivers/touts were waiting for our custom. Initially we'd hoped to take the opportunity to purchase our bus tickets for the Cameron Highlands, but once we'd worked out how to get into the bus station and taken one look at the scenes of bustling confusion within (not to mention the enormous queues at every ticket counter) we changed our minds pretty fast.

    So we lugged our bags back out of the station, down the stairs (there seemed to be numerous entrances to the bus station, all involving long flights of steps) and out onto the street. Of course, now, there were no taxis to be seen. Typical.

    Finally we saw a few on the other side of the busy crossroads and managed, eventually, to get across the lanes of traffic without being run over. We were all geared up to haggle for the fare to our hotel, but of course the minute we told the taxi our destination there was no discussion whatsoever. (That's the problem with staying in posh hotels - you can hardly ask the driver to take you to the Shangri-La and then spend ten minutes haggling over 2 ringitts).
    Anyway we were hot and tired and we just wanted to get to the hotel, so we didn't try and bargain too hard.

    We don't often stay in posh city hotels, so the Shangri-La was a bit of a treat for us. I must admit I felt a bit like the country cousin when we walked into the grand lobby with its expansive marble floors, water features, and the grand piano tinkling away in the middle distance.

    Our room (a standard double, on the 18th floor, if I remember correctly) was very spacious and confortable, although the decor felt a bit "corporate" (I suppose that's to be expected). Still, there was a lovely big picture window with nice views out onto a park, and the bathroom was great, with lots of marble, and a nice big bath and separate shower.

    As both of us were feeling hungry and a bit lazy, we opted to grab a bite to eat at the hotel before exploring. We ordered sandwiches (chicken for me and steak for W - which he said was the best steak sandwich he'd ever had) and soft drinks at the bar in the lobby.

    After our late lunch we set off on foot to the Petronas Towers and KLCC shopping mall, only a ten minute walk from the hotel. Once inside the enormous mall we made a beeline for the bookshop - I like to try and buy a cookbook from every country I visit (provided I understand the language) so I was pleased to pick up a nice book on Malaysian cuisine, with separate sections for Malay, Nyonya, Chinese and Indian. We wandered around the shops for a while, enjoying the people watching and window-shopping more than anything else. On the way back to the hotel it was starting to get dark, and the towers looked very impressive lit up against the night sky. I could see the Moorish/Islamic influence in the architecture and shape of the towers, which I thought leant them a real elegance.

    Back at the hotel, W started to feel a bit sick (probably due to the vast breakfast in Melaka followed by the world's biggest steak sandwich in the afternoon). So rather than go out to eat as we'd planned, we decided to have a bite at one of the hotel's restaurants. In the end we plumped for the Shang Palace but ended up rather regretting it.

    The restaurant itself was almost empty and the atmosphere felt rather cold and uninviting. We were seated side by side at an enormous round table (there didn't seem to be any smaller tables), so we ended up shunting ourselves (and the chairs) around the table so we could actually look at each other while we were eating. Our choices of fried glass noodles, Hong-Kong duck, and lemon and almond chicken were tasty but not remarkable and, we felt, overpriced.

    There was one moment of excitement when a disoriented bat flew into the restaurant from somewhere and flitted around the heads of the diners before disappearing the same way it came, briefly returning and disappearing once more.


    The following day, W was still feeling ill and didn't feel much like breakfast. That didn't stop me from enjoying a large plate of goodies from the hotel's impressive buffet, which was served in the pleasant, bright Lemon Garden café.

    One of the reasons that we'd decided to spend two nights in KL was that I was really keen to visit the Batu Caves, located a few kilometres outside the city. But first we had to get our bus tickets for the next day.

    We took a cab back to the station and, after some searching, located the counter for tickets to the Cameron Highlands - I think we paid around RM25 each for the super VIP bus, which would leave from outside a nearby food court at 12.30 the next day.

    Glad to have achieved our task, we consulted our guide books to work out how to get to the caves. Apparently, we would need to go the Central Market and catch bus no 11 from "somewhere nearby". It took us rather longer than expected (including many wrong turns, confused consultations of our maps and a brief direction-seeking interlude at Starbucks) to locate the market. Of course, once we got there, there was no way of telling on which of the busy streets our bus stop was located.

    Fortunately (or so we thought), there was a tourist information booth nearby so we asked the two guys at the counter where we should get the bus to the caves. They told us to get Metro Bus no. 20 from "over there" (pointing at a nearby street). Not number 11? "No, no, definitely the 20".

    After about fifteen minutes of searching and waiting for the 20, a Metrobus employee appeared and we asked him where to get the 20 to the Batu Caves. "No no, you need to get number 11", he told us, "from outside the Bangkok Bank," a large building nearby. And lo and behold, as we rounded the corner there was the bus. I have no idea why none of our guidebooks said to get the bus from outside the Bangkok Bank, as it was by far the easiest landmark to find in the area. Still, we were on board, we had seats and the aircon was working.

    The half-hour ride took us north through the city, past skyscrapers and run-down shophouses, schools and businesses, market stalls and hawker centres. As we left the city centre, the colours became more vibrant, palm and banana trees more frequent, and the street scenes more interesting. As we neared the caves, an elderly gent on the bus told us which stop to get off at; it was a five minute walk from the bus stop to the entrance.
    As we walked through the gate we looked at each other: "wow!" was all we could say. Ahead of us we could see a long flight of steps disappearing up the rock face, and at the foot, an enormous golden statue. This was Lord Mulugan, and his statue had only been finished several months earlier. It really is an impressive and beautiful thing, and the scale is just immense. I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it in my life. The gold of the statue was almost glowing, it seemed so bright.

    As we walked down the driveway towards the entrance, a few touts tried to get us to visit some kind of "historical" museum, telling us that it was an essential part of the visit and we were "required" to go there before entering the caves. I knew that the caves were free of charge so I couldn't see why we had to stop at some museum, so we just ignored them. I got the feeling that they managed to fool quite a few other visitors, however.

    There were around 400 steps up to the cave mouth, but the views were so beautiful and the resident macaque monkeys running up and down the stairs so entertaining that we didn't find the climb difficult at all.
    Our jaws dropped for a second time when we entered the immense cave: called "Temple Cave" or "Cathedral Cave", the roof is 100 metres high and the entire cave is lit by natural skylights. Set into the craggy, clammy walls were various shrines to Hindu Gods. The Batu Caves are the site of an important pilgrimage during the Thaipusam festival, when thousands of devotees congregate there. We tried to imagine these huge caves full of people, and decided we were glad to share them with a just few tourists and monkeys. And a stump-tailed cat that we spotted leaping from rock to rock against the gloom of the cave walls.


    At the far end of the cave was another flight of stairs, leading out into a circular area open to the sky. Plants grow on the walls and monkeys were running, leaping, sleeping, grooming, all around us. I stopped on the steps to take a closeup of a monkey and, just as I took a step back, I heard an enormous crash and practically jumped out of my skin. I looked up and realised that a group of monkeys had been sitting on a metal and wire archway at the top of the steps, and one of them had just thrown a coconut at me! Fortunately I'd stepped away just in time and it had smashed at my feet. Apparently when people come to worship at the temple, they smash coconuts on the ground, and the monkeys had learned to copy them. I was a little bit shaken (but also amused), and we were very careful to give the monkeys a wide berth from then on, especially when a group of tourists started trying to feed them and then reacting with hysterical squeals and screeches as the monkeys approached.

    We took the same bus back to central KL, and half-heartedly wandered towards the colonial area of the city before we decided to just take the LRT back to the hotel. For some reason, KL just wasn't appealing to me very much. I couldn't 'get my head around' the city, and felt that to really enjoy it, we'd have needed to be with somebody who was very familiar with the place. We just found it hot, busy and confusing. However, we enjoyed the hotel, and our trip to the Batu Caves had made the trip to KL more than worthwhile, so I didn't feel disappointed in any way. It probably didn't help that W was feeling ill and tired for much of the time.

    Lunch was a mixed vegetarian curry plate from the KLCC food court – cheap and filling, although I felt a bit bad as W, who couldn't face eating lunch, just sat and watched me eat.

    We decided to head back to the hotel and chill out for an hour or two - in the end we were glad that we had, as the heavens opened and the most violent rainstorm turned our picture window into a curtain of grey for a good couple of hours. As the rain cleared, so W began to feel better. After a fortifying cup of tea and a cake from the pastry shop in the lobby, he was determined to see more of KL before we left.
    So later that evening, we grabbed a taxi and headed off to the Old China Café for our dinner. Although the place was touristy (every person there seemed to be clutching a guidebook, for it is recommended without fail in all the guides we looked at), we really enjoyed ourselves. The decor is atmospheric (saloon doors, wooden tables, old mirrors and pictures on the walls) and the food was really good value. We chose "Pie Tee" or "top hats" – little crispy baskets which you fill with a tasty mix of shredded vegetables and seafood, with a spicy sauce. I then had Nasi Lemak, the traditional Malaysian dish of rice cooked in coconut milk, served on a banana leaf with curry kapitan, fried anchovies, hard boiled egg, tamarind, etc. It was quite delicious. W chose fried mee, not too spicy so as not to upset his stomach again. With our meal we drank several pots of fragrant Chinese tea. In all, a most successful meal – and very good value (came to around RM27 for everything).

    After dinner, W was keen to take a stroll through the night market which was just round the corner from the restaurant. It was a fun experience to wander (or rather squeeze) along the narrow aisles as tourists and locals alike haggled for knock-down bags, cheap tees and fake watches. I had no desire to buy anything, but it was fun to look.
    We hailed a cab nearby and returned to the hotel. As it was still quite early and W was now fully recovered, we decided to stop in at the hotel bar for a nightcap. As the lobby bar was filled with the wailings of two young singers, perched up on a platform singing some pretty awful cover versions, we decided to head to the hotel's "English" pub instead. We'd only been sitting there for a couple of minutes when the same singers appeared, backing musicians in tow, and launched into their routine.

    I have to admit that it all felt rather surreal, a bit like something out of Lost in Translation, especially when a large group of extremely tipsy Japanese (I think) tourists began to sing and dance enthusiastically to the music. When YMCA came on it was time for us to leave.

    The next morning we had a late breakfast and sat for a while watching the rain pour down outside, before we took a cab to the bus station, to catch our bus to the Cameron Highlands.

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    You're saving us a lot of research time. We're gong to follow your itenerary pretty closely. We'll be careful using the LP Malasia/Singapore book. Look forward to the next installments. Pics were great. What kind of camera did you use?? We're planning on buying a new one before our trip.

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    Haven't had time to read all of your report - will get back to it later. (Terrific start.) Loved your photos - may I ask what kind of camera you have? The colors are wonderfully vibrant.

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    Hello,
    Sorry I haven't posted any instalments recently, my work schedule has been really busy and I've been ill as well... Am better now and will hopefully post some more instalments soon.
    Anyway, am glad that this is proving of interest to some of you!

    The camera I use is nothing fancy - it's a Konica Minolta Dimage Z3 - basically a digital with zoom and various other features. There's a picture/review here: http://www.steves-digicams.com/2004_reviews/z3.html

    I'm not sure whether Konica Minolta cameras are still available to buy, however, as the company no longer manufactures cameras.

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    Days 6-8 - Cameron Highlands - Tanah Rata - Tea plantations – Steamboat

    The rainstorm that had started in Kuala Lumpur did not let up at all during the 4 and a half hour bus journey to the Cameron Highlands. As we wound up hairpin bends, the vegetation became greener and lusher and I strained to catch a glimpse of the beautiful views I'd read about. My optimism (it's just a shower!) started to wane after several hours of driving rain, and by the time we reached the town of Tanah Rata I was feeling thoroughly deflated.

    Although we stayed in posh hotels in KL and Melaka (thank you, exchange rate!), we aren't really top-end travellers, and the more luxurious hotel options in the Cameron Highlands just didn't appeal to us. (I wasn't particularly bothered about staying in a mock-Tudor mansion or huge luxury resort. Also, as we wouldn't have a car, we preferred to stay somewhere in the town of Tanah Rata.)

    We'd originally planned to stay in a much recommended backpacker hostel called Father's Guesthouse, but as you couldn't book rooms there and I am a control freak who has to plan everything in advance, we eventually booked a room at Hillview Inn, a moderately priced place that was well recommended in all our guidebooks (not least because almost all the rooms have balconies).

    There was a rep from the guesthouse waiting at the bus station, so we didn't have to worry about getting drenched. He dropped us at the guesthouse, which seemed quite pleasant, although located rather too close to an extremely ugly abandoned construction site.

    We had phoned a few days previously and booked a double room with bathroom, but when we arrived it turned out they didn't have that room free after all, so we were offered a triple with bath for a slightly reduced rate of RM90 (we'd been quoted RM88 for the double), and the option to move rooms the next day.

    The guesthouse was clean and friendly, but our room seemed gloomy and depressing, and when we opened the door to the balcony we had a view of the derelict construction site. The guesthouse itself also seemed to be undergoing some building work, because one end of our balcony looked onto an area which was clearly still in construction or renovation. Not the prettiest of views!

    By this time I was feeling pretty miserable about things. I'd been so looking forward to enjoying the beautiful setting and views in the Cameron Highlands, but the rain was putting a real dampener on my spirits.

    We decided to head back to the bus station to get our tickets for Penang, and have a stroll through the town of Tanah Rata, which proved to be fairly pleasant, if not spectacular. The main street was lined with shops, restaurants and cafés, and there were lots of people wandering through the arcades, sheltering from the rain.

    Our main hope for the Cameron Highlands was to enjoy the natural surroundings, perhaps walk one of the jungle trails, see the tea plantations, take some photos and generally make the most the great outdoors.

    Our guesthouse offered various organised trips and tours, including guided jungle trekking and a half day tour to Gunung Brinchang, the tea plantations and the mossy forest. One of the girls working there told me that the weather forecast for the next day was more rain, so we really weren't sure whether we should commit ourself to booking a tour, as she was convinced it wouldn't be worth it. In the end we made tentative plans to do a jungle trek (after having been assured that our footwear - trainers - wouldn't pose any problem).

    We didn't want to spend any time in our gloomy room so we took our books and sat out on the covered patio, where we ordered a Tiger beer each and tried not to think about the rain.

    After an hour or so we began to feel pretty cold so we figured that the best thing to raise our body temperature would be a good curry. We headed out to one of the Indian restaurants on the main road, Kumar, where we sat out at a table under the arcade and ordered a banana leaf meal each - veggie for me and chicken for W, plus an onion puri and Tiger beers each.

    The food was delicious – onto our banana leaf we were served rice, dahl, spicy chickpeas and various other vegetables, poppadums, a little banana each, and tofu for me, and a chicken leg for W. We wolfed down the lot and started to feel a lot better about things. Strange how a plate of food can do that! The rain had also eased somewhat, so things were looking up.

    Despite the gloomy room and rather saggy bed, we managed to get a decent night's sleep and were up bright and early the next day. It was 31 August which was Hari Merdeka, Malaysia's independence day. We could hear fanfares playing and, from our balcony, we caught glimpses of various uniformed bodies marching up and down the main road.

    When we went down for breakfast (tea and toast), we discovered that a double room was now available for us, and we jumped at the chance to move when we saw how much more pleasant the room was (smaller and cosier, but brighter and with much better views and two balconies). After breakfast we spoke to the guesthouse manager who discouraged us from doing a jungle trek as it would be too wet and muddy. We could book a half day tour instead, so that's what we did.

    Expecting a 4x4 as advertised by the tour posters on display in the guesthouse, we were most surprised when we were ushered out to meet our guide, who was driving an ancient, clapped-out taxi.

    W and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes: was this "tour" just going to turn into a major rip-off?

    First stop was the service station in Brinchang where the driver proceeded to top up the oil and fill up on petrol (with the engine running the whole time); we then lurched on to our first real stop, the butterfly farm. It all seemed a bit small and touristy, and as our guide began to pick up scorpions, butterflies and beetles and encouraged us to take photos, I seriously started to wonder what had possessed us to book this sort of tour.

    But the guide was kind and friendly, and seemed genuinely eager to please, so little by little we began to warm to him. Perhaps we wasn't just some random taxi driver that the guesthouse had called to take us tourists for a ride.

    As we left the guesthouse, the guide (who was Chinese and called Robin, we later learned) told us that the clouds and mist were clearing, so we should hurry up to the highest point in the region, Gunung Brinchang, so that we could enjoy the views.

    And up we drove, in this battered old taxi, up steep winding roads, staring open-mouthed at the breathtaking views of hills covered with corduroy green tea plantations stretching away into the distance. These were the Cameron Highlands we'd come to see!

    Finally we reached the top of the hill, Gunung Brinchang, where a row of 4x4s was parked and several groups of tourists were milling around the observation tower. Suddenly I was glad that we weren't in one of these big jeeps, but were on our own with our little guide in a clapped out old taxi.

    We climbed up the tower and took a few photos, and then Robin drove us a little way back down the hill before he parked the taxi again. "Now we'll go for our mossy forest trek", he announced.
    "Hmm", we thought. "This guy looks about 70 - so this is bound to be more of an easy stroll than a trek".

    Ha! We couldn't have been more wrong. Robin set off like a mountain goat, stepping lightly on this root and that stone, keeping his feet clear of the muddy, soggy track, while W and I stumbled and blundered, mud-splashed, several yards behind him.
    "You step here, here, here," he'd call out, pointing out a stepping stone route for me through the mud, clambering up over steep inclines and huge treeroots as though he were taking a stroll in the park.

    We clambered along the narrow trail, and despite the difficult terrain we were able to enjoy the beautiful views of the hills around us, which we glimpsed through the mossy, velvety trees and lush foliage surrounding us. Creepers and climbing plants, ferns and roots spiralled in every direction, while frogs, birds and insects provided the soundtrack. (I'd spent 6 weeks working in the cloudforest in Costa Rica so this environment felt very similar, and no less beautiful). Every now and then Robin would stop to show us a particular view or a pitcher plant growing up in the trees or down in the undergrowth. (These carniverous plants are shaped like pitchers into which insects blunder. When an insect falls in the lid snaps shut and slowly dissolves, to be ingested by the plant.)

    By the end of our walk we were exhausted, muddy and sweaty, and my leg muscles were killing me. Robin, on the other hand, looked no different to when we had started. We asked him how often he led this tour and he told us "Every day" - so no wonder he was fit and spritely! What a character.

    We drove back down from Gunung Brinchang and on to our next stop, the Boh tea plantation, set in a valley surrounded by rolling hills, with tea plants stretching as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately the tea factory was closed that day as it was a public holiday, but we were still able to visit the information centre, shop and tea room, where we tasted some of the wares and bought some nice souvenirs for my tea loving friends and family. We got caught in something of a traffic jam driving back up the track towards the exit, but it gave us an opportunity to look at the tea-pickers cottages and village with its colourful Hindu temple (apparently, most of the tea pickers come from India).

    As we drove back down the road to Tanah Rata, we began to see what the guidebooks meant when they described the Cameron Highlands as a popular destination for local tourists. The roads were absolutely jam packed with cars; the area around Brinchang was filled with strawberry farms, tacky decorations (giant plastic strawberries with cartoon faces being particularly popular), souvenir shops, tea shops and giant multi-storey hotel developments. Still, the atmosphere was pleasant and the beautiful hill views, tree ferns and lush vegetation growing all around helped to counter the developed feel to the area.

    As we drove back through Tanah Rata, Robin recommended that we try the famous steamboat at the Mayflower restaurant; it was, he said, the best place to eat in the town.

    Never ones to take a restaurant recommendation lightly, we decided we'd go there that night. However, lunch was our first priority so after Robin had dropped us off, we wandered back to the main street to the Oriental restaurant, where we shared Tom Yam soup and fried mee.

    That afternoon, W wanted to go for a walk along one of the jungle trails that branched out from the town, but by that time it had started raining again so we ruled out that idea. We considered going to one of the hotels for a cream tea but neither of us could muster up enough enthusiasm, so instead we lazed around in the sitting room at the guesthouse, reading books and eating peanuts.

    Our peaceful moment was abruptly shattered by the loud voices of a tour group that had arrived to stay at the guest house. As is often the way on holiday, we had already come across this same group when dining at the Old China café in KL – they'd stuck in our mind because one or two of their number were extremely loud mouthed. Just our luck that they'd chosen to stay at the same guesthouse as us - and the loudest mouthed guest of all was in the room next to ours!

    As we readied ourselves to go out for our much anticipated steamboat dinner, we saw the tour group disappear around the corner ahead of us. Just our luck if they were going to the same restaurant as us…

    Of course, they were, and when we reached the restaurant we discovered that they had nabbed the last table!!! Gutted, we decided to take a walk and find somewhere to have a beer while we waited for a table to come free. But we couldn't find anywhere appealing and five minutes later were back at the restaurant. Fortunately, W spotted a table way at the back of the narrow restaurant, practically looking on to the kitchen.

    We were soon seated and enjoying the buzzing atmosphere and the interesting view out onto the narrow, rainy alleyway which divided the restaurant from the kitchen.

    We ordered steamboat for two, with half chicken soup, half tom yam soup. And there began one of the best (and most memorable) meals of our entire trip. For those who don't know, a "steamboat" is a sort of Chinese "fondue" where you are brought different raw ingredients which you cook in a bubbling pot of hot soup.

    For RM15 each, we were brought a platter with two types of noodles, tofu, eggs, fish balls, and a second platter with raw king prawns, cuttlefish, chicken, beef, fish, cooked mussels and oysters, oyster mushrooms, watercress and greens, plus a few unidentifable squidgy brownish things which we later discovered were jellyfish. We had great fun cooking various combinations and slurping noodles and spattering soup down our chins.

    Our guide Robin appeared in the restaurant just as we were starting our meal and was so pleased to see us, he had a word with the manager/owner and we were treated to top class service from then on. Robin sat by the kitchen with a plate of rice, giving us the odd wave and smile and occasionally coming over to explain how to eat this or that food item (and revealing what the jellyfish were!).

    After about 2 hours of non-stop eating, we'd managed to make a considerable dent in our plate of food but certainly hadn't come close to finishing it. It really was a delicious and fun way to spend an evening, and I'd say if you had to eat one meal in Tanah Rata, you should have steamboat at the Mayflower :)

    We waddled back to the guesthouse and were asleep in no time – even the loud-mouthed tour group didn't keep us from the land of nod.

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    (I hope this doesn't post twice, as have had lots of problems previewing/editing today)


    Days 8 and 9 - Penang - E&O hotel - Cheong Fatt Tze mansion

    The bus trip to Penang took longer than expected - 6 hours rather than the advertised 5. It was frustrating to drive past the turnoff to Penang and carry on to Butterworth, where the bus disgorged most of its passengers, only to turn round and retrace our route.

    The few passengers remaining on the bus to its terminus on Penang seemed to be as surprised as we were when we were dropped off at an express bus station well outside Georgetown. We'd all just assumed Georgetown would be the final destination.

    A few taxis were waiting, and it seemed that the fares were pre-set for different destinations on the island, so we didn't have to (or have the chance to) haggle. The fare would be 25 ringitts, so we chose a cab, gave the driver our destination (Eastern and Oriental hotel) and set off.

    As we arrived in Georgetown I got the feeling that the driver hadn't understood our destination, so I reminded him we were going to the Eastern and Oriental, the E&O. "Yes yes, Oriental hotel" he replied. "No", we cried "- EASTERN and Oriental - E&O".
    "Yes yes," he said again, and then five minutes later pulled up in front of the Oriental hotel, an entirely different establishment (and not far from the E&O, we later discovered).
    "NO!" we told him, and showed him our guidebook with the map, name and location of the hotel. He'd never heard of it! This struck us as very strange, as it's surely one of Georgetown's institutions. Later it occured to us that as the driver was Chinese, he may not have been good at reading or speaking English. Either way, he had to get out of the cab and show our guidebook and map to some locals in order to find out where to go! In the end we were glad the taxi hadn't been on a meter, as we'd probably have paid double.

    We pulled up outside the white painted building, which looks quite unassuming from the outside... but inside, we felt like we'd gone back in time, as a pith-helmeted porter took our bags, and a suited and booted butler served us a cool drink as our key and check-in documents were prepared.

    We had booked a Premium suite and were absolutely thrilled when we saw the room and the balcony with its beautiful view of the sea. It really was stunning.
    (here's a picture - http://tinyurl.com/wcon5 )
    The room itself was nicely decorated, though the living room furniture was polished wood and so not very comfortable. Still, the bathroom was gorgeous and they didn't seem to have overlooked a thing. For 120 euros a night, this was one almighty bargain!

    We were exhausted and starving hungry after the bus journey and so decided to have a snack in one of the hotel's eateries, Sarkies' corner. We chose to sit outside - despite the lack of parasols, we were kept cool by the lovely sea breeze. W ordered nasi goreng, and, if I remember rightly, I had a chicken sandwich which proved to be very tasty and rather more than I could manage.

    We'd caught a glimpse of the swimming pool as we ate lunch, and decided that our main priority was to go for a dip and enjoy the pretty setting and sea view. Once we'd worked out how to get down there, we spent a glorious couple of hours lounging by the pool, swimming and reading our books. ALthough we hadn't travelled to Malaysia to sunbathe, it was still lovely to just lie back and relax after the previous week's hectic schedule.
    (picture: http://tinyurl.com/yctdds )


    We decided not to stray too far for dinner (apart from anything, my leg muscles were still killing me after the previous day's jungle trek and even the act of sitting down or standing up elicited a shriek of pain, much to W's poorly concealed amusement). One of my guidebooks recommended the frogs legs and fresh seafood at a Chinese restaurant called the May Garden on Jalan Penang, only a 5 minute walk from the hotel.

    We strolled down there at around 8 pm and were heartened to see that lots of locals were eating at the restaurant, so figured it wouldn't be too much of a tourist trap. However, when we ordered the frogs legs with ginger we were told they didn't have any, and neither did they have the fresh snapper that we'd hoped to have as our second course.

    I was a bit disappointed, but was determined to have a great meal so we asked the waiter what they did have. He recommended soft-shelled crab cooked with salt and pepper, and along with it we ordered some stir fried asparagus with sambal, and some special fried noodles.
    Wow. The food was so good - particularly the crispy, spicy crab and lovely fresh, crunchy asparagus - and we ended up being pleased that we hadn't been able to order the frogs legs and snapper. As we drank endless cups of tea and congratulated ourselves for ordering such delicious food, the restaurant filled up with tourists and locals alike, and by the time we left the place was very busy indeed.


    The next day, we took out time going down for breakfast. The buffet was copious and varied, but we both agreed the actual quality of the food had been better at the Shangri-La. Still, that didn't stop us from filling up on omelettes, smoked salmon and pastries! :)

    There were two things that I really wanted to visit in Georgetown: the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion, and the Khoo Kongsi clan-house. As it was Saturday and our guide books stated that the Cheong Fatt Tse house wasn't open on Sunday, and that it could only be visited as part of a guided tour, we hurried to catch the 11 o'clock tour.

    Of course my legs were still aching horribly, so I couldn't hurry properly but only hobble and emit pained squeaks as we clambered up and down the high kerbs and uneven pavements. We just made it to the mansion in time for the tour, and barely had the time to admire the beautiful blue facade.
    (picture - http://tinyurl.com/y9q9b8 )

    The tour itself was an absolute joy: the lady who led it (I didn't ask her name, regrettably) had been involved in the renovation project from the very beginning, and had all sorts of wonderful stories about the renovations, the Chinese entrepreneur who had built the house in the early 1900s, and the various houseguests and squatters who had lived in the place until it was bought and renovated. The man himself, Cheong Fatt Tze, was an extremely important and successful Chinese businessman. He had written a clause into his will stopping the house and its contents from being sold until his last direct heir had died, and leaving a sum of money to pay for its upkeep, which the housekeeper had to eke out for decades, as the family waited for the last son to die so that they could at last come into their inheritance. To make money, the housekeeper rented out any part of the house that she could, and the guide explained how there had been cooking fires, clothes lines, makeshift beds and people in every corner of the beautiful house.
    The renovation was so thorough and successful that the house was used as one of the sets for the Oscar-winning French film Indochine, which starred Catherine Deneuve (the film was about Vietnam but the makers hadn't been able to find such a well preserved Chinese/colonial house there).

    The house itself is beautiful, and several of the rooms can be booked on a B&B basis. I think it would be fun to spend a night there, as the atmosphere is something special.

    After the tour, we lingered to snap many photos of the bright blue exterior of the house, and then set off to the Khoo Kongsi, on the other side of China town. It wasn't far in terms of distance, but the heat and constant ups and downs of the pavements, kerbs and steps meant that with my still aching legs I was exhausted by the time we got there. Just as we were about to go in, a man came out and told us it was closed that day, as there was a film crew there shooting. We'd have to come back the next day.

    A little frustrated, we walked back to the hotel to have a bit of a rest, and then decided to head out to find somewhere for lunch. We thought we'd go in search of a food centre and decided on the Esplanade, as it was much recommended by the Lonely Planet.

    We imagined a permanent food centre like those we'd seen elsewhere in Malaysia and Singapore, but when we arrived on the seafront there was no sign of any open food stalls whatsoever. We later learned that they were only open in the evenings, but the LP gave no mention of this.

    Hot and tired and hungry, we consulted our French guidebook this time and set off in search of a highly recommended Indian restaurant somewhere on Jalan Penang. After twenty minutes of searching we couldn't see hide nor hair of the place (couldn't even find the street number it was supposed to be located at) and my legs were killing me. It was baking hot and so we decided to give up and go back to the hotel for a bite to eat rather than trail round looking for somewhere in town.

    We went to the hotel bar and ordered bar food (I can't remember what) and a couple of drinks. However, a group of rowdy young Japanese people were making such a racket, singing and playing drinking games, that we eventually asked the staff to send our food up to our room. It arrived after what seemed like an age, rather cold and disappointing, but we were too hungry to care! After eating, we decided that we needed a nice dip in the pool to perk our spirits up, so we spent an extremely pleasant few hours swimming, reading and sipping some excellent cocktails from the bar (which were extremely reasonable in price!).

    That evening, determined to make up for the afternoon's disappointing culinary experiences, we took a cab out to Gurney Drive, a seafront area with many shopping malls, eateries and one of Georgetown's most famous hawker centres. The place was buzzing with people, cars and taxis and mopeds clogging the road and people filling the pavements, streaming in and out of shopping malls, eating and laughing and talking.

    We started by walking all the way round the hawker centre to scope it out and find the most appetising stalls. We didn't know where to look first - there was curry and satay, rojak, ten kinds of noodles, seafood, fresh fruit both familiar and foreign, drinks of all kinds and colours. Loklok stands (a bit like steamboat) where people were dipping meat and fish into hot broth. Stands selling unidentified seafood dishes and stands peddling all kinds of sweetmeats.

    Gradually we walked all the way round, peering at people's trays and plates... and then the serious business of eating began.
    First, 6 chicken satay sticks, fresh and smokey off the grill. Then a bowl of hot and tasty Char Kway Teow - fried rice noodles with egg, pork and shrimp, washed down with a sugar cane juice (which I didn't care for much). Then a bowl of wonton mee - soupy egg noodles with crispy shrimp wontons and char siew (grilled pork).

    We were starting to feel pretty full but we were determined to try at least one more dish... so we opted for the famous Assam Laksa, made with mackerel, tamarind, slippery noodles, and garnished with fresh mint and shrimp paste. Although it wasn't our favourite dish of the evening (especially as I'm not a huge fan of sweet and sour flavours) it was different, and certainly traditional!
    We managed to flag down a taxi and made our way back to the hotel for a nightcap (though I don't know how we found room for our glasses of beer after everything we'd eaten!!)

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    Days 10-11: Penang (continued) - Butterfly farm - Khoo Kongsi

    The following day we thought it would be nice to get out of the town for a few hours, and W had read about Penang's butterfly farm (an important breeding and research centre as well as being a tourist attraction) and thought it might be a fun place to visit (I was keen to take pictures too). The hotel ordered a taxi for us and we negotiated a rate of 80 ringitts for the driver to drive us there, wait and drive us back after our visit. We could have taken a bus up to the butterfly farm as well, which was about 40 minutes drive from Penang, but we were feeling lazy! The drive was pleasant, taking us out of the town and along the seafront, past Penang's beach resorts (which didn't look particularly appealing to me!) and also past some of the temporary accommodation housing the island's victims of the 2004 tsunami.

    We arrived at the butterfly farm, bought our tickets and paid a supplement for our camera, for which we received a little ticket which we tied round the strap. The place was well organised and although it was busy (it was Sunday morning so lots of families were there), it didn't feel crowded as the way it was laid out enabled everybody to walk through all the different zones without any bottlenecks.

    We'd been told that mid to late morning was the best time for butterflies as it's when they are most active - and there really were huge numbers of them fluttering all around us, giving us hundreds of amazing photo opportunities (here's one: http://tinyurl.com/yel2wq ). There were also a few areas with other bugs and creepy crawlies, lots of running water and landscaped ponds, little bridges and walkways.

    After a good hour there, our driver was waiting outside for us as planned. We were going to go back to the hotel but then, as it wasn't yet lunchtime, W thought it might be nice to make the most of the taxi and so asked the driver to take us to Penang hill instead, which he agreed to for an extra 20 ringitts.

    We hoped to take the funicular up the hill, walk around for an hour or so and then come back into Georgetown in time to visit the Khoo Kongsi before it closed. The driver agreed to pick us up two hours later, left us his home phone number in case we had a change of plans, and dropped us at the Penang hill funicular station.

    We had read that there might be queues but, when we got there, there didn't seem to be too many people ahead of us. We hoped that we'd manage to get on the next funicular which was due to leave twenty minutes later. After ten minutes in the queue, I suddenly noticed the sign saying they were selling tickets for the funicular at 2.30 pm, which would mean over an hour wait to go up, and doubtless the same at the top to come down. No way did we want to hang around for that long, as we really didn't want to miss the Khoo Kongsi. So we called the number the driver left for us, left a message with his niece, and fifteen minutes later he arrived back to pick us up again.

    So our visit to Penang hill was a bit of a failure. If I'd known the wait was likely to be so long at the weekend we definitely would not have bothered trying to visit when we did, or would have allowed ourselves a lot more time. Again I felt that the guidebooks didn't really make it clear just how long it can take to go up and down.

    The taxi driver took us straight to the Khoo Kongsi, which, this time, was open for visitors. In fact, we were practically the only people there for most of our visit (apart from a five minute photo stop by a busload of other tourists).

    Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi is a beautifully renovated clan-house built for the Khoo clan. It was first constructed in the late 19th century, but not long after it was completed it caught fire, and much of it was destroyed. It was rebuilt, but not quite to its former glory, as it was believed that the fire had been a punishment from the Gods for making the original building too magnificent! I must say, I cannot imagine the splendour of that first building, as the current clan-house is really very beautiful indeed. (picture: http://tinyurl.com/y5v2z7 )

    The complex consists of a small museum detailing the history of the building and the Khoo clan, a theatre building (not open to visitors), and the stunning clan house (Leong San Tong) itself. The interior was decorated with beautiful murals and the incredible attention to detail of the decor just took my breath away. (picture: http://tinyurl.com/y78rsp )

    We spent some time wandering around admiring the building, but after a while our stomachs started to rumble and we decided to head to a nearby Indian restaurant for a good, filling curry meal.

    The restaurant we chose, called something like Krishna Villages I think, was a simple, homely place with one long shared table down the middle, and a few smaller tables around the sides. We sat at the long table and ordered a banana leaf meal each - chicken for W and veggie for me. This was by far the most "rustic" of the Indian restaurants we'd visited, but the food was delicious and extremely copious! The server brought a big bucket of rice and ladled a load onto our leaves, followed by chickpeas, spicy cabbage, mixed spicy vegetables and pototoes, dahl, poppadums and a dish of pakora for me and chicken for W. The restaurant staff were most amused when we declined their offer of a knife and fork, but we'd already discovered it was much easier (and way more fun!) to eat a banana leaf meal with our fingers! The server kept coming round offering second and third helpings, but soon we were stuffed and had to call it a day. I think the meal set us back around 12 ringitts.

    It was our last day so we were keen to enjoy a last swim and cocktail (or two) by the pool, so we headed back to the hotel and spent a few hours relaxing, reading and swimming before dinner.

    W was keen to try out a restaurant that was highly recommended in his guidebook, the Oriental Seafood restaurant located on Jalan Macalister, near the Komtar tower. There was also a popular hawker centre nearby so we figured that if we didn't like the look of the restaurant, we'd have a few other options.

    As I didn't feel much like walking there (my legs were *still* aching from the jungle trek!!), W thought it might be fun to take a trishaw instead. We hailed one nearby the hotel and squeezed our western-sized behinds into the teeny seat. We asked the driver to take us to Komtar as we figured it was an easy landmark that wasn't far from the restaurant.
    We were dropped off near the shopping mall entrance, and set off in what we thought was the right direction. We found ourselves in a tangle of flyovers and roundabouts, with no visible street signs or means of orienting ourselves. I felt more than a little unconfortable as I never like being the lost tourist reading their map on a dark, deserted street. We wandered in the wrong direction for a little while longer, until eventually asking directions and being pointed in the right direction by a friendly passerby.

    We eventually found the street we were looking for, and decided that the restaurant, which had a large open-air courtyard filled with tables and buzzing with locals, looked perfect for dinner. By the entrance was a large counter covered with different kinds of fresh fish and seafood, and we were asked to select our dishes from there rather than from a menu. We chose frogs' legs (as we hadn't had them the other night), more soft-shell crab, fresh king prawns, noodles and stir-fried broccoli.

    We sat down at our table, ordered a couple of beers, and suddenly realised that we didn't have any cash on us! We looked around but the restaurant showed no signs of accepting credit cards. For some reason I'd decided not to take my bag with me that evening, but had just given a credit card and my mobile to W to look after.

    We asked a waiter if there was an ATM nearby and he told us there was one about a ten minute walk away, along the main road and down some lane or other. W strode off in the direction indicated, while I sat and held our table. As the food started to arrive, I began to imagine all sorts of worst case scenarios. A lone tourist, at night, wandering down a dark alley to find a cash machine, filling his wallet and then walking back down the same dark street? Of course he would be mugged, I thought, as the minutes ticked by. And then what would I do! I was alone in a restaurant surrounded by five enormous dishes of food with no means of paying for them, no means of calling anybody, no cash, no credit cards.... Just as I'd managed to work myself up into a state of near hysteria, W returned. He'd found a cash machine further up the street (no way was he walking down that dark lane, he said) but it was empty, so he'd not managed to get any cash.

    "Well, let's just eat!!" I said. The food was in front of us so we may as well eat first and worry about paying for it later. Just at that point a different waiter came over and I asked him whether there was another ATM nearby. "Of course," he said, "there are several just round the corner!" (why the other waiter hadn't mentioned this I don't know) "I'll take you on my moped".

    Before I knew what was happening, W had jumped on the back of the waiter's scooter and zoomed off down the road. Within minutes they were back, we had money, and we could finally tuck into our meal.

    Once again, we were not disappointed. Each dish was more tasty and delicious than the last and everything was beautifully fresh. We washed it all down with a couple of large bottles of tiger beer, and after a long chat with the friendly waiter (who was interested to hear about job opportunities for young people in France and Belgium), we flagged a taxi to take us back to the hotel.

    We decided to spend our last evening sitting on the balcony sipping a couple more beers that we had stashed in the minibar for such an eventuality.

    We both agreed that we'd had a wonderful time in Penang, not least because of the unforgettable E&O hotel and all the memorable eating experiences the island had afforded us. We'd also found the locals to be extremely friendly and welcoming.

    The next day we took our time over breakfast, took a few snaps of the hotel, and then took a taxi to Penang airport, where we caught our AirAsia flight to Johor Bahru. I'd booked the tickets online a few months previously and everything went smoothly, from check-in (though I was rather baffled by the "DIY" luggage security check) to boarding and the flight itself.
    We were met at the airport by our driver from Rimba resort, who was waiting to take us to Sibu island for the second-last leg of our holiday.

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    Just pulled this thread up to check on some dates (working on photo album) and realised that I never finished this trip report!!!

    Is anybody interested in reading about the last few days of our trip back in September?
    We spent 3 days on Sibu Island (snorkeling and chilling out) and then another two in Singapore, with trips to Singapore zoo and Jumbo seafood restaurant (chilli crab!), among other things. I didn't keep a journal, but I should be able to provide a few details if anyone's interested.

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    hani - thanks for pulling this up - I only found this board a year ago and hadn't seen it. Love your writing and would be interested to read about Sibu. I spent time on Perhentian Besar and loved it, but might like to try a different island if I go back.

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    It was enjoyable reading diary of your travel in Singapore and Malaysia.

    Happened to chance upon this website, well it s interesting to know the experiences of tourist to this part of the world. Myself have grown up in Malaysia n currently working in Singapore. These 2 countries are famous for their variety of food from different culture and race.

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    hanl:

    The photos are excellent...the Penang shot of rickshaw and doorway is classic and professional.

    However, the durian I could smell from the picture on my computer!!...had to open my windows to
    dissipate the maladorous effect!

    Keep the report coming..excellent. I spent quite a bit of time in Malaysia doing some consulting for the internal airlines in the mid-80's.

    Stu T.

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    Here's the second last instalment - unfortunately some of the details are a little fuzzy after 6 months!

    Days 11 to 14: Rimba resort, Sibu Island

    Our stay at Rimba resort came about somewhat by accident, as we had originally booked to stay at Sea Gypsy resort. In fact, I'd made the booking back in early 2006 and had even secured it by credit card and received confirmation of our stay.

    It was only when I emailed the resort to confirm transfer times that I received a surprised email from them saying that they'd had to cancel my booking some time ago, as they had received a block booking from a school (which was a regular client) and could no longer fit us in!! They insisted that they had emailed me to inform me, but it turns out they had sent the email to somebody else with a (slightly) similar name living in Hong Kong. I was not impressed - particularly that they had cancelled a firm booking by email and had not even attempted to contact us any other way to make sure we were aware of the cancellation. They did not attempt to book us any other accommodation on the island, but when pressed they recommended Rimba resort as an alternative.

    http://www.malaysiaislandresort.net/

    But all's well that ends well, because we LOVED Rimba resort. In fact we caught a glimpse of Sea Gypsy and heard a few stories about the sand fleas infesting their stretch of beach, and decided that we were very glad they had cancelled on us!!

    We were picked up at the airport and driven to the jetty at Tanjong Leman, where we had to buy a jetty ticket and then waited a few minutes for our boat to arrive. For a moment I thought that we'd be getting some kind of public ferry across to the island, but then a speedboat arrived from Rimba resort, and we loaded on our bags and sped off across the waves towards Sibu island, which we could just make out in the distance.

    Soon the boat was navigating into the small bay and we suddenly realised we'd arrived at the resort. The huts were so well integrated into their environment that we hadn't noticed them dotted along the beach between the trees.

    We were met on the beach by one of the resort staff members, who showed us to our hut (number 2, if I remember rightly), which was located at one end of the beach. Here's a picture:
    http://tinyurl.com/2uza2a

    The accommodation was fairly rustic (and very similar to the rondavels we'd stayed in in Africa) - wooden floors, thatched roof, a bed with mosquito net, ceiling fan, and a simple tiled shower room. There was a deck at the front with chairs and a low table, perfect for sitting and reading or enjoying the sea view. After our hectic sightseeing timetable we were looking forward to a few days of sheer relaxation.

    After we'd unpacked a bit and got settled, we strolled over to the bar area, an open-sided, thatch-roofed hut (again very similar to the layout in African lodges) with a bar, low tables and chairs, and - a great touch - lots of huge comfy floor cushions for people to lounge on. There was a deck/patio area with more tables, looking out over the beach.

    A couple more staff members arrived and we ordered ourselves some beers and toasted sandwiches to keep us going until dinner time. We learned that there were only 6 guests at the resort at that point - us, a German/Croatian couple and two American girls, although there were around twenty huts in total, I think.

    The atmosphere was very relaxed and we just sat chatting at the bar with the staff and guests for a couple of hours, and then took a stroll along the beach and across the rocks that stretched seawards at one end. Here's a picture:
    http://tinyurl.com/2alq94

    It started to rain later in the afternoon, which gave us the perfect excuse to lounge around reading our books and feeling perfectly relaxed.

    Dinner was eaten in the restaurant building, a slightly more enclosed structure. The rates at Rimba Resort are all full board, which was fine by us as the food was delicious. I can't remember the details of all our meals, unfortunately, but I remember that dinner was always soup, a main course of meat or fish, and then dessert. (Wine and other alcoholic drinks weren't included but that didn't stop us!!!)

    Despite being very tired, I found it hard to sleep the first night, probably due to the noise of the rain and the humidity (until then we'd been staying in hotels with powerful air-con so it was hard to readjust to sleeping with just a fan!). But eventually I got some rest, and the next day we woke feeling recharged and ready for a good breakfast (fairly simple - coffee/tea, toast, cereal, eggs and sausages) and some snorkelling!

    The resort had snorkelling gear for hire by the hour or per day, so we kitted ourselves up and set off. There is a reef system right off the beach, and within five minutes we were staring down at huge sea urchins with fluorescent mouths (or were they eyes?), multlicoloured angelfish, clownfish (who can resist calling them Nemo?) and improbably shaped corals. We'd both been snorkeling a number of times but this was the first time we'd seen such beautiful coral, so we stayed out for a while, until hunger and the prospect of lunch persuaded us to return to shore.

    That afternoon W went for a swim while I lounged around on the beach and read my book, until the rain came again and we ducked into the bar, where we discovered that the staff at the resort mixed a mean cocktail!

    Dinner was delicious and after the cocktails and half a bottle of wine, we didn't have much trouble falling asleep!

    The next morning we snorkeled, swam, sunbathed and read. After lunch we had originally wanted to go out in the sailing boat belonging to the resort (which they could take out for full day trips), but for some reason (misunderstanding?) it didn't happen. Instead, we arranged a snorkelling trip instead, along with the German/Croatian couple.

    We were taken out by speedboat to a tiny island about a half hour ride away (as we rounded Sibu island we passed by Sea Gypsy resort, which didn't look half as nice as Rimba!!), with sparkling white sand, beautifully clear water and some great corals and fish (we even spotted our first barracuda - albeit a teeny one). On top of the great sealife, the water was delightfully warm, the sun was shining and the views of the island and beach were incredible - definitely the highlight of our stay at Rimba.

    Dinner that evening was eaten out on the deck by the bar, as the rain had decided to stay away. We were starting to get used to the heat and humidity, and managed another decent night's sleep.

    The next day we had organised a transfer to Singapore, but as it was only about 3 hours drive away, we still had a full morning ahead of us. So we decided to take a walk through the jungle along a little signposted path that led off from behind the resort. It was a fun walk but incredibly humid, so after half an hour of clambering over vines and roots and carefully stepping over streams of fierce looking ants, we returned to the resort, where W went for a last snorkel and I stretched out on the beach with my book for an hour or two.

    After lunch, our bags were loaded onto the boat and we headed back to the mainland, where a driver was waiting with a minivan to take us back to Singapore.


    My overall impression of Rimba resort was really positive - it's a very relaxed place where the emphasis is definitely on chilling out and taking things slowly (it reminded us a lot of some of the places we stayed at in Southern Africa). We found the service to be excellent, the staff extremely efficient and friendly and the food delicious. However, I wouldn't call it a luxury resort as the accommodation - while comfortable - might be a little too rustic for some tastes. We loved it though, and would definitely return!

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    Days 14-16 - Singapore again, a rainstorm, Jumbo seafood restaurant and the zoo

    Our transfer back to Singapore took about 4 hours - the border crossing at Johor Bahru was particularly time consuming (much longer than when we crossed over into Malaysia, presumably because of Singapore's strict customs and immigration checks). The driver dropped us at an intersection and we hailed a taxi to take us back to H's place.

    The evening was spent drinking wine on the balcony and tucking into a fantastic Thai meal cooked up by H's girlfriend, who is Thai herself. We finished up the evening at a nearby bar where H managed to persuade the tired looking barmaid to keep serving us, even though closing time was two hours ago. By 2 am W and I were exhausted and dying to go back and get some sleep, but H had other ideas, insisting that we stop off at the Adam Rd food centre for a large plate of mee goreng. H went off to get cups of tea for us all and returned with three large bottles of beer instead. There was no way I could drink mine, but fortunately the boys helped me out! The mee goreng was delicious and certainly helped to soak up some of the beer. Eventually we staggered home about 3 am and crashed out, exhausted.

    The next day (hangover free - must have been the mee goreng!!) we had thought we might try to go to Sentosa island, but the weather was looking a bit iffy so we decided against it. We headed out for a western style breakfast in a rather overpriced ex-pat haunt, where we had disappointing omelettes and croissants.

    Later, as both H and W were very much in need of a haircut, H took us to his favourite hairdresser's, a Japanese chain called EC house, where you buy a 10-dollar ticket from a vending machine, and then queue up for your haircut. Non-clients aren't allowed to sit and wait inside the premises, so H's girlfriend and I hovered around outside, watching with amusement as the speedy hairdressers snipped and combed at lightning speed. At one point the girl was using 2 pairs of scissors to cut W's hair - it was like something out of Edward Scissorhands!

    Once the two shorn sheep had emerged we decided to get ourselves some lunch. We walked to Clarke Quay, where H thought we might get a bite to eat, but in the end we carried on walking to the Lau Pa Sat food centre, in the heart of the business district. The food centre is housed in a beautiful Victorian filigree structure dating from the 1890s, and formerly a wet market. Our first stop was the Chinese section where we tucked into stir fried duck, greens, noodles and broth. Next we sampled some excellent dim sum (the chive and prawn dumplings were the best I'd ever tasted ). Somehow we still had room for more, so we headed off in search of some Singapore laksa. Although I hadn't been enamoured of the Penang version, H reckoned I'd like the Singapore version. Sadly he was wrong! I don't know why it didn't appeal to me, but I just couldn't eat much of it - something about the texture of the noodles. This didn't stop us from ordering more dim sum and some soft drinks, before eventually hauling ourselves outside to walk it off. H took us on a marathon walk through a maze of shopping centres, with a brief stop for ice cream at a Haagen Dazs cafe. We window shopped and took a few pictures (including one of an array of ducks in a restaurant window - http://tinyurl.com/3ddqju ) and then jumped in a taxi and headed back to H's place for a swim.

    That evening, we'd wanted to take H out for a great meal somewhere, and asked him to choose a restaurant where we could try chilli crab, a dish everybody had told us we should sample while in Singapore. H thought it might be nice to go over to the east coast, but was worried that the weather would turn bad and spoil the evening. In the end we decided to take a chance, and ordered a taxi to take us to Jumbo seafood restaurant (one of several throughout Singapore) which many of H's colleagues had recommended. As we got into the cab the heavens opened, and the rain showed no signs of stopping when we arrived at our destination half an hour later. H and I leapt out of the taxi and ran the 100 metres to the restaurant, which is set back from the road. By the time we reached the door we were absolutely soaking. W and H's girlfriend sauntered up a few minutes later, smug and dry under an umbrella that they'd borrowed.

    The restaurant itself was absolutely enormous, packed with tables and heaving with people. I don't think I've ever seen such a busy restaurant. We were eventually shown to a table on the first floor, but we discovered we were sat in the middle of a huge party of people all milling around, shouting, moving from table to table, taking photos of each other, etc.

    After a few minutes trying to hear each other over the din, we asked to be moved and were taken back downstairs to another table by the open window/doors. Fortunately, the rain had finally stopped, and we gradually began to thaw out and warm up.

    We ordered chilli crab and black pepper crab, fried buns, a dozen satay skewers, fried prawns and some fresh fish, which H's girlfriend chose from the tank (I can't remember what it was unfortunately). Of course, we washed it all down with Tiger beer. Everything was utterly delicious - particularly the black pepper crab, which I think is one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten in my life. The chilli crab was good too, though a bit sweet for my taste. And the buns were fluffy and crisp, the perfect accompaniment to the sticky savoury crab.

    H's girlfriend ordered fresh fruit salad for dessert, though we were too full to eat much of it.

    After our meal we decided to walk along the the coast for a while, but soon we found ourselves stopping off at a very peculiar bar for a nightcap - H was intrigued by the strains of terrible karoake emanating from the interior. The bar itself was decorated in a mix of western, eastern and just pure bad taste. We ordered beers and H and W attempted to play darts, before realising that the 2 available darts had no tips on them. We tried to keep a straight face as a young girl sitting at the bar serenaded her bored looking male companion with a series of terrible karaoke renditions. She looked extremely sincere as she belted out love songs in English and Chinese, but her man seemed more interested in the sport being shown on the television screen behind her.

    Once we'd finished our drinks,we continued our stroll through the East Coast park, which was full of Singaporeans out for an evening walk. Every few hundred yards along the parkway were barbecue stations which could be hired out - and many of the them were surrounded by groups of young people or families cooking and eating.


    Although the next day was our last, our flight home wasn't till 10pm, so we had a full day before us. We had heard that the night safari was fun, but as there hadn't been an evening when it would have been convenient to go, we figured that a day at the zoo would be a good alternative. (NB I'm not a great fan of zoos, although I am aware of the educational and conservational benefits. I still feel sad when I see large animals used to living in huge open spaces, cooped up in enclosures. However, H insisted that Singapore zoo was one of the best in the world, and that the animal enclosures allowed them a good standard of living, so I decided to go along and see.)

    We took a taxi from H's place and arrived at the zoo around midday. Queues were short and soon we were inside, wondering where to start! One of the things that struck me first was the landscaping, with beautiful plants and trees and cleverly integrated walkways, which meant that the numerous visitors were channelled through the spaces without it feeling too crowded. The second thing that I noticed were the orang utans swinging through the trees above us! Singapore zoo in fact has a population of orang utans with a very large enclosure (indeed it looked to me as though they had complete free range of the zoo!). They looked happy, healthy and cared for: http://tinyurl.com/yq5rve

    We wandered around various enclosures. I was particularly impressed with the rainforest area, where different monkeys, birds, insects and lemurs wandered around in their own little mini-eco-system. Here's a picture: http://tinyurl.com/2gk28o

    The famous white tigers (which only exist in captivity) looked fairly content, and there were some clever touches like the glass sides to the polar bear's and the pygmy hippos' pools, which allowed visitors to watch the animals swimming underwater. The baboon colony also looked quite happy as they groomed one another and showed off their improbably coloured derrières. There was also a very playful colony of otters, which we enjoyed watching as they fed: http://tinyurl.com/yr2xrf

    We lunched on tasty mee goreng and sodas at the zoo's restaurant. When we exited the zoo, there was a very long queue of people waiting for taxis, so H just called his usual taxi firm and a car arrived for us within minutes.
    We decided to head to China town, as W and I wanted to do a little last minute shopping for paper lanterns and wind chimes. And then, after a brief stop at H's place to gather our luggage, we headed off to the airport for our flight home.

    ***

    We both agreed that our trip to Malaysia and Singapore had been quite magical, and far more exciting and fun than either of us had been expecting.

    We were struck by the warmth, friendliness and helpfulness of the people, the fabulous food and the vibrant colours and flavours that seemed to emanate from the very soil itself. We'd go back in a heartbeat!

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    Kathie, my husband and I were just chatting about where we'd like to go next in Asia. Perhaps Thailand or Vietnam...
    ...but it's all dreaming at the moment. As we've just bought a house, I doubt we'll be going further than our local Ikea for the next few years!!!

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