A Travellerspoint blog

May 2009

Malaysia Truly Asia

Malls, Modernity & Puppies!

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Our last hours in India were tainted by a couple of incidents. Firstly when we came to check out of our hotel the reception was being manned by two men we hadn't encountered before and they tried to charge us more money than we had agreed. I could see we were just going round in circles and as we were kind of on a clock, what with having a plane to catch, I lost my temper with them. I'm not sure how often women lose their temper with men in India, but they backed off pretty quickly and accepted the money we gave them. The second incident occurred when we came to get our tuk tuk to the airport. The first driver wasn't interested really and referred us to a second older gentleman but as we were getting into his vehicle another couple of men came over and an argument ensued. Perhaps there was some kind of queue that wasn't being observed but it was hardly the old man's fault and he certainly did not deserve the slap round the head that he received. The two bullies then made up some story that the old guy's tuk tuk wasn't working, even though it had been a second ago and we had to get out. In usual circumstances there is no way we would have gone with those two men but time was getting on a bit and we didn't have much other option as it was quite early, so reluctantly we let them take us to the airport.

It was a little sad that those two things had to happen on our last morning in India, but we made it to the airport on time and although the process was a little unorthodox in places we jumped through all the hoops and got to the departure lounge without too much fuss. The plane was only slightly delayed and soon enough we were waving goodbye to India and getting excited about arriving in Kuala Lumpur.

Straight away the contrasts between the two countries is evident, just from being at the airport it was clear. We had arrived back in the modern world. Although a lot of the charm of India is that it maintains strong links with the past, we were both a little starved of modernity and Kuala Lumpur appeared to be the perfect antidote.

We caught a coach, rather than a bus which was pleasing, into KL Sentral and then we jumped on the LRT (Light Railway Train). Which is one of the three train services which efficiently shuttle people all around Kuala Lumpur. As we walked the short distance from the station to China Town which is where we planned to stay, we saw about 5 McDonalds, 3 KFC's and many other fast food restaurants. In some places there are the same shops on either side of the street, for example 7 Elevens are everywhere, you are never far from a Slushy! Or Prune Powder, which Adam decided to try when he was feeling adventurous, safe to say he hasn't found a new love!
Once in China Town we headed to a place that Adam had been to before and got a room, a little pricier than what we had been paying in India but that was to be expected I suppose. After getting rid of our bags we walked round China Town a little bit and found some dinner in one of the many basic restaurants which line the streets. We traded curry in for stir fry and were both pleased with the change.

While wandering around we came across a pet shop which sold a number of dogs, most of them puppies and they even had one out for you to pet. I was pretty excited with this discovery and spent a little time getting acquainted with a Husky puppy. Safe to say I made sure we found our way back to the pet shop a few more times over the next few days! There is also a large street market in China Town and lots of “real copies” for sale, or so we were told, unfortunately we were both feeling a bit too sleepy to have a proper look and deal with the touts.

Even though Kuala Lumpur is only two and a half hours ahead of India it still made dropping off to sleep a little tricky, which meant it was a slightly drowsy start to our first morning in the city. I had also had another encounter with the infamous bed bugs and was once again sporting a lumpy exterior. Nonetheless we made our way over to the Monorail, one of the other trains which operates in Kuala Lumpur and rode it to Imbi which is where the largest Mall I have ever been to is located.
We spent a few hours contentedly soaking up the atmosphere and perusing the many wears for sale. I ended up joining Adam in his slight watch obsession and bought a couple for myself. After some retail therapy we visited the cinema and saw Wolverine, which apart from some slightly dodgy CGI in places was about what you'd expect from an X-Men movie, and was entertaining enough.

We then visited a couple of the other malls in the area, one of which is completely devoted to all things electronic. I have never seen so many laptops, digital cameras, and all the related accessories in one place, it appeared to almost be never ending and it was also packed. Gadgets and all the latest mod cons are big business in this Asian metropolis. After taking all that in we were both completely exhausted, and so decided it was time to call it a day and headed back to China Town.

The next day we continued the shopping theme and visited the Suria Mall which sits at the base of the famous Petronas Towers. We didn't go up the towers because you have to get there early to get a time slot for later in the day, so we planned to go the next day. The Suria Mall is where all the posh shops are situated, like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and so on. Being on a tight budget and already feeling the pinch just paying for the necessities in Kuala Lumpur we had to keep our wallets firmly in our pockets. Although I did splash out a little bit and buy a christening present for my nephew, which hopefully he will like. Escaping the lure of the shops we found safety in the cinema once more and saw Star Trek which I would really recommend to people. I have never been a trekky myself but I really enjoyed it and it didn't take itself too seriously.

After the cinema we headed out to the lake which sits at the back of the mall and I had my first close up glimpse of the towers.
They are really quite impressive and sit amongst a number of skyscrapers which puncture the Kuala Lumpur skyline. With the bright sunshine, clean lines of the buildings and neat and orderly landscaping of the surrounding area, Adam commented that it looked like something out of a Manga cartoon. This little snapshot looked like the city of the future.

The next morning we got up early and headed back to the Petronas towers to queue up for our time slot. However when we arrived we were confronted with a sign that informed us that the Skywalk viewing platform was closed every Monday. So our plans were well and truly scuppered. I wasn't feeling too hot so we decided to take it easy and went back to the mall we had visited on the first day and ended up going bowling. My performance was somewhat shameful but Adam seemed to have a some technique and got a good percentage of strikes over the four games we played. We spent the rest of the day just pottering around and slowly made our way back to China Town and visited the petshop for perhaps the fourth time and I got to pet an Andres puppy.

The following day we both woke up feeling a bit rough and Adam seemed to be starting a cold. We decided the best thing to do was just to stay around China Town and therefore we wouldn't be going up the Petronas Towers. We should get a couple of other opportunities though as we will be heading back to Kuala Lumpur a few times over the next 3 months. We spent some of the day mooching around the shops in China Town which sell all kinds of knick knacks, like little solar powered figurines which bob their heads and mountains of cuddly toys. By the fifth shop we were experiencing visual overload and had to go for a lie down. Later on we made it out for some dinner and although we thought we'd basically ordered the same thing just with different meats, we were surprised how different our dishes turned out to be! Still they were both enjoyable, even though we are still struggling a little bit to get our three meals a day, our appetites just aren't what they were.

We had to be up at 3:45am so we made sure we got an early night, we weren't helped out by our fellow travellers who decided to keep the noise levels up but we got a few hours sleep. We caught the coach back to the airport, checked in our bags and went through security, there were no problems apart from both of us feeling really under the weather. Adam's cold was much worse and I think the lack of food was starting to catch up with me.

Apart from this we had had a great time in Kuala Lumpur and were hopeful that the Philippines would have lots of exciting experiences to offer.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 21:48 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A little tired in Trichy

and our goodbye to India..

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We got to Trichy or to use its full name Tiruchchirapalli very late on and we were both incredibly tired. Still that didn't stop us checking out a number of hotels, although in the end we did run out of steam a little bit and ended up in a fairly run down place. Not that it mattered much, as soon as our heads hit the pillow we were asleep, even the fan which sounded like a jumbo jet taking off couldn't keep us awake.

The next day we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would not spend another night here and set out to find somewhere else to stay. This proved more tricky than you would think. There seemed to be the same problem that we had found in Madurai, the price for a room which we considered to be less than satisfactory was quite high and then the price seemed to jump quite a bit. That's if you could even find a room, a number of the hotels were completely full and when Adam asked one of the hotel workers why this was he told us that this was marriage time. I had noticed that a lot of the hotels have marriage halls and I thought this might be the case, the whole hotel would be taken over for a number of days with all the wedding celebrations.

We had almost given up when we decided to try one more place, we had actually rejected it early because it looked tatty from the outside. That is why you should never judge a book by its cover! We found a nice clean, airy room and a place where we could relax for our last couple of days in India. We managed to negotiate the price down a little bit and it also included breakfast, so all in all we were happy and pleased to get out of the other place.

The next day we did absolutely zip. Although we have really enjoyed our time in India and we have seen and experienced lots of wonderful things, we are both ready for a change and our motivation has been drained slightly. Also we have both lost interest in the food to some extent which means that we are finding it hard to get excited about eating and have ended up going hungry a few times, therefore our energy levels have been a bit down. Having lazed around for the day we knew we had to get out and have a proper meal, so we walked down to one of the hotels we couldn't afford to stay in and had a meal there. It offered a bit more choice and it was fairly tasty, not up to the standards of Abad Hotel but it offered some much needed nutrition.

We are now up to date with this blog and I apologise for bombarding you with so much in one go but finding a decent place to upload is not always easy. It is a fairly slow and sometimes painful process, especially putting on the photos when the internet is going at snails pace. Today we did manage to get out and see what Trichy has to offer, it has some temples like those we found in Madurai.
I think I liked them a little better though, they had the same brightly coloured stucco-work but when you got inside there was a little more atmosphere and elephant!
It seemed to be in a trance, and kept bobbing its head up and down and shaking the bells around it's neck. People would come up and offer it a coin which it would take with it's trunk and then pass it to a priest. It would then turn back to the person who had given it to him and bless them on the top of their head with the tip of its trunk. Quite magical to see.

We bought a few more mementos from the temple stalls and then headed back to the hotel which is where we are now. We leave India tomorrow at 09:25 and hopefully all things going to plan should arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 15:40. I think I speak for us both when I say that we are really excited. India has been a great country to travel around and it is quite unbelievable when I think about all the things we have seen and done in the last 2 months and 1 week. The highlights for us have been the Taj Mahal, Varanasi, Benaulim, Bangalore and Munnar. The downsides I think are just linked to the fact that we are Westerners and we don't exactly fit in. Some people have been incredibly welcoming but others have at times ended up coming across as rude. Which without wanting to sound offensive and only from picking up on what we can from how they are with each other, I think this may just be the Indian way. Whatever the reason it is still a wonderful place, which has provided us with an insight into how a country can exist in a way which is completely different to anything we would experience at home. It is definitely worth a visit.

Next time we post it'll be from Malaysia!

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 07:11 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Temple Town

and a tailor or two!

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After witnessing a lovely sunset on the train ride we arrived into Madurai at about 22:30.
We didn't have to walk very far to find a street with a number of hotels, our search for a room began. Unfortunately we didn't seem to be able to find a good cheap room, the not very nice rooms were quite expensive, so we pushed our budget slightly and found one which we considered to be good value for money.

We did get breakfast included though and we were told it was a buffet. We got quite excited by this and had images of a good continental spread. The next morning we went along with high hopes which unfortunately were dashed, we were probably being a little naïve anyway. We tried some of the Indian food that was on offer, but it just doesn't seem the right kind of thing to be eating first thing in the morning so I stuck to the bread and butter and Adam had cornflakes. Not exactly the spread we were hoping for but it filled a spot.

As said in the previous entry Madurai is a temple town and the main one is Meenakshi Temple.
We found our way there weaving through the narrow streets and as we approached we managed to find a friend without even looking for one. After telling us a little bit about the temple, without us asking, he then told us that he was a tailor and could make all kinds of things for us, exact replicas of what we were wearing in fact for pittance and in no time at all. We told him no thank you and then we found out that the temple was now closed to non Hindus and we would have to come back later. You could see the main structure of the temple from the outside though and walk all the way round it's perimeter. The elaborate gaudy stucco-work gopurams are impressive and the bright colours symbolise how prominent and vibrant the Hindu religion is in India.
We wandered around for a little while, being trailed by our new friend and then found our way back to the hotel via a restaurant for some lunch.

In the early evening we left the hotel for the temple, not long after we got outside an old man came up to us and asked us where we were from, we told him England and he said he was an English teacher. He then said that it was very lucky that we were in Madurai today because there was a festival in the temple but we had to get there soon because it would be over in about half an hour. Although something about it seemed a little off we couldn't see how he would benefit from telling us this and the thought of perhaps seeing a festival was a little too tempting so we jumped in a tuk tuk.

On the way the tuk tuk driver picked up his brother, and guess what he turned out to be a tailor too! He also told us there was a festival and then we really did smell a rat. We managed to lose him fairly quickly and then we had to get rid of our shoes before being allowed into the temple. This involved getting in a 'queue,' which in fact does not exist in India. Thankfully we have both become quite adept at pushing in, even if it does go against every British bone in our bodies. The fact is if you want to get anywhere you have to just think of number one.

As we had come to expect we saw no signs of a festival happening, having happened or about to happen. So we just turned our attention to the temple itself, which is actually much less impressive on the inside, well to a non Hindu. There were certain areas where we could not go, the most sacred parts which hold the shrines that the pilgrims flock to. Instead we flocked to the little stalls to have a look at all the brightly coloured knick knacks that were on sale. Most of it was fairly nasty and a lot of it seemed in no way related to the temple where it was being sold but I think weirdly that was part of the charm. We did find one little stall that had some more tasteful items for sale, like some of the paintings we had bought in Fort Kochi.

The women running the stall was a real character and although she was clearly quite shrewd and definitely trying her best to sell and sell hard we both warmed to her. She gave us a couple of little purses for free and I suppose that sweetened us up slightly but we had a good banter with her and in the end we bought 2 paintings, some little elephants and a small statue of Ganesh. I think we may have paid a little more than we usually would have but we got her down a bit and we all seemed happy at the end.

On the way back we found a good place for dinner, Adam actually had his meal again in a parcel to take away.
Parcel is what you have to say when you want the food to take out. We fell asleep well fed and woke up the next morning and caught the bus to Trichy, which is where we catch our flight to Kuala Lumpur from.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 07:06 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The Sacred Tippy Toe

One Sea, Two Sea, Three Sea!

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Kanniyakumari sits at the southernmost point of mainland India and is a pilgrimage site for millions of Hindus. It is where the waters of the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea all meet. We arrived early in the afternoon and headed down to the coast to see this meeting for ourselves, unsurprisingly it wasn't exactly obvious but the water was the clearest and brightest in colour that we've seen it so far. Whether this was in any way related I am not sure.

What we were not expecting to see was a memorial temple in honour of the Bengali religious leader and philosopher, Swami Vivekananda on one of two rocks about 400m off shore. Vivekananda came to Kanniyakumari as a simple monk and devotee and swam out and sat in long and deep meditation on one of the rocks in 1892. He left inspired to speak on Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. On his return, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission in Chennai, which is now spread across the world. The rock was renamed Vivekananda Rock and a memorial was built in 1970. What was more surprising and impressive though was the 40m statue of the poet Thiruvalluvar which has been constructed on the second of the two rocks.

After our usual search we found ourselves a nice hotel room, it was lacking a little in the soul department but it was large, clean and seemed relatively new.
A lot of hotels seem to go in for this kind of fake grandeur, an impressive facade which crumbles under closer inspection. Nonetheless it was perfect for our requirements.

The heart of Kanniyakumari throbs in it's pilgrims market which is filled with a plethora of tacky items, a lot of which seem to incorporate or be entirely made of shells. It is also has an abundance of watch shops, something which pleased Adam a great deal. His Casio Digital watch, which he is very fond of, decided to stop working a month or so back and while looking for a replacement we have discovered the world of Casio copies and all they have to offer. The leader of the copies seems to be Gasio, and Adam now owns a metal strapped solar Gasio, a plastic strapped, multi light Gasio, and a black faced dual time Gasio. We are still on the look out for watches which offer something new and exciting or the ultimate hybrid as Adam likes to say!

The downside to Kanniyakumari which we soon discovered was the lack of decent places to eat. The first place we tried was really disappointing, and our slight disillusion with Indian food began. Still there are always fruit stalls to fall back on and as long as we can get our hands on a couple of mangos and a watermelon we're ok. Which after relaxing in the hotel for a while is exactly what we did for dinner, we just bought bits and bobs from stalls and took them back for an unusual pic nic. Which consisted of popcorn, peanut brittle, mangos, a watermelon, and a couple of very spicey onion bargies.

The next day we were quite lazy in the morning and seemed to find it particularly difficult to convince ourselves to get up and get motivated. Once we did we found ourselves a better place to eat, and then went to the train station to try and book our ticket to Madurai, a temple town north-east of Kanniyakumari.
We completed the form with all our information as always and then handed it in, we were told however that for the cheaper seats that we wanted we would be on a waiting list. If we wanted to get confirmed seats we would have to pay about double the price. We were leaning towards just paying the money for peace of mind, but the ticket seller told us we would definitely get the cheaper seats we just needed to make sure we got to the station in plenty of time to confirm this. So we decided to go with what he said and save the money.

On the walk back to the hotel we caught a little bit of a local cricket match that was being played on a vacant patch of land by the roadside. Although we couldn't understand there were some speakers set up and someone appeared to be commentating on proceedings.
We saw a couple of really good hits, maybe we witnessed a future Indian cricketer. It really is such a massive part of life over here, cricketers are as big and famous as movie stars.
Dinner again consisted of street food, we managed to get one guy to make us a couple of omelettes, well we asked for two and got three. Something about the way we say two sounds like three it would seem, it has been one of the biggest points of language confusion.

The next day we benefited from 24 hour checkout, something which seems to be quite common, at least in South India. Our train was due to depart at 17:15 and we had to check out at 15:00, so we left our bags at the hotel and went to find out whether we'd made it on to the train. When we were put on the waiting list for our train from Agra to Varanasi we had check a list, so we did this again when we got to the station. From what we could decipher it seemed we hadn't made it on to the train. We went up to check this with the ticket seller, a different one from yesterday and he confirmed that we hadn't been given seats. Feeling a bit annoyed we asked if there was anything we could do and he told us that if we came back at about 16:30 when the train arrived we could talk to the conductor and he would definitely give us seats.

After our last 'definitely' from a ticket seller didn't come to fruition we decided to hedge our bets and went to the bus station to check times and see whether there were tickets available. Thankfully there were a few buses that we could get and it was just a buy on the bus system, so if the train fell through we would still be on our way. We went back to get our bags via the Church of Our Lady of Ransom, a very attractive building set close to the sea.

When we got back to the train station, we saw the end of the line and once again marvelled at the length of these trains.
It is quite unbelievable how they can actually be full when they hold so many people. I guess it is highlights how many people live in India, it is certainly the busiest country I have ever visited. We found a couple of conductors and they told us to sit in carriage S4, seat 49 which left a bit of speculation about how long we would last on the train as we are two people and occupying one seat might be a bit tricky. This was rectifyed soon enough though and we were given two seats and were on our way to Madurai.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 07:00 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Off Season at The Sea Side

An Annexe & A Fish or Two

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We were a little unsure about what we were going to find in Kovalam, our guide book said that it had become a tourist hot spot but as we are now out of season in India we were hoping that we were going to find somewhere restful.

The bus dropped us off in Trivendrum which is a fairly sizeable town just north of Kovalam. We then got a tuk tuk to take us the last 16km to the beach. We stayed in the Southern part of Kovalam which is divided into two beaches, Eve Beach and Lighthouse Beach. The latter unsurprisingly has a lighthouse on a cliff at its southern tip.
We decided to head to lighthouse beach as this seemed to be where the majority of hotels were clustered and we were hoping to splash a little more cash and find ourself a decent room in a nice establishment.

There is a main strip which faces the beach made up of hotels and restaurants, the rest of the places to stay are set behind these in the forest/jungle. It is all very hickledy pickledy and there are just little narrow walk ways between buildings that you have to squeeze down. The one time that we actually wanted to spend a little more money, to treat ourselves it seemed that everyone we walked past was offering us cheap rooms. It seems the pack on our backs kind of marks us out as cheapskates.

We walked around for a long time checking a number of places, we even trekked up the hill to where the more pricey hotels were, but the rooms were really just too expensive. It seemed to us that there was just no middle ground. The one place that we really did want to stay, a hotel that I had read about in the guidebook was undergoing some kind of face lift so no rooms were available. They did however have an annexe on the beach so we went to take a look. The price was pretty low so we weren't expecting too much, however it turned out you got a lot for your money. The annexe consisted of a large room with sea views which contained a small kitchen at one end and then a lounge/dining area at the other.
Then there was one double bedroom, one single and a bathroom. It maybe wasn't exactly what we'd had in mind but it was clean and had some real character, plus the price was too good to pass up, all of that for £5.50 a night!

By the point of finally taking our backpacks off we were well and truly wiped out, so a rest was in order and some rehydration. Once our batteries were recharged we headed out for dinner and really began to realise how quiet the place was.In one way this was nice, I wouldn't want to be there in peak season but you also feel sorry for all the restaurant workers who are trying their best to encourage you into their eateries as you walk past. We picked one which had a good selection of fresh fish on offer. It was all laid out on a table at the entrance, so we both got to pick what we wanted and of course had the obligatory haggle over price. I had a fairly large crab which ended up being pretty difficult to eat as they didn't supply anything to crack it open with! Adam had a white snapper which he munched down happily.

The next day we did very little which is really what we planned to do. Our laundry situation was pretty bleak, hand washing hadn't achieved very good results, so we were hoping to rectify this. Unfortunately when we asked if there was anywhere we could take our clothes to be cleaned we were met with shakes of the head. That part of our plan for the day having hit a brick wall we decided to try and sort some things out on the net and do a bit more research into the next part of our trip.

It was really very hot in Kovalam, the sea breeze did not offer much relief and the thought of sitting on the beach did not really appeal so we decided to relax in the annexe and make the most of staying in a nice place. There was also something slightly depressing about the town, perhaps it was the deserted air which hung around the place, but whatever it was neither of us had much desire to wander around outside.

We headed to another fish establishment for dinner, I had tandoori tuna and Adam had another white snapper, much larger this time but it all went down the hatch. It was nice to get something different to eat. As much as we have enjoyed trying the Indian food, which really is nothing like what you get from your local takeaway, the chose available in the average roadside restaurant is fairly limited. I can safely say that I have had my fill of Masala Dosa for sometime!

We went back and got an early night, another bus ride awaited us in the morning. Having got an early start we went to settle the balance for the annexe and asked the manager where we could catch a bus to Kanniyakumari which is the town situated right at the tip of India, or the sacred toe. Thankfully one was going from Kovalam in about forty fives minutes so we didn't have too far to lug our packs.

A bit of waiting for the bus and a slightly longer trip than expected and we arrived where three seas converge.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 06:56 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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