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Showing posts from February, 2008

The bumpy road back home

Bumpy is one word that could be used to describe a number of journeys in this holiday. Taxis, buses and even trains bouncing at high speed. The slower but even rougher ride on an elephant's back. And last night's flight home. Only once have I experienced a flight so rough and that was a small jet weaving its way through storms. The much larger Airbus A330-200 shook as it was tossed around in the clouds. To make matters worse we were seated towards the back of the aircraft, so, like the rear of a bus, every little bump was magnified. Up until last night I thought that I had overcome much of my fear of turbulence, but the sweaty palms were back. After sampling some of the Hilton's huge range of breakfast foods (including kuay!) B and I descended to the pool deck. The shallow pool snakes around past the lounges and an artificial waterfall and... a waterslide! A fast (but too short!) slide! I haven't enjoyed a waterslide so much in years. Sadly it was then time to check-

Better than Paris

Hilton. Not the city, not the hotel. Well, sort of the hotel. Okay, for a smaller sum of money than we would pay for many a three star hotel in Sydney we booked a room in the Hilton Kuala Lumpur. It's our first ever time in a confirmed five star hotel and it sure is nice. Soft bed, raindrop shower and a bum washing toilet. 42 inch plasma facing the bed with a mini-screen so that you can watch television in the shower. And the pool! Have to try that tomorrow before we check out! So we checked out of our still very nice (and definitely more quirky) Siam@Siam this morning and in the remaining time before leaving for our flight took a walk down an adjacent street to Jim Thompson's House. Jim Thompson was an American ex-secret agent who was responsible for bringing Thai silks to the rest of the world. In the process he became rather rich before dying mysteriously while walking in Malaysia's Genting Highlands. Jim Thompson brought various traditional teak houses from across Thai

On the back of an elephant

Discworld may require four elephants to support it, but B and I only need one. Perhaps that is why our ride was so shaky, but Namchou never let us fall. We were on an organised day tour of the Kachanaburi area about 130 kilometres away from Bangkok. Our small coach raced along the highway to the city at breakneck speed, flying over every hump like an aircraft in a storm. It was frightening at times! Along the way were small shophouse, sometimes teak, often concrete and occasionally thatched palm. Goods for sale along the roadside ranged from stuffed toys to wooden canoes. There were shops selling potted trees, steel water towers, shrines and fruits, amongst other things. We passed trucks packed with sugar cane and teak. The area around Kanchanaburi is best known for the "Death Railway" to Burma. Almost a 100,000 labourers died in the construction of this railway by the Japanese in World War II. Many of them were prisoners of war from Australia, Britain and the Netherlands,

Wat!

As this holiday progresses it is becoming steadily more difficult to wake up early. Nevertheless, that is what we had to do in order to join today's tour to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. We were collected from our hotel and sent to the tour offices to join 30 others on the tour of one of Thailand's most sacred places. We drove through Chinatown along Bangkok's first road. The old tram tracks were still visible along the parking strip. It seemed that Chinatown agreed with us that it was too early as the streets were pretty quiet and most shops still shuttered. The Grand Palace is surrounded by a white wall. Poking out over the top are the golden pagodas and roofs of the great halls within. As we entered the palace complex we were joined by a long parade of ladies dressed in black. They were there to pay respect to the recently deceased sister of the King. B was wearing three-quarter pants and had to hire a sarong in order to defer to the dress code of the Palace. Not

Mahachai Shortline

I'm a bit of a train buff and no journey to a foreign land would be complete without a trip on the local railway system. In this case it would be an opportunity to experience some of ordinary Thailand outside of the tourist sites. I had read about the Mahachai Shortline in the Lonely Planet and thought that it sounded like fun. The commuter railway runs between Wong Wian Yai train station hidden away in a market in Thonburi and out to the port town of Samut Sakhon, or Mahachai. It is possible to catch a ferry across to Ban Laem and another train onwards to Samut Songkhram, but we decided not to do this last stretch. The journey started with a taxi ride from our hotel to Wong Wian Yai station. There was little to distinguish it as a railway station due to the number of market stalls. We purchased a couple of 10 baht tickets from the booth - the attendant knew what we wanted - and jumped on board just as the noisy diesel train began rolling away from the platform. In train speak

@Siam

Is this hotel funky or what? The interior is like a work of modern art and there's a video CCTV channel that shows what's going down at the restaurant "Party House"! It's almost a pity that we have so much planned for Bangkok that we won't be spending that much time in the Siam@Siam Design Hotel. Obviously we have made it to Bangkok. Earlier in the day I was beginning to worry that we wouldn't. B and I woke late and barely made it down for breakfast. B's Mum decided that we should visit Chinatown again, so we piled into a taxi for the trip to Petaling Street. I didn't think there was enough time for this jaunt. Chinatown was crowded and noisy both with cars and people. Eventually I convinced B that we had to split from the other two and get back to the hotel for our luggage. We caught a taxi and were surprised when the driver agreed to a fare of 6RM. That was less than we paid to get there. He soon regretted the fare when we became stuck unmovin

Food and a funeral

We missed our breakfast at the hotel this morning. B was feeling a little ill, probably a consequence of too many long days and late nights. But not to worry, as good food is never far away in Malaysia! Behind our hotel, down along Jalan Walter Grenier is long steel canopy, rusted with age. Beneath this are small Malay and Indian hawker stalls serving up a wide variety of dishes to the locals. I had discovered this place during a previous stay in KL and started my day with roti canai and Milo ais almost every morning. That was what we ordered today. Roti canai (pronounced chanai) is a light and fluffy Indian flat bread made by kneeding and spinning around dough and frying it on a large circular hot plate. It is served with curry sauce. Milo ais is a Milo drink made with boiling water and condensed milk into which ice is placed. It is very sweet. After our late breakfast we wandered around some of Bukit Bintang's shopping centres. Berjaya Times Square was largely empty and devo

Quiet capitals and nyonya treats

Many people consider Canberra too quiet and boring. They haven't visited Putrajaya. Malaysia's new capital contains some magnificent examples of Muslim inspired modern architecture, but it is as quiet as a tomb. Putrajaya is an attempt to move the Malaysian government apparatus away from Kuala Lumpur and to an entirely new capital city. All the ministries have their own unique buildings along a single street overlooked by the Prime Minister's residence. The pink stoned National Mosque stands adjacent, aside a man-made lake crossed by bridges of amazing design. Yet, for all its architectural marvels, the city appears bereft of residents, but for the army of gardeners maintaining the immaculate lawns and hedges. From Putrajaya B's cousin Kent drove us down along the six lane tollway past oil palm plantations to Melaka, on the coast two hours from KL. Melaka has a long history as a centre for international trade between Asia and Europe. The city was ruled by the Portu

Petaling

No, I'm not talking about how I laid petals at the feet of B in preparation for Valentine's Day! But I did do a quite a bit of Petaling today. After a hotel breakfast of nasi lemak (coconut rice with various side dishes), fruits and buns we meet one of B's aunt's in the hotel lobby. We then had to suffer through a far too detailed description of her various medical problems and procedures, along with a list of her doctors and their positions, qualifications and everything else related. Forget Vogon poetry, this was worse! Thankfully other relatives arrived to take the oldies away on for their day's business. B and I decided to go and visit her childhood home in the suburb of Petaling Jaya. To get down there we first caught a monorail down to Stesen Sentral. These toy-like vehicles give you a great view from their elevated tracks. Next we caught the KTM Komuter train down to Petaling station. The train was 20 minutes late in leaving Sentral - I think that they can

From Sydney to Kuala Lumpur

I woke early this morning, so excited was I about our trip to Malaysia and Thailand. Without our dog Kita around the morning was quiet and I focused on packing the last of my gear. B, on the other hand, was reluctant to wake and we left the house a little late for my liking. We lugged our backpacks up the street and flagged down a bus for the first leg of our trip - a half hour ride to Padstow station that would normally take us ten minutes in our own car. Then a train to the International Airport. Had we looked out of the window we may have seen B's Mum and her friend Keith waiting at Narwee station, their train cancelled. They made it in the end and we met at the Jetstar check-in. It proceeded smoothly and we had some time to sit around in the food court while I got up frequently to take aircraft photos. As we boarded our own flight B and I fought over the window seat. I want to take photos, she to lean on the window and sleep. She graciously conceeded defeat in the end and I beg