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Archive for the ‘Melaka’ Category

Hired and Sikh

Time to move on in Malaysia. We had an unhurried start this morning, time aplenty to have breakfast, bring our bags down and settle up before getting a taxi to the Sentral bus station. There we had nearly an hour’s wait before boarding our Transnasional coach to Kuala Lumpur; it was nearly empty, but they do send them off every 15 minutes. Our driver didn’t seem to be in any great hurry (he spent the whole trip having a good old goss in Malay with a friend of his), and every other coach on the road sped past us as we chugged north.

This ‘two-hours-maximum’ journey took two and a half hours, and then we were deposited on a busy street a few hundred metres from the bus station, not what we needed when we had eight heavy bags and a matter of minutes to get our connection. There was just time for a quick loo stop before our Ipoh-bound coach commenced boarding, and this time there were hardly any spare seats, so a bit of a squash all round (especially when the lady in front of me reclined her seat and my legroom vanished).

We devoured our muffins and fruit as we were setting off through KL (good views of the twin Petronas Towers), and after another three hours on the road (passing through quite a few heavy rain showers) we arrived at Ipoh bus station. Ample time for Ellen to finish ‘Matilda’ for the second time – an apt choice as it features a little girl who is a voracious reader. (Hope we’re not as dreadful as the parents in the book, though…)

As is often the case here, the long-distance bus terminal is a few kilometres out from the town centre so a chatty Sikh taxi driver took us to our hotel (Regalodge) and even knocked a couple of Ringgit off the fare when I didn’t have the exact change. “Get out of the way, God bless you!” was the phrase he most frequently directed at his fellow motorists, but I didn’t entirely follow his stream-of-consciousness commentary about wolf-like policemen and successfully bribing Indian airport staff.

And so we find ourselves in a second town named after a tree; the prince who founded Melaka chose the local name for a plant he saw growing there, and the Ipoh is a poisonous tree whose toxins have been used on arrow tips.

We checked in to what seems an even plusher hotel than the one we left this morning; the restaurant stays open until midnight, there is a ‘man spa’ and they offer massage and reflexology. We even get complimentary drinks and nuts along with free toiletries including a toothbrush! The only drawback is that our adjacent rooms have no connecting door, and the two external doors are separated by a considerable distance, neighbouring rooms being mirror images – it would have been more convenient to have the room to the right of this one, not the one to the left. However, there are fine views from our windows over the striking limestone landscape that characterises this region.

We had a good supper at the restaurant downstairs to make up for our meagre lunch and then explored the surrounding streets on foot, walking down to see the local night market. Not a patch on Melaka, sadly; they were still setting up the stalls but we could only see clothes and footwear on offer. We got back to the hotel just as the rain was progressing beyond a pleasant and cooling sprinkle, then retreated to our separate rooms to give both girls a bath.

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Enduring Beauty

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This morning we did our last bits of sightseeing, first returning to visit the Museum of Enduring Beauty. Now I’ve taken for granted the ‘getting from A to B’ part of our days out in Melaka, but it’s worth a mention because it’s not a matter of strolling down the pavement and crossing at the traffic lights. No, we set out from Hotel Mimosa down Jalan Bunga Raya and it’s an obstacle course of parked cars and motorbikes, drains with missing gratings leaving huge rectangular holes in the ground (one wrong step and you’ll fall in) and inconvenient lamp-posts. You keep to the covered and tiled areas in front of the shops where possible, learning by trial and error whether you’re better off on the left or the right of the road (we keep left now).

Then we get stuck at the first bridge waiting for the briefest lull in the incessant one-way traffic; on your own you could dodge the gaps, but with a family in tow you’ve got to be more cautious. No zebra or pelican crossings, and even when there are no cars coming there’ll be an awkward zooming motorbike to thwart your plans. Sometimes it’s taken us five to ten minutes to get across.

After this there’s a pleasant pedestrian walk along by the Melaka River, past a cafe or two and our family of ginger cats. Then we arrive at the town square with the Stadthuys, the Queen Victoria fountain, the bridge across to Chinatown and a gaggle of trishaw drivers all cheerfully vying for your custom – though there’s none of the irritating pushiness you get in Peru.

A bit further on we reached the museum, and ‘Enduring Beauty’ is presumably as in ‘putting up with’ rather than ‘lasting’. We had the full eye-watering panoply of stacked rings to elongate the neck, discs inserted in the lip, heavy weights to stretch the earlobes, spiky rods through the nose, knocked-out front teeth (to avoid looking like a donkey, apparently) and unnaturally tiny bound Chinese feet. The girls weren’t too impressed with these beauty tips, preferring the handful of pretty dresses on display.
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The building also housed cases full of (stationary) spinning tops and a kite display, though the lack of any demonstrations or videos of these activities seems a big mistake; I would have loved to see a top contest or fighting kites in action, but the static displays were uninspiring.
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Time for cool drinks at Cafe 1511, a wonderful old building with original features such as wall tiles and carved wooden screens, decorated with Indian and Chinese knick-knacks and featuring an indoor fishpond. It is right next door to the Baba Nonya Museum, and that is where we went next – just in time to join an English-language tour. No photos or video allowed, sadly, but this is another restored heritage building, this time with a full complement of furnishings. It belonged to the descendants of Chinese settlers who married local women – the men are Babas and the women are Nonyas (or Nyonyas). Clearly wealthy, they imported the best from all over the world; Italian mirrors, marble and mother-of-pearl from China and floor tiles from Victorian England.

The Master Bedroom has a tiny trap door in the floor to vet any visitors downstairs – anyone you didn’t like might receive the contents of the chamber pot from overhead. The front reception room has a screened partition with barely-noticeable horizontal cracks in the panels; young unmarried women of the house could spy on guests without been seen themselves. A beautiful building, but you’ll just have to go there yourself to see what it’s like… [Actually, the cafe gives a bit of a taste.]
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Lunchtime by now, and we tried another Lonely Planet recommendation down a blazing hot backstreet – only to find no sign of it (the book was only published three months ago). So Kirsten chose ‘Eleven’, a Portuguese restaurant next to Nancy’s Kitchen, and we had a good feed here. The girls grazed on cocktail sausages and chips, Kirsten still can’t get enough of her Spring Rolls, and I braved a spicy prawn dish. To finish I ordered my Cendol (pronounced ‘Chendoll’) at last, but I let the ice topping melt while the other desserts were coming so I ended up with a soupy bowl of coconut shavings and green and red beans floating around in water. Not quite the experience I was expecting, but the beans work better than you might think.

The afternoon heat drove us home (though we’d prefer a taxi to do that) and the big people had their increasingly-traditional siesta. Later on we had a long-overdue thunderstorm and it’s still too wet (at 5.30pm) to venture out again. Packing to be done for tomorrow’s travelling day, but we shouldn’t have to get up at a ridiculously early hour.

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Cool Blog

Breakfast is so quiet midweek; there can’t be many other guests in the hotel right now (maybe two other rooms are occupied).

Another overcast day, but we don’t mind if it means a cooler morning for our exploring. Today we walked along Jalan Kota past a string of museums (including the Museum of Enduring Beauty) to visit the replica of the Melaka Sultanate Palace. It’s an impressively large wooden building and much is made of the fact that it uses no nails in its construction. Only when we went upstairs we could clearly see that every wooden shingle on the roof was nailed in place – the girls felt somewhat cheated…
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It contains mock-ups of the Sultan’s bedchamber and the hall where he would hold court, along with traditional costumes, information on how to clean your kris (dagger) using banana stems and incense oil, and various dioramas depicting court intrigues, all with the requisite moral outcome.
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We then strolled in the Palace Gardens (a playground for princesses) before the heat got too much for us and we sought refuge in the air-conditioned shopping mall across the road.
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Here we began with another iced drink, here called a ‘blog’ for no apparent reason; “Be cool with a refreshing blog” was the tag line.
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Then through to yet another shopping centre across the road to the south, where the guidebook assured us we’d find an English-language bookshop. And so we did, allowing us to get more reading material for the girls (Roald Dahl for Ellen and Miley Cyrus’s autobiography – can you really write one when you’re only 16? – for Hannah). Curiously, they had no Malaysia guidebooks on sale, despite a good range of Lonely Planets for the rest of the world.

We had lunch at The Chicken Rice Shop, a fast food outlet selling, er, chicken and rice dishes. The girls’ steamed chicken had the benefit of being plain – no sauce or spicy bits – but it was all a bit uninspiring. Kirsten and I ordered two chicken noodle dishes of which the Honey BBQ one was the least bland. But once again the food from a restaurant chain didn’t match that from local stalls and cafes.

A quick visit to Carrefour to get some water, fruit and biscuits, then the hot trek home. We passed a campervan belonging to La Famille Poos, another RTW family to judge from their website address, but we missed the occupants. Have they driven all this way from France? And did they ship the van to South America and Australasia as well? Flags on the back indicated visits to Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, New Zealand and Australia (one up on us, then).

Just like yesterday, we collapsed as soon as we got back; siestas are a wonderful idea when it’s just too hot to go outside and do anything. I later made it to the bakery to buy supper.

One more day left here; maybe try the local coconut and ice drink/dessert called Cendol, and perhaps do the touristy thing and travel by trishaw.

We’re spending a fairly steady £40 per day in Malaysia on everything other than accommodation (meals out, taxi fares, bus tickets, admission fees, other shopping) and hotels then add up to £50 on top of this. So not quite the £50/day budget we had planned; we could cut back, but then we’d be stuck in seedier ‘never again’ accommodation and missing out on half the sights. Coincidentally, our USA budget went over our £100/day estimate by £40, too. What has gone wrong? Poor exchange rates as well as decent accommodation costing more than we had bargained for.

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Toilets and toiletries

Just a warning to all you female future travellers to South-east Asia. 

Make sure you have plenty of your usual toiletries with you as tampons for example are extremely hard to come by here.  Back at home, but also in North America, New Zealand and Australia I took it for granted to be able to buy all my toiletries in the supermarket or any chemist.  But not here…

Having visited several pharmacies yesterday and failed to find what I was looking for, Tim kindly searched on the internet and came back with two names of pharmacies where I would be likely to find tampons.

Watson’s were stock-taking today and might be open at 3pm this afternoon, but the girl couldn’t really promise.  Fortunately for me Guardian were open and had exactly one box left.  I managed to buy another box in a different branch in the shopping centre opposite.  This will keep me going until we get back home and I can pop into Boots.

The first half of the title refers to an experience I had with Ellen trying to use a public toilet.

Not all public toilets are like our “western” toilets, but more like a hole in the ground.  We’ve been in South-east Asia for a week and a half and I have yet to work out how to use these toilets.

A couple of nights ago when strolling down Chinatown, Ellen  desperately needed the toilet.  The kind lady at one of the foodstalls where I had bought some drinks earlier, pointed us in the right direction.  Just our luck, there was only one “Asian” toilet and we wondered what to do. 

After several minutes I offered to lift her up, the floor was quite wet and we really didn’t want her skirt to get soiled.  Needless to say that Ellen’s business did not go in the right direction, we laughed so hard I nearly dropped her.  We quickly splashed clean water on the walls and left…

If anybody has any useful tips on how to use these “stand-up” toilets, they’re more than welcome!

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Nancy’s Kitchen

After a few days in Melaka I noticed the absence; they were all over South America but curiously missing here. I’m talking about our canine companions, and the sign in our hotel stating ‘No Dogs’ seems more of an observation than a prohibition.

Cats, yes; we pass a cute ginger feline family with five kittens every time we walk to Chinatown.
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The very occasional guard dog to be heard behind closed gates, but a welcome lack of doggie doo on the streets – no walkies here. Is it that people don’t have pets in Malaysia? Are animals accorded greater respect than to be kept in a house?

But then there’s the strange and negative circus-like treatment of the elephants at the zoo yesterday. They had been trained to play musical instruments (harmonica and tambourine), ‘paint’ a picture and dance to a thumping backing track, all for the entertainment of the visitors. And according to our guide book, another local animal park dresses various creatures up in human clothing for their show.

An unrelated curiosity is the local affectation of prefixing your establishment’s name with De or D’ in order to lend a touch of class. Only they have never grasped the basics of French grammar so you get bizarre manglings such as Restoran D’Pelican, or Cafe De La Ferns.

Anyway, today we still failed to get down to breakfast much before 9am, and it was already warm when we embarked on our walking tour of Chinatown to see some more sights. Many museums are closed on Tuesdays, but within the length of one street we took in a Hindu temple, a Mosque and a Buddhist temple. The first didn’t offer much to be seen, the entrance area being devoted to bicycle storage and a couple of men repairing fluorescent light fittings, and we were forbidden access to the Mosque. But the Chinese temple was magnificent with its black, red and gold woodwork, all brought here (along with craftsmen) from China over 350 years ago. Still very much in use, with incense sticks along with food offerings; it is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy.
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There is also a Catholic church in town, and later this week there will be an influx of Melakans from all over the country to take part in Good Friday and Easter Sunday processions. What is notable here is the peaceful coexistence of so many faiths, and despite the areas designated Chinatown, Little India, etc., one senses intermingling rather than segregation.
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By now we needed refreshment; it took a while to find a cafe since so many places are closed today, but eventually we managed to order two iced apple juices (freshly blended – you could taste the green skin) and two iced watermelon drinks. After this we had a quick look in 8 Heeren Street, a recently-restored two-storey shophouse typical of the area. The lime plaster uses coral as a main ingredient, and the well traditionally contained two fish to detect poisoned water (like the canary down the mine). Sadly, there was not much to see inside the building and the guide was busy talking to another group so we didn’t learn a great deal.

By now it was lunchtime so we tried Nancy’s Kitchen, despite the kiss-of-death Lonely Planet recommendation. This restaurant serves traditional Nonya food (the Nonyas are descendants of Chinese merchants who married Malaysian women), and we ordered two not-too-spicy chicken dishes, one with candlenut and the other with tamarind, along with a big dish of fried rice and two spring rolls as starters.

The chicken sauces are pleasant but still intense in flavour, and a little goes a long way; Hannah did her best but both girls preferred the rice. I risked a grass jelly drink; you suck through the straw and get gloopy strands of something (like beansprouts?) in your mouth along with the refreshing liquid. It’s supposed to be nice and cooling, but I’ll probably stick with ice-blended fruit juices next time…

We waddled home to rest, and the two adults immediately crashed out for a couple of hours while the girls enjoyed some free time playing in the adjoining room. Must be the heat combined with an extra-full stomach.

On the street where we live.
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Kirsten collected our latest batch of washing (which cost us all of 60p) and then we had tea at our local bakery. My Pandan and Kaya cake was bright green but a little bland – I still don’t know which flavour is Pandan and which is Kaya; Kirsten played safe with a chocolate mousse cake.

A cereal supper and a quiet evening; still looking into accommodation for our next stops.

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Marley and me

Another good night’s sleep.  We’re slowly catching up on sleep and feel much more rested and refreshed.

Breakfast consisted of baked beans, sausages, eggs, toast, Chinese fried rice, some sort of spicy noodly dish (mee pedas), chicken porridge and spring onion cucur, followed by fresh fruit.  Ellen stuck with beans on toast and fruit, Hannah had a similar breakfast with the addition of rice and Tim tried the chicken porridge and spring onion cucur.

We aimed to get out earlier than the last couple of days hoping it wouldn’t be too hot yet.  I walked down the street to the laundrette, only to find it still closed at 9.30am but the temperature was still quite comfortable… in the shade.

We asked the reception staff for directions on how to get to Ayer Keroh where we planned to visit a zoo and Mini Malaysia.  It proved a lot trickier than anticipated.  We would have to catch a bus to Melaka Sentral (bus station) first and then take the bus to Ayer Keroh. 

After yesterday’s bus ride to Melaka Sentral which lasted for ages and made me feel as if I had wet my trousers, I really wasn’t keen on not one but two more bus journeys.  So we chose the easier and much faster option and hopped into a taxi just outside the hotel.

After a 20-minute ride we arrived at Ayer Keroh, which looked like a dual carriageway with different outlets or parks on either side of this busy road.  The taxi driver was slightly confused and asked where we wanted to be dropped off. 

At 10.15am we arrived at Zoo Melaka, bought our tickets and started our circular walk.  The zoo seemed quite deserted and we felt we had the whole place to ourselves.  The zoo is set up in a sympathetic way.  (Just as I wrote down the words “peaceful” and “quiet” in my notebook, the loudspeakers started to blare out “Buffalo Soldier” – why?)  The animals seemed to have ample space in their enclosures.  Birds were housed in big aviaries for visitors to wander through. We decided to skip the “animal talk” and carried on admiring different types of deer, monkeys, tigers, giraffes, squirrels, etc… far too many to mention.

Two minus points about the zoo were a) no elephant rides until further notice and b) no camels to be seen either.

Half way through our walk we stopped for refreshments, the girls chose an ice cream whilst Tim and I shared a Coke.  By now the sun was getting pretty hot and I could only manage by staying in the shade as much as possible.

On we went past the monkey section, my favourite part of this zoo.  We saw spider monkeys and chocolate capuchins (the sweetest monkeys around) which we also saw in South America, orang utans, chimpanzees, etc.

Orang utans.
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Macaques.
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Sun bear.
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We arrived at the elephant show stage in time for the mid-day show.  Unfortunately the explanation was only in Malay, so not very interesting to us.  We saw the elephants picking up coins, bananas and small logs and put a hat on top of a little girl’s head.  They ended the show by spraying the public with water.

Elephants with harmonica and tambourine.
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We could have had our photo taken with the elephants but it would have cost us RM10 (£2), we felt happy just stroking the elephant’s rough trunk instead.

Before leaving for the playground, the girls had their photo taken with 4-year old Ashaf and his 4-month old little brother Asif and their mum (a request from the father).  We had not been asked this since Bolivia – the girls were happy to comply.
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What, no ‘Hannah’ or ‘Ellen’?
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Fan club.
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Mini Malaysia was just a little further up the road.  Initially we were walking through a slightly wooded area which made it quite comfortable, but then we had climb down the bank and walk along the main road.  Suddenly the girls stopped as they had spotted something fascinating – it was a thin lime-green snake eating a lizard; it already had the lizard’s head in its mouth.

Once at Mini Malaysia we stopped for lunch first.  On our right was a covered area which housed several different food stalls, tables and chairs.  We chose our drinks first as we desperately needed to cool off.  We all settled for ice blended fruit juices: strawberry for Ellen, pineapple for Hannah, grape for Tim and lemon for me.  They were absolutely delicious and exactly what we needed.

The girls were adamant they wanted a burger for their lunch.  We ordered two without spicy sauce, and the girls thought it was the best burger they had ever had.  We couldn’t work out what meat it was, but the seasoning made it very flavoursome.  Then Tim and I moved onto the next stall, were given a plate of rice and then we could choose whatever accompaniment we liked the look of.  The girl was extremely helpful pointing out to us the dishes that weren’t (meant to be) spicy.  We chose some vegetables, two differently prepared pieces of chicken and fried beansprouts.

The drinks and the food came from three different stalls, but we were told to just sit down and enjoy our food.  How can they remember who had what to eat without writing it down?  We all enjoyed our tasty food and felt ready to explore Mini Malaysia.

Mini Malaysia is a theme park which shows 13 different types of Malaysian houses.  We only just managed to visit all of them, the heat being so unbearable.  Even the little fans we bought at the zoo didn’t help much anymore towards the end.
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Sabah longhouse.
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On the way out we asked a couple of people where to get a taxi.  They all assured us that if we walked up to the bus stop on the main road we should be able to flag one down.  To be honest, I hadn’t seen any taxis on the way here this morning. 

After waiting for nearly 10 minutes a bus to Melaka Sentral drove past and slowed down, but we let it go.  We waited for another 10 minutes and assured the girls that we would catch the next bus if necessary.  But suddenly I spotted a red & yellow car zooming down the dual carriageway – a taxi!  We flagged it down and it was such a relief to sit in a nice, comfortable and air-conditioned car instead of on a hot and sticky bus.

Shortly before 5pm we made it back to our hotel.  Tim kindly popped out to take our washing to the laundrette and buy some pastries for our supper.

The rest of the evening was spent in our cool hotel rooms, recovering from today’s heat and catching up on blog and diaries.

We’re hoping to find a swimming pool tomorrow…

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Shopping in Tesco

It gets light quite late in the morning here (after 7am?) so we had another slow start to the day; we don’t seem to get much done before lunch… The buffet breakfast was a slight variant on yesterday’s, with Bee Hoon (are they extra-thin noodles or some slender vegetable stalk?) and Cucur Manis. The latter were a mystery until we tried some; they are fried, garlic-bulb-shaped thingies and we assumed that they contained meat or fish, but in fact they are sweet doughballs similar to the smoutebollen we have sampled on a sub-zero day in Antwerp. (A bit like those deep-fried mini ring doughnuts expect for the shape.) I wonder what new culinary discovery we’ll make tomorrow morning?

The rest of the morning was spent catching up with diaries/blogs, clearing out of our room to let the cleaner do her stuff and sitting in the lobby downstairs. While we had an internet connection we looked into bus tickets from here to Ipoh, which is situated further north not far from the cool relief of the Cameron Highlands. The direct journey would involve leaving at 10pm and arriving at 1am, so we thought again. How about changing buses in Kuala Lumpur? Yes, buses from here leave every 15 minutes and those from KL to Ipoh are hourly. We also added two nights to our time here in Melaka, just to give ourselves some breathing space.

For lunch we returned to the Italy Bakery at the end of our street. More fresh Halal pastries to fill us up, and I sampled three fish balls on a stick (well, until I dropped the last one on the floor); they seem keen on spherical eats here.

On the way back to our rooms we explored Madam King’s, the closest thing to a department store in our neighbourhood. Four floors of clothing; the girls loved browsing the women’s fashion section, Hannah no doubt picking up inspiration for her next collection… The adults took their chance to be weighed – only 10c for this machine – and discovered that they had each lost a good 5kg since the start of the trip.

Our room had still not been cleaned so we headed out on our next expedition; a trip to the coach station to book our onward tickets. The guide book informed us that the number 17 bus would get us there; the folks at Reception said the stop was by a red building further down the street (turned out to be the Stadthuys), and we waited awhile until the green no. 17 appeared. The fare was RM3.70 for all of us – Ellen appeared to travel free – and we rattled away down the streets of old Melaka, expecting to arrive in 10 or 15 minutes.

Forty minutes later we spotted that we were back in the centre of town, having wiggled round the southern suburbs for ages. We started travelling in the right direction (north) and finally reached the terminal well after 3pm, hot and sticky from the lack of air conditioning and the plastic fake leather upholstery on the seats. Okay, we’ll take the taxi back. It’ll cost an extra RM11.30, but – oh, the comfort and speed!

First into the labyrinthine terminal building to buy our tickets. We found the Transnasional booth and explained that we didn’t fancy a midnight journey; the lady there was most helpful and double-checked all our details, issuing us with tickets for both legs of the trip. We have an hour’s safety margin in Kuala Lumpur (my choice) for the connection, and it all comes to a bit under £20 for the four of us.

Then we crosssed the pedestrian bridge to visit the equally labyrinthine Tesco complex (which also houses numerous other shops and eating places). We began with a tea break at “Secret Recipe” – “Great cakes, good food, simply the place to be” as the receipt claims. It’s one outlet of many throughout Malaysia and it was disappointing in comparison to the little stalls we have frequented up to now. Overpriced and stingy with drinks, especially Kirsten’s and my freshly-squeezed orange juices which were packed out to the top with ice to leave perhaps a third of a glass of juice in there. (We were desperately thirsty by this point.) The squares of cake were okay, but we could have had three or four scrummy lunches locally for the cost of this tea break.

Tesco was clearly popular with the locals of all ethnic persuasions, and we braved the scrum to acquire four bowls (for a cereal supper) and a large six-litre container of drinking water (as cheap as 1.5 litres from our hotel). I was expecting a taxi rank outside the shopping complex, but with no taxis to be seen we hauled our shopping over the bridge and got one outside the coach terminal. This time the driver didn’t give us the rundown on Melaka, perhaps because it was obvious that we have not just arrived.

A flop back at the hotel and supper in our room. We booked our next hotel in Ipoh, now that we have our bus tickets; they don’t have rooms for four people or interconnecting rooms, so we’ll settle for neighbouring two-bed rooms. I didn’t expect to have such a problem finding family accommodation; others travelling in South-East Asia have been assured that hotels will gladly find extra beds to accommodate children, but this isn’t happening for us. Perhaps it’s just Malaysia, while Thailand, etc., are more easygoing. But it’s unexpectedly doubling our hotel bill, pushing it up to New Zealand/Australia prices without getting an entire cabin or apartment for the money.

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Characters and words

A few miscellaneous Melakan observations for today.

T-shirt slogans: “When I grow up I want to be an ENGINEER”, “Work hard and be nice to people”.
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They don’t BOGOF here, they “Buy 1 free 1”.

Headlines from the New Straits Times: “Ice cube prices going up”, “Electronic underpants that send SMS alerts” (no, it’s nothing to do with catchcheatingspouse.com).

A street stall for a herbal jelly that has numerous benefits including the “prevention of heatiness”.

And then two characters we encountered. First, the saffron-robed Buddhist charity mugger who employed most un-Buddhist tactics to get money off people, including falsifying the record of amounts donated (so the next victim would feel pressured to match what had been given by others); I know this because we certainly didn’t give the figure he wrote down, despite all his high-pressure tactics.

Then the snake-oil salesman in Chinatown who kept a large crowd waiting for hours to see him smash a coconut with his bare hands, in the meantime hamming up his own injuries to flog bottles of his miracle cure-all for aches and pains. He is a master of his art (and I don’t especially mean the Kung Fu aspect), and apparently he’s been doing this for 35 years.

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Coconut Man

We all had a peaceful night in our separate rooms.  We left the two interconnecting doors slightly open so that the girls could check up on us…

I had somehow expected to be woken in the early hours by the Imam calling Muslims to the mosque, but either I was fast asleep or else he did this very quietly.  How considerate!
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We got up and dressed around 8.30am and strolled down the stairs to reception.  There we received our breakfast vouchers and two copies of The Straits Times, our complimentary newspaper. (One copy per room)

The buffet breakfast wasn’t particularly huge, but it provided a big enough selection to keep everybody happy and satisfied.  The girls filled up on baked beans, sausages and toast, whilst Tim and I had rice as well.  There was a choice of coffee or tea (with sachets of dried milk), orange or grape squash and water to wash down our tasty breakfast.

Downstairs seemed to be the best place to get an internet connection but the hotel also has loudspeakers all around the building through which they play music all day.  This made it difficult for the girls to concentrate on writing their diaries, so we all retired to our respective rooms and carried on writing upstairs.

By late morning we were all ready to head out in the heat.  First job was to drop off our small bag of laundry.  It only weighed just over a kilo and will be as expensive as RM 2.20, which equals about 40p!  We’ll pick it up after lunch tomorrow.

We carried on walking down our street, Jalan Bunga Raya, towards the Melaka River.  We stopped at the information centre and were slightly baffled when the employee couldn’t offer us a map of the town and simply pointed us towards the stand with leaflets.  She then suggested we walk further down the road to the Taming Sari tower where we could visit the Tourism Malaysia office.

The lady in there was a lot more helpful and provided us with a map on which she marked a shopping centre with a Carrefour supermarket.

Before heading out in the almost unbearable heat we walked across to the Taming Sari cafe for refreshments and lunch.  We had settled for a cheese sandwich for the girls and a club sandwich for Tim and me.  Except the only sandwiches available were tuna or egg.  The main reason for visiting the cafe was to cool off and in the end we only had a can of Coke and Sprite to share between us. 

Some young people at the table behind us were having an intriguing red drink.  I asked the waitress what it was and when she explained it was quite a sweet drink, we decided to try it for ourselves.  It turned out to be very much like rosewater (it’s called Bandung), quite tasty but not so refreshing, I thought.

From the cafe we had a good view of a great selection of Trishaws going past or parked outside, all very colourful and individually decorated.  The only minus point is the loud music they all seem to blare out when in use.  I’m not sure I would enjoy that.

Tempting tricked-out trishaws.
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We turned the corner and walked down the Jalan Merdeka to find a huge shopping centre called Dataran Pahlawan.  We spent a blissful 3 hours inside this air-conditioned building, mainly looking for some sort of bag to replace Hannah’s lost bottle holder, flip flops for Ellen and a shirt for Tim.

At one point we passed a Buddhist monk who wished us peace.  “How nice”, I thought.  Then he pushed some sort of dangly picture into Tim’s hands and gave me a wooden beaded bracelet.  Before we could even look at it properly, he demanded a donation from us and pointed to a picture of a building.  He didn’t explain what the donation would be towards or what the building in the picture was.  Tim pulled out a RM50 note, convinced that would suffice.  The monk, however, had other ideas and demanded we pay at least double that.  While we were pondering what to do, he passed the girls a couple of pictures as well.  We decided to return our gifts to him, as we didn’t feel it was right for him to pressure us in paying more.  The monk kept saying we should pay RM100 and pointed out the donations he had received from other shoppers.  He wrote down RM100 after Tim’s name and eventually gave up on us paying more and left.  We wondered if the others really *did* pay the amount written down.  Both Tim and I were disappointed in the monk’s behaviour and found it very unbuddhist like.

When Ellen and I went for a bathroom break, Tim and Hannah had found something fun to do.  A machine that weighs *and* measures you at the same time.  As it turns out, Hannah measures 1m39cm and weighs 25kg, Ellen is 1m20.5cm tall and 19.5kg heavy.  (un)Fortunately we didn’t have enough coins left for Tim and me to be weighed and measured!

Shortly before 2 o’clock we finally managed to sit down for lunch.  So far we had only bought a small shoulderbag for Hannah.  A water bottle fits in quite easily and there is still room for a small book and her Zen, and she should be able to take it on the plane as hand luggage.  It finally put a smile on her face…

The girls shared a plate of fish and chips and Tim and I chose Kung Po Chicken with rice.  We expected some king prawns on our plate but no such luck.  The dish was extremely tasty though, except for when we both bit on something hot and spicy.

At last we found Carrefour.  Who would put a supermarket on the third floor of a shopping mall?  What if you bought a trolley load of goods?  You’ll have to push your trolley down three or four escalators to get to the carpark.  On the way out we saw an employee pushing 4 or 5 trolleys back up to the top floor.

*We* didn’t want to buy a trolley load of stuff as we would have to lug it back to the hotel.  We bought two small boxes of cereal, milk, a small jar of coffee, tea, little chocolates to share and a shirt for Tim.

Time to head back to the hotel for a rest.  We stopped at Jonkers Street to buy Ellen the flip flops she saw last night.  She really wanted the flip flops with the turtle on, but last night she was told she needed a size 7 and these were a 7.5!  However, when she tried a size 7 they seemed to small, so fortunately for Ellen she could have the pink flip flops with the green turtle on the top.  It was well worth the wait!

We returned to the hotel to cool off and top up our water bottles before heading out again in search of supper.  We decided to visit Chinatown again, as this would probably be the last chance we have (it’s only on on Friday and Saturday nights).

The weather wasn’t as hot and humid as last night and it took a lot longer for me to get all sticky.  The girls had another sausage on a stick and strawberries dipped in chocolate for dessert. Tim and I really enjoyed the spring rolls we had last night, so returned for more and asked for a vegetable cake as well.  This also went down well with both girls – we’re slowly introducing them to new foods.

Tim also had a Melaka cake, which was very much like a custard tart.  It had a rather bland taste and could have done with some sort of sauce, maybe caramel…

We stopped to watch this man break a coconut with his bare fingers.  He was surrounded by quite a huge crowd, but I felt he just went on and on about this pain relieving medicine he was selling.  Eventually it took him all but thirty seconds to break the coconut, but then he spent ages showing off his swollen bent finger (was he after some sympathy?) and rubbing in this oil.  Several minutes later the swelling had come down and he was back to normal.  He had another trick up his sleeve, but we never saw it as he took too long to sell some other product he was promoting that we got fed up with waiting.

Back at the hotel we settled down for the night, only for Tim and me to be woken by noisy neighbours shortly after midnight.  Oh, not again!!!

At a quarter to one in the morning I phoned reception to complain.  Is it a baby crying?  No, I’m pretty sure I would have a lot more sympathy for an upset baby and would not make a fuss over that. It was a small group of young people talking loudly and occasionally shouting.  They promised me they would send someone upstairs to investigate.  A couple of minutes later there was a knock on the door, just to verify the room number.  A little later we heard the neighbours phone ring and then it all went much quieter – I wonder if they moved to the interconnecting room.  It was nowhere as noisy as in Singapore, but still…

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Another relatively peaceful night, apart from some semi-distant noise well after the curfew time. We surfaced at 6.30am in order to have a rapid breakfast, pack and get a taxi to Lavender Street, managing to leave Costa Sands by 7.55. Never, ever to return, if we can help it.

En route we passed other boxy Toyota taxis just like our own, each shaped like a child’s drawing of a car. One advertised a website on the rear of the vehicle: catchcheatingspouse.com.

We reached the bus station by 8.20, in ample time for our 9am departure.
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In due course we were called over for boarding; nice wide, plush seats with imitation walnut armrests and the all-important air conditioning. We found ourselves a block of four seats, although our ticket seat numbers bore little relation to the reality. A nearby coach also bound for Malaysia enthused ‘Mesmerise in its splendour’.
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Away through the metropolis, a curious mix of hothouse foliage and high-rise architecture. We passed the Big Wheel (or Singapore Flyer), which outdoes even the London Eye, then made our way north towards the causeway linking Singapore to Malaysia. Time to reflect on what Singapore does well; four good ideas came to mind, where someone has clearly thought long and hard about what is needed.

One: the deposit system for MRT (tube) tickets, so you get $1 back for returning your pass at the end of the journey. This virtually eliminates litter and enables more costly ‘smart’ cards to be used which merely need to be waved over the barrier to let you through (no moving parts to go wrong).

Two: the simple but effective use of LEDs on the station map inside the underground trains; green shows stations served by the train in question, and red indicates the next stop. No more wondering which branch line the train will take or relying on counting down the number of stations until your stop.
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Three: the Downtown East car park has displays to show how many spaces remain on each level. No more aimless driving around each floor – go straight on up to where the gaps are.

Four: the ultraviolet readmission stamps at Wild Wild Wet. Much harder to forge, and your elegant, tanned limbs aren’t spoiled by an ugly smudge of ink. Might look pretty cool at the disco, too…

As we neared the perimeter of the city the lanes diverged with some for cars and others for ‘Bas, Lori, Teksi’. We all got off with our passports to check out of Singapore. A sign urged us to be friendly to the border staff; if only they would reciprocate.

Causeway between Singapore and Malaysia.
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On the bus, across the causeway and then off again to be stamped into Malaysia (after hurriedly filling in the usual forms – they didn’t pre-issue them on the bus like they do on the plane), as well as an X-ray scan of all our bags. So by 10.15am we were in the ninth country of our trip. An immediate change to endless tropical greenery stretching away on either side of a nearly-deserted three-lane motorway. Few signs of habitation, but a string of toll barriers to impede our progress (they’re the stop-and-pay type, not the electronic whizz-through ones).

A stop for the coach to refuel (diesel costs around 32p/litre here) which doubled as one of the two loo stops. Then on up the highway towards Kuala Lumpur and Melaka, passing roadside advertising hoardings which tantalised us with our first glimpses of Malay. SUDAH POTONG? asked a bloke brandishing huge garden shears near a coily telephone cord. A packet of something edible boasted BERAS WANG! And several advisory roadsigns concluded with the evocative MEMOTONG; clearly an indispensable tool for removing those pesky Post-it notes. A sheer ice wall of language offering no footholds or handholds to get started. Even the few Rosetta Pebbles strewn around the coach (No Smoking, Please Keep Clean) offered no help.

We arrived at Melaka Sentral Bus Station an hour later than we expected, at 1.30pm. After withdrawing RM500 from a cash machine inside a 7-11 within the station, we took a teksi to our hotel in the centre of town; RM15. (You divide by 5 to convert to sterling, more or less.) The driver was chatty, recommending what sights to see, and he gave me a free map at the end. The plan was then to check in, dump our bags and then have a well-earned rest.

Which is what we did until Hannah came to the upsetting realisation that she had left her Peruvian bottle-holder on the coach, underneath the seat. Not again… We piled downstairs, got another taxi back to the bus terminal, this time with an Indian driver, Nathan Krishnan. He too was keen to enthuse about the highlights of Melaka (e.g. the Chinatown market tonight and tomorrow night), and when we explained the reason for our journey he took us straight to the bus company’s booth, talked to the man there, got the phone number of the bus driver (because he had left for Singapore twenty minutes earlier) and rang him up. He even offered to chase down the bus to retrieve the holder.

But sadly the driver was adamant that nothing had been left on board when he had checked at 2 o’clock. We explained that the bottle might have rolled into a far corner, but we got nowhere. Our taxi driver then insisted on getting a smile out of Hannah, philosophising that a loss like this was not important in comparison to having good health, and that we should be grateful to Hannah for giving us this learning experience, and next time we will check more carefully. (Like we said after Ellen left hers behind…) And we explained that it’s not an object of value, but it’s so useful and seemingly irreplaceable outside South America, as well as having sentimental value as an integral element of our trip; it’s been everywhere with Hannah.

We rounded up the taxi fare a significant amount in appreciation of Nathan’s time and assistance; we realised we couldn’t have done this much ourselves, and that there is little more that anyone could have done to retrieve the holder. By this time it was after 3pm and we still hadn’t had lunch, so we walked down our road to a bakery where we chose a tuna croissant, a chicken curry puff, a chicken pie, an apple pie and a cheese stick, along with two soft drinks. (It all came to a bit under £2.50, or less than one Singapore coffee.) Also an ice cream at the end, to cool off and to raise our spirits.

Back in our connecting rooms we had a bit of a rest while Kirsten typed up her blog notes for yesterday. Just before 6 o’clock we got ready to explore Chinatown and its street market, following the rave review it got from both our taxi drivers. We walked down Jalan Bunga Raya to the town square with its Stadthuys (the Dutch got here in 1641), then across the bridge to the main market street.
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They were just finishing setting up the stalls, and what an overwhelming cascade of sights, sounds, smells for the senses! So much to take in, and so much more appealing than the many street markets we have seen in our travels. A relaxed, safe atmosphere, and the place was not flooded with tourists (such as ourselves). I don’t know what many of the edible items were; even when labelled, what is ‘sea coconut’? But we later tried a few random nibbles and all were utterly delicious. Spring rolls of such crispness, succulence, consistency and flavour that they redefine spring rollness for ever. A fruit kebab dipped in chocolate and sprinkles, not ‘here’s one I made earlier’, but freshly assembled and dunked to order. (There was even a tomato in there, despite the saying that ‘knowledge is realising that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting one into a fruit salad’.) And a selection of flavoured sausages; lemon, anyone? Though we stuck with the ‘original’ for the girls.
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Apart from the amazing arrays of eats, we browsed shoe displays to find flip-flops for the girls. Hannah got an embroidered, soft-soled pair made in Thailand, and Kirsten found some ‘Birkenstocks’ (‘made in Germany’) for only £6. (Forgive the skeptical quotation marks, but if they’re German then so am I..) They’re comfortable, anyway, and at that price easily replaceable if necessary. Ellen is still looking; she would prefer a size 7 with turtles on, but we haven’t yet found those two attributes combined.

When lightning flashed cartoon-like in the sky to the north, we began to make our way back to the hotel, getting there just as the rain began in earnest. Showers and baths all round to wash off the stickiness, then a good rest with no need for an early start; they serve breakfast until 10am.

Yes, our first impressions of Malaysia are positive. The people are ever so friendly, thoughtful and accommodating (for instance, if they’re blocking the pavement they’ll actually move out of the way if they see you coming) and there’s a heady blend of traditional cultures alongside all the modern conveniences (there’s even a Tesco opposite the bus station). It’s still a shame about Hannah’s bottle-holder, which we are still convinced is on that coach – the driver must be from Singapore…

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