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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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