Two lazy days in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

We wake to an eerily quiet day in Kuala Lumpur. The city has been shut down due to a political demonstration that will take place today. It’s a good excuse to avoid public places and take it easy. The online news reports that most locals will stay home and maybe catch a movie to avoid the rallies. We decide to do the same.

Housekeeping comes to our room at 12:30pm so that’s when we finally get up. We watch The Accountant at Gold Screen Cinemas Pavilion. 

Downstairs at Pavilion is a massive Christmas display. At home thise who are overly politically correct try to dissuade us from celebrating Christmas in schools and shopping centres for fear of discriminating against Muslims but here Muslim families are quite happy to take photos of the children with Santa and to ride the Christmas themed merry-go-round. I think perhaps we’re creating unnecessary division at home. Rather than minimise Christmas, why not add Ramadan to our calendar like we do with Lunar New Year. 

We wander through the covered walkway to Suria Mall at the Twin Towers for a massage and dinner before catching Hell Or High Water at the Suria TGV cinema. You’re not supposed to bring in outside food but I had a hankering for M&Ms so we smuggle a packet in our pocket. They’re checking bags and taking items off people so we are lucky. 

On our second day we take it easy again. Our flight will depart at 11:10pm. We check out about five minutes before the midday cut off. The monorail takes us to the NU Sentral Mall where we watch Shut In at the Gold Screen Cinema. That makes for movies in three days. 

We’re both traveled out so eat McDonald’s for lunch before catching the bus to the airport where we laze in the movie lounge until our flight. 

Here’s some random photos from our last two days in Kuala Lumpur. 

It’s been an awesome trip. We’re ready for home but are looking forward to our Holland and Belgium trip at Christmas, just five weeks away. 

Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

The tuk tuk driver rouses himself from his slumber. It’s the slightly rude man who took us to the market last night. He’s probably just worn down from his labours in a hot and hectic city. To him we’re probably rich foreigners who sleep in a bed rather than a hammock strung across a tuk tuk. We’re not a prospect for repeat business so he doesn’t have to care. It’s understandable but still unpleasant. I resent having to pay him at the end of my ride. If he’d been friendly I would have given him the last of my Riel as a tip (about $US1.50 on top of a $US7 fare). But I don’t. I take them home because I cannot bring myself to encourage his approach. 

The streets of Phnom Penh are now less alien than when we arrived. I no longer feel as anxious as I did just twelve days ago. I had read so much bad press about Cambodia and its people. So much that turned out to be so untrue. Our bag was not snatched. Our pockets were not picked. Our belongings were not stolen from our guesthouse rooms (we didn’t stay in dives though – we paid $12-$25 per night for places with excellent reviews). I don’t know why I read up so much. Usually I don’t. Perhaps I’d lost my touch being back on our large island continent for ten months. I wish I hadn’t and I won’t in future. 

We experience the last of our Cambodian snow. That’s what Tony called the dust kicked up by traffic on the gravel roads outside Battambang. Next time I see snow I hope it’s the real stuff in Belgium or Holland at Christmas.

Airport officials make us reprint our boarding passes. Ours have bar codes but don’t look like the airline ones. Flexibility will take a little while to ease into officialdom here. 

It’s a short flight to Kuala Lumpur. Forty minutes over Cambodia, forty minutes over the sea and forty minutes over Peninsular Malaysia. Our captain plays tour guide. He clearly loves his job and it passes the time for us. 

We’re both quite tired and have both picked up stomach bugs in Kampong Chhnang. So we have a lazy afternoon in our room then catch a movie.

We eat at a local restaurant.

And have a short walk around our hotel before calling it a night. 

Kuala Lumpur stopover day 2 (Malaysia)

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The world is already awake outside our window but it’s still quiet. Kuala Lumpur is not an early riser, though nor are we. It’s probably already 8am by now and we’re not even thinking about going outside. There’s a 12pm checkout so why rush. And Paul is a night owl so I just know our best laid plans of an early bedtime will go out the window later today.
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It’s 9:30am by the time we sit down at Pak Ngah’s soup stall in the Pasar Chow Kit (Chow Kit Market). A friendly, modern and thoroughly organised young woman stands piling bowls of noodles and beef ready for customers. It looks so fresh and the beef soup (sup daging) base is bubbling away in a massive vat. There’s no stock cubes here, just big hunks of meat simmering in water (and probably some spices).

Stomachs satisfied we return to our room to pack and check out. We leave Paul’s bag with reception so that we can wander the streets unburdened.
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At Merdeka Square there are marquees and people everywhere. We’ve arrived at a scooter and motorbike drag racing show. Who knew there was such a thing. Young and middle-aged men tinker with hotted up scooters and sales people show off big Japanese bikes that seem impossibly large for the traffic and style of riding that is generally done here.
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But the real action is down on the road in front of the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Here bikes with engines roaring (believe me, the engines of these little bikes roared like full sized Grand Prix racers) tore up the strip on a quarter mile track.
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Leaving the excitement of the drag races behind we enter the Music Museum. It’s free but holds a good display of local musical instruments and information. It also serves as a few minutes relief from the heat outside.
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Next door to the Music Museum is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery. I join the other tourists taking photos at the I heart KL sign because it just wouldn’t be polite not to. Inside the gallery there are modern works by local artists and a batic display in a courtyard. But the real piece of interest here is the massive diorama of Kuala Lumpur and the information film that goes along with it. If you are in the city and have had a wander around, this is definitely worthwhile. It certainly gave us both a greater appreciation of the places we’ve been and the places we want to visit. It also shows the vision of Kuala Lumpur to become a major business and tourism city – apparently 300 new high rise buildings will be constructed over the next five years.
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Leaving Merdeka Square we cross under a road bridge where we start to notice we are entering the Muslim heartland of the city. Gorgeous geometric works of art adorn the underpass.
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The Masjid Negara (National Mosque) is currently closed to non-Muslims because it is 2pm. It is only open from 9am – 12pm, 3pm – 4pm and for a short period in the evening. I actually feel it is good that a place of worship is reserved for it’s respective faithful during prayer times because sometimes it must be difficult for people to pray / worship with hundreds of tourists milling around. I certainly know I’d be distracted if I wanted to go to Mass on Sunday (not that I have in a long time) while tourists dressed inappropriately flashed their cameras around. We will return on our way home to check out the interior and make do with looking at the exterior and its many geometric patterns.
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The disappointing thing about being in the area of the National Mosque are the inappropriately dressed backpackers we see all around. It’s disconcerting to come across this in such a conservative country. I’m not saying women should be covered or wearing a headscarf if they are visiting this city but to wear skimpy shorts that leave nothing to the imagination is barely acceptable at home in Australia and is quite offensive here in this land. It’s only a few weeks ago at the F1 that some Australian men were arrested for wearing speedos so why would anyone think it’s okay to wear shorts that barely cover the private area. It gives Westerners a bad name when they travel to conservative countries dressed in this way. Yes, sure, be a feminist but when traveling to conservative countries it’s important to remember that most of the population here won’t ever get to see our countries and our diversity. The only thing they know about Australia, America, Europe or the United States is what they see on television and the tourists who visit their cities. The message this clothing sends is that Westerners have low morals – a falsehood that cannot be explained away by words given the clothing some of us choose to wear. I think the key thing to remember is that as travelers we are ambassadors for our home cultures. What is the message we want to send?
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Not far from the National Mosque we visit the Museum of Islamic Arts. Entry is relatively expensive for tourists (14.85RM / $AU5) but the museum is a brilliant opportunity to learn more about the religion that dominates this part of the world. The museum houses a large collection of artifacts. There’s a fourteenth century embroidered map of Mecca from Northern India, many gorgeously gilded prayer books, a frightening amount of ivory and a weapons collection just to name some of the displays. We pass over an hour in the museum taking it all in. A more dedicated museum-goer could pass even more.
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There’s only one thing to do after all this sight seeing – eat a late lunch. We decide to check out the stalls and food courts over near the Petaling Street Markets and are not disappointed. We end up with an odd mix of Malaysian nasi goreng (fried rice), Indian tandoori chicken and garlic naan, and Chinese pork rib with white rice. As you can see from my face, I am enjoying the food here in Malaysia along with the cheap cost of purchasing it (this whole meal including drinks was about 25RM / $AU8).
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It’s late in the afternoon and we still have to collect Paul’s backpack and make our way to the airport. We have an early flight tomorrow so will spend the night at the Tune Hotel KLIA2 instead of making an early commute. Along our walk we come to the Pasar Malam Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur Night Market). Being a Saturday afternoon it’s busy here and you can buy almost anything you can imagine. We still have a fortnight of carrying our bags in Cambodia so restrain ourselves but who knows what happens on our way home. Paul isn’t frowning in this photo either – or I don’t think he is.

Our intention is to have an early night at the airport hotel but we don’t arrive until after 8:30pm and then there’s no wifi in our room so we head over to the airport proper to use the free wifi there. We want to download some maps of Phnom Penh, check the address of our hotel and upload some photos to social media. By the time we go to bed I’m cranky and exhausted with less than four hours until we need to get up for the flight. At least the bed is comfortable and the airconditioning cold.

Kuala Lumpur stop over day 1 (Malaysia)

It’s 4:30am and we’re disembarking from our eight hour red-eye. We’re finally back in Asia – we’ve been gone too long. We explore our options at the airport. The container hotel is fully booked out so that blows a catch up sleep and shower. We have hotel booked for tonight but check in isn’t until 2pm, some ten hours away. What to do? A taxi to the city costs 112RM, a train is 55RM per person but the bus is on 12RM per person so the bus to KL Sentral it is.

The 45 minute bus trip gives us time to sleep some more. We think we’ve booked Flora by Crossroads near the KL Tower. It looks like it’s only a few kilometres away and it’s still early so we set off on foot.

Walking allows us a fine reintroduction to this magnificent city. It’s a visual delight of colour and chaos, a cacophony of scooters and construction, and the ever present smell of cheap cigarettes and pollution.

We find ourselves at a Hindu temple but don’t enter because prayers are in full swing. The outside is brilliantly detailed and the scent of incense wafts through the street.

Behind the temple we follow a riverside cycleway. The homeless sh*t in plastic bags without privacy. It smells and I realise rivers are places of contrast all over the world. The rich buy waterfront views while the poor eke out their survival under bridges. It’s humanity at its core – desirous of pleasure but always at risk of doom.

It turns out we’re not staying at Flora by Crossroads but at Crossroads Hotel. It’s another 2km further up the road in Chow Kit. The lady at Flora organised is an early checkin at their sister hotel for an extra 50RM ($AU17). She’s shocked to hear we walked from KL Sentral and that we want to walk to our actual hotel instead of taking a taxi. But taking a taxi would mean missing out on the sights we see along the way: like this cat on a hot tin roof and our delicious breakfast (cost 5.40RM or $AU1.80 for two including tea and coffee). We arrive at our hotel around 8:30am, check in, shower, wash our flight clothes and lay on the bed for a couple of hours. This is worth every single ringett.

Refreshed but still fatigued we walk to the Sunway Putra Mall to catch Doctor Strange at the beanie (beanbag) cinema. I love the casual seats but they are not made for tall people so it’s less comfortable for Paul. At least we’re continuing our practice of seeing movies everywhere we go. And this time it was in a unique cinema style. The movie was entertaining and engaging too – our 28th movie in less than six months.

We both have or second wind so set off on foot to explore more of what Kuala Lumpur has to offer. But not before I have a bit of shopping centre fun with some of the displays. (That’s how I know I’m feeling good again – I’m being playful and spontaneous).

Paul has seen a reflexology shop on our walk to the cinema so insists we stop. Walking upstairs I can’t help but hope we’re not walking into another front for a brothel. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been tricked by a legitimate looking sign. The car seats say it all really – as does the television blaring in the corner. The ugly ladies (they genuinely were physically ugly) try to entice us to have more than a foot massage but we strongly decline. Mine keeps trying to work up past my knees to my groin and I push her firmly away each time. We pay for half hour but don’t get any extra foot massage for the ten minutes they have allotted to the happy ending. I don’t begrudge the women their living not judge them. But I do wish we wouldn’t get tricked by legitimate looking signs.

Back on the street we decide to take a random route to the Petronas Twin Towers. Random because we just walk towards them without checking where we go. First there’s the Pasar (Market) Chow Kit.

Then we find ourselves on the wrong side of the river in KL’s suburbs. The juxtaposition of old and new is so stark here. Locals go about their lives as we meander through the streets and lanes on our way to the next river crossing some two kilometres away. And no we didn’t buy any durian – I can’t understand how anyone can eat it.

Crossing the river we enter a massive hive of construction activity. High tide apartments and office towers are going up all around the Twin Towers. We were here in April 2015 and already the area is so different. I can’t imagine what the next five years will bring to KL. It’s already 3pm and we haven’t eaten anything but some fruit I bought at the market. So we settle on the food court for some Malaysian rice dishes. Downstairs on level C there’s an amazing massage place we visited last year so Paul decided we’re going back. It’s genuine, professional and relaxing. 150RM ($AU48) buys 90 minutes of reflexology, back, hand and head massage. That’s good value for us Aussies.

Our day is not over yet though. We watch the fountain show along with thousands of people from all over the world. At a time when the media and governments of the world are focused on encouraging people to hate, it’s amazing to be in a place where people come from all over the world to enjoy the simplicity of music and colour. No wonder our government at home wants to discourage funding and valuing of the arts – because it is the arts that bring all humans together as one. And bringing people together as one is the only thing that can prevent the war that we are on the brink of enduring. So I pray the artists, musicians, writers and other creatives of the world keep on doing what they do to create art, music, stories and other opportunities for humans to come together in awe.

We finally end our day walking back to Chow Kit where we have dinner around 9:30pm at a street stall. It’s no surprise to me that I am asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. We’ve crammed a truckload into our first day.

And we’re off – Cambodia trip 2016

Paul and I tied the knot on Monday night at our Halloween themed, non-government-sanctioned wedding ceremony. I don’t play the divisive and demeaning “commitment ceremony” game. While marriage equality is yet to occur in Australia (not for lack of public support), we don’t need some official government suit to recognise our relationship because 100 of our closest family and friends have (including their own certificate to recognise our union). 

Our wedding was amazing and an incredibly happy event. And I am blessed to have a kindred spirit as my husband. 

So now we’re off on our honeymoon to Cambodia. It’s the first trip where I can leave my laptop at home because I no longer work online. Sure, I now don’t get paid when I travel (I work casually) but boy will it be fantastic to just relax, explore, read and laugh without needing to make time to think. And this also means my 32L pack is half empty 🙂 .

Tonight we fly to Kuala Lumpur, arriving at 4am tomorrow morning. We have two days in magnificent KL before we continue on to Phnom Penh. Stay tuned for some stories from the road.

It’s been 10 months since we traveled together and we’ve both missed it. This will change moving forward, starting right now. 

Tokyo-Narita to Kuala Lumpur

I wake up early and ready to fly home. I’ve enjoyed Japan but there always comes that moment just before departure when you are ready to see those you love. I don’t sleep well because my missed flight from Chiang Mai is still firmly fixed in my memory. But I wake up on time, load the final two pannier bags on the bike and set off for the Tokyo Narita International Airport. It’s only supposed to be a 9km ride from the hostel but I fail to pay attention and cycle about 2km in the wrong direction resulting in a 2km ride back to where I was. The total ride is 13km but I’ve left myself plenty of time so it’s no problem.  photo IMG_20150512_055723_zpsk1uagrmp.jpg

Just before the airport I find one last geocache in Japan. I think I found five here in total. But I needed to find this one because I’ve been carrying a travel bug for over two months that I have been trying to find a cache large enough to place it in. I had seen this cache was a “regular” so knew it would be big enough. It’s a travel bug hotel so I drop the one I’ve been carrying and collect three from the cache. There are about ten travel bugs in the cache and many have been there for a while so I figure it will be okay to take a few and send them on their way.  photo IMG_20150512_075310_zpscgyerefo.jpg

You can ride all the way to the airport along a cycleway. But once at the airport itself, finding the entry is a challenge. The security guards at the entrance to the driveway force me onto a walkway but then the only way to the actual airport entrance is either down some stairs or through a carpark and then into a lift. I take the latter option. I just walk the bike right up to where the Air Asia gate is signed, remove the box from the back rack and pack everything. The box needs to be cut down because it’s far too big but I manage and even can fit it in without removing the rear wheel or rack. I could have put the whole bike in complete but thought that might be a bit cheeky. And yes, I did cycle to the airport with that big wide box sat on the rear rack like that … it was fine.

The Air Asia check in was not so fine. You are not allowed trolleys at the baggage drop which means people have to struggle with their luggage, especially sporting equipment. I slide the bike box along the floor and am not the only one who is having difficulty. To add insult to annoyance there are two check-in areas for Air Asia. One is Air Asia Thailand and the other is Air Asia X. The distinction isn’t signed. So I struggle and wait in one queue only to be sent to another counter, which requires more struggling with my gear. Oh, and the Air Asia counters are in an alcove in an area between the two terminal entrance doors – not inside the terminal itself.

The next joy was discovering that my luggage could not be checked through. The lady said that I should have booked the flight as a through-flight on a single booking. In fact, I had done this but Air Asia decided to cancel my connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur to the Gold Coast so now I have to clear customs with my luggage and recheck it in tomorrow morning from Kuala Lumpur. I will also have to pay for my own hotel in Kuala Lumpur or sleep on the airport floor. I emailed Air Asia to query this and they said that “flight schedules are subject to change at any time” and that Air Asia will not be liable for any loss incurred by passengers due to the airline changing flight schedules. Let’s just say that I am monitoring the flight cancellation situation by Air Asia compared with other airlines that I fly because so far I have had a number of flights cancelled (Kuala Lumpur to Gold Coast leg of my through flight home from Thailand but for some reason they did put me up in a hotel that time, my return flights between Kuala Lumpur and Narita were canceled and I was re-routed to Osaka, this flight home has been cancelled and Paul’s flight from Gold Coast to Kuala Lumpur was also cancelled and he was placed on a later flight). Yes, they put you on another flight but I am starting to get annoyed with the cancellations.  photo 20150512_092826_zpsxdigfkrb.jpg

But perhaps this is why the airline is canceling so many flights. This is my flight from Narita to Kuala Lumpur after all the passengers have boarded. I would estimate that the flight was about 25% booked and the rest of the seats were vacant. Everyone on the flight got a whole row of seats to themselves and still there were plenty of extra spaces. It was a quiet flight with lights dimmed and window shades down throughout the plane despite it being a daytime flight. I guess if we passengers can lie down to sleep we all will.  photo 20150512_165215_zpsbl3zcvih.jpg

The flight itself was a little bumpy due to monsoon season in this part of Asia. But the pilot flew very high (41,000 feet … the limit of this aircraft’s legal altitude) probably to fly over the worst of the weather. Once the seat belt sign was off I just turned on a movie and dozed. Oh, the silhouette in the window is Tozzie my travel companion. He was a gift from a friend to Paul and me. We are taking him traveling with us and he has his own Facebook page so I took a photo of him for that page and it turned out to be the better of my in-flight photos.  photo 20150512_191704_zpspo3r7o3z.jpg

 photo 20150512_191804_zpsb9dlyf48.jpgFlight successfully completed I decided not to sleep on the airport floor. For MYR100 ($AU35) for 12 hours I could get a capsule in the airport container hotel. It included luggage storage (including the bike), showers, sitting area, international power point and fast wifi. I only have 17 days to be with my loved ones so why turn up home tomorrow night tired when I can have a good sleep now and depart refreshed in the morning. The capsule is really comfortable and much better than a hostel dorm. And I don’t need much more space than this to write a blog post or two, watch a movie on my laptop and have a refreshing sleep.

Reflections on Malaysia

I’m up in the air with a full row of three seats to myself. In about six hours I’ll be landing at Kansai International Airport, Osaka Japan. As usual, I have no idea what to expect of the land to which I am traveling other than that it’s a country famous for samurai, cherry blossoms, Toyota and bullet trains. But I’m not there yet and as I sit here I find myself reflecting on my time in Malaysia and how it fits into the bigger scheme of my quest for 42.

Originally, Malaysia was not a destination of itself. It was meant to be a two week intermission in a longer trip to Japan. A chance to catch up with Paul so that our time apart did not extend beyond a month. As it turned out, I moved my flights so that I will only have one month in Japan. I moved them for a range of reasons but mostly to give Paul and me a chance to live together and create a basis on which to build something real. And so, instead of being a reunion trip, Malaysia became a destination in its own right.

The thing that stands out about the past fortnight are the Malaysian people. For me they are up there with South Koreans as one of the most genuinely friendly cultures I’ve experienced. Unlike Thailand where I felt like people were only nice if they wanted my money, in Malaysia I felt a sense of hospitality and warmth. This is not a wealthy country but it seems like a country that proudly stands on its own feet without looking up in awe at its old colonial oppressors (unlike Indonesia where white folk are called ‘sir’) or white skinned tourists (unlike Thailand where white folk are ATMs) who pass through.

Speaking of tourists, most of the tourists we saw were from Asia. While there were certainly some white tourists in Melaka and Kuala Lumpur, they had that air of passing through on short transits visiting places easily accessible from the airport. Once night came or when we ventured away from the main transit routes it was rare to see any white people. That’s not to say we weren’t regularly surrounded by tourists because there were plenty of Asian tourists in our hotels and walking around the places we went. So this industry must be healthy.

I found Malaysia an easy country to travel. Many people speak English and the roads are of good quality for driving so there is really no need to rely on point-to-point public transport. You can meander around in a car. Accommodation is as cheap as Indonesia and of a higher standard. Food is delicious and readily available even at 1am. You can get almost anything you want but Malay, Chinese and Indian are the best options being the local cuisine. Mind you, if you are hanging out for KFC or McDonalds you’ll find at least one in every town if not more.

The Cameron Highlands were my favourite place to drive through and Ipoh my favourite of the three cities we visited. I think it was because we stayed in a local place and ate at local restaurants far from the city itself. In future, I would do more of that local travel in Malaysia where we stayed and explored a place further from the capital.

Malaysia is a beautiful mix of cultures. Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism exist side by side. Malay women wear head coverings, Indian women wear saris and red dots painted on their foreheads, while Chinese women mostly wear Western style clothing and make up. Blended languages drift through the air. Unlike Australia where people might mutter “they should be speaking English if they want to live in our country”, Malaysians seem to accept that tourists speak English, Indians speak Hindi, Chinese speak Mandarin (or is it Cantonese that’s spoken here?), Malays speak either dialect or Bahasa Malay and everywhere the influence of Arabic language and script shows the influence of Islam. And people move so effortlessly between the languages to communicate with each other as though communication is more important that being righteous. Perhaps underneath there is a tension but it’s not visible to the casual observer.

On a personal level, I was once again pleased to be travelling with Paul. He forces me to extend myself as a traveller. He doesn’t seem to tire. Often we start our exploration around 10 or 11 in the morning and don’t stop until well after midnight. And even then we are usually still awake talking about our day or uploading photos to the internet for another hour or two before succumbing to sleep. It’s hectic but fun. When I travel with him we see the big attractions like Sam Poh Tong and the Cameron Highlands. But we always end up spending more time seeing lots of cool and quirky things like the Melaka Butterfly and Reptile Farm or Kellie’s Castle. His reaction to an opportunity to see something new is always, “Why not? We’re here.” And his taste for a little luxury means we are never short of a good meal, a trip to the cinema or a relaxing massage. He doesn’t have champagne tastes because we stay in cheap places, often with share bathrooms, but he does know how to make the travel dollar stretch far enough to take in some treats.

Malaysia was fun. I am glad to have visited this country. It’s close to home, cheap to access and cheap to visit. Accommodation costs about $15-25 a night for a clean and comfortable double room. A local Malay, Chinese or Indian meal sets you back between $1.50 and $5 per person depending on how many dishes you select. There are many things to see that are free like temples, nature and art.  Our biggest cost was car hire but it was worth it for the freedom to experience more of the country at a local level. The biggest challenge here is the heat so maybe it is a good idea to pace yourself and take a few rest days to avoid melt downs.