I had an email from the CEO and co-founder of TripAdvisor, Steve Kaufer, the other day – thanking me for posting my 150th review. Wasn’t that nice?!Now, the cynics amongst you might think that this was a computer generated email because Steve Kaufer is far too busy and important to email ickle ol’ me. But I like to think otherwise.
On a serious note, TripAdvisor is a site I rely heavily on when planning trips and I really value the insight shared by other travellers. I never book a hotel without referring to TripAdvisor as it’s a great way to get real people’s opinions, and I think it’s important to contribute as well.
A while ago I posted my top 5 tips for writing a TripAdvisor review. You can read them here.
I recently found out that you can also review flights on TripAdvisor, so have been doing that too. I couldn’t speak highly enough about Malaysia Airlines after our trip to Penang (read about that here, here, here, here, and here) and Kuala Lumpur (read about that here, here, and here) – the service, comfort and food were all faultless. On the flip side, our flights to and from Greece (trip report here and here) with Thomas Cook were really uncomfortable; all squished in with hardly and leg room or arm room. Ironically the inflight magazine boasted how all of the fleet were now lots more comfortable with great inflight entertainment – not on our metal bird they weren’t! I reviewed both honestly and truthfully, to give future travellers an idea of what to expect.
TripAdvisor has also been instrumental in planning our trip to Rome for my 40th birthday, and our trip to Santorini for our 10th wedding anniversary next year. Super exciting!
Are you a TripAdvisor fan? Let me know in the comments.
About a 45 minute train journey from Kuala Lumpur is the town of Batu, home to the Batu Caves. Have to admit I wasn’t even aware of them until Hannah International blogged about them, but they were immediately on our list of things to see whilst in Malaysia.
Train and Metro travel in KL was very straightforward, clean, reliable and cheap – we could probably learn something from them here in the UK! So we bought our tickets, hopped onboard, and headed off to Batu.
There’s no way to miss the site of the caves when you leave the train, because pretty much everyone is going the same way, and you can see them from the train station anyway.
The site comprises of 3 cave temples. We started in the Ramayana Cave, which was only consecrated as recently as November 2001. Passing a 50ft tall statue of Hanuham, inside the cave is very picturesque, with paintings and fairy lights that depict the story of Rama.
A short walk from the Ramayana cave is the main Temple Cave, which is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India. The limestone forming the caves is said to be around 400 million years old, but the main cave (the Temple Cave) has only been a dedicated temple and place of worship since 1890 when a consecrated statue of Sri Murugan Swarmi was erected. The current statue stands at 140ft high, and is the world’s tallest Murugan statue; costing 24 million rupees (approx. £300,000) and being made of 1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of gold paint (thanks Wikipedia!)
There’s currently a lot of construction work happening, both in the prayer area outside of the cave, and in the cave itself, so there was a lot of scaffolding and abandoned piles of bricks (it would seem that the Malaysian approach to health and safety is very different to Western cultures!)
There are 272 steps up to the Temple Cave, and we felt every single one! There are macaque monkeys everywhere; climbing the vertical face of the limestone, climbing the stairs, and sitting on pillars almost like statues. They’re very tame and have obviously learnt to scavenge food from tourists over the years. They can be seen picking up empty food wrappers and eating from them, as well as accepting food from visitors.
Inside the first cave are Hindu shrines, and yet more steps leading through to the cathedral cave which has an opening to the sky. Inside is very damp and dank, again with questionable building work going on.
The trouble with 272 steps to the top is…you guessed it…the same amount to come back down. Ouch!
It was well worth the visit, obviously not from a religious point of view (for us) but the colours and the imagery and the natural caves were incredible.
So, now you’ve got this far, I suppose you want to know about the monkey incident I referred to in the post title? Go on then…
I was taking some pics of the macaque monkeys, which as I mentioned were very tame and seemingly fairly placid. So the husband asked if I wanted to be in a photograph with one of them. I thought it would make a fun pic if I leaned towards it, as if I was blowing it a kiss. Monkey had other ideas – he screeched and lashed out at me, properly boshed me one and scratched my cheek! Luckily for me (!!!) the husband managed to catch the aftermath on his camera. Thanks husband!
As well as generally walking around the city, eating from random food stalls under bridges and getting a bit lost on the metro, here’s what else we got up to during our time in Kuala Lumpur.
Like GeorgeTown in Penang, Kuala Lumpur has a Little India region in the Brickfields area of the city. The first time we visited was at night time, in search of curry, and also expecting street food stalls. The area was strangely deserted, which we thought odd, but on the plus side we found a great restaurant where the husband had what he declared to be one of the best vindaloos he’s ever had. We headed back there during the daytime, again looking for the elusive food stalls, but a combination of tiredness and lots of rain put paid to any major exploring of the area.
Inside the PETRONAS Towers
The first thing we were struck by was the high level of security – bags have to be scanned through an airport style scanner and large bags checked in to a cloakroom. Everyone has to go through an airport style body scan and there are only a certain amount of people (probably about 40) in each group, which is colour coded. You have to stay within your group at all times so the visit is more regimented than at KL Tower but it does make for a better flow and quicker exit! First stop is the skybridge.
Interesting fact – the bridge is not securely connected to either of the towers! Because of the height of the buildings and the need for them to have a degree of movement in strong winds there is leeway for the bridge to move in and out of the towers at the point where it connects them, which sounds more alarming than it actually is! Also, the bridge is 2 stories high – one used for tourists and the other used for people who work in the offices to move from one tower to the other. Next stop is the viewing platform, which is as high as you can go in the building, but this was a bit of an anti climax after the open air views from the KL Tower, because the top of the PETRONAS Tower is enclosed by glass and has lots of steel structural supports on the outside. We were glad we went up but, for us, the towers were far more impressive from the outside than the inside.
ChinaTown – Jalan Petaling
This again was an evening visit and by now the husband was all walked out, Chinese fooded out and shopped out, so our visit was fairly brief. We bought a few bits in the market and had food at a street restaurant but I chose well and he didn’t and the experience wasn’t that great so we didn’t hang around very long.
Thean Hou temple
This was our last stop during our 3 days in KL and the rain was absolutely torrential. It’s outside of the centre and not easily reachable by public transport, so we took a cab up into the hills and were dropped off at an eyeball pleasing site of reds and golds and beautiful lanterns.
Unfortunately there are areas of the temple which aren’t undercover and had become slightly flooded and the rain was bouncing off the floor so we couldn’t explore the gardens properly but it was such a beautiful, peaceful and serene place. I loved the strings of lanterns and can only imagine how beautiful it is at night when it’s all lit up. The temple hosts weddings regularly and is also a mecca for the city during Chinese religious festivals.
Would I recommend Kuala Lumpur? Absolutely! It’s a fascinating city of old and new, many districts and religions and foods and we had a great time. As part of a 2 centre holiday though, like ours, I’d recommend hitting KL first and then Penang. We found that the fast pace of city life after our 5 days in chilled out Batu Ferringhi was quite exhausting and because everything in Penang was so fantastic, we compared KL to it sometimes unfavourably, which is totally unfair. Perhaps, also, just 3 days wasn’t long enough to do everything at our own pace rather than cramming it all in, and it meant that we had to crack on and see stuff even in the rain because we didn’t have time to waste waiting for it to dry up!
Read about the first part of our Malaysia visit, to Penang here, here and here.
Have you ever been to Kuala Lumpur? Let me know in the comments!
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur mid afternoon on a Friday and took a taxi from the airport to the city. There are two options when you buy your taxi voucher in the arrivals hall – metered taxi or fixed rate. I asked which would be the better option and was told it depends whether you want to take a risk with traffic (!!) so we decided on a fixed fee which was the right decision. The journey from the airport to the city took over an hour (it’s quite away a way from the centre) and when we got towards our hotel we were snarled up in gridlock traffic which would definitely have taken it’s toll on the fee meter.
We were staying in the Hotel Berjaya Times Square, in the Bukit Bintang region of the city, which is a huge place connected to a huge shopping mall (I’ll review the hotel separately). Our room on the 25th floor afforded us views of the storm that was rolling in, and we feared we may not be able to get out to explore that evening due to the torrential rain that coincided with our arrival. Luckily it subsided by evening, and off we went to Jalan Alor; a renowned street of hawker food stalls which is touted as a must visit in KL.
Have to say we were disappointed. After some exceptional food experiences in Batu Ferringhi, Jalan Alor was overly busy, overly samey and not overly appealing. We initially settled on a brightly lit restaurant which randomly had a Christmas tree in the corner, and ordered a selection of food…which never came.
We watched other diners arrive, eat and leave, and still we sat there. Every time we enquired on the whereabouts of our food we were told “it’s coming” then, finally, after about 40 minutes, they bought out just one of our dishes and it was completely wrong! By mutual agreement with the waiters we left and went searching for another place, eating a very tasty beef dish, but by then it was late and the experience was somewhat soured. There was nothing about Jalan Alor that made us want to return, and I think this is because it paled to anything we’d experienced in Penang.
Rising bright and early the following morning we were greeted by bright sunshine and blue skies, so we set off to arguably KL’s most famous landmark – the PETRONAS Twin Towers. We found our way to the city centre and then entered a stunning high end beautifully air conditioned shopping mall, from where we tracked down the Bukit Bintang covered walkway which is a direct and safe way to cross the city and reach the towers. I was very much looking forward to seeing them but didn’t expect to be as overwhelmed as I was by them – they were absolutely incredible. The shape, the symmetry, the way the metal and glass structure glinted in the sun, just wow.
We took far too many photos, oohed and aahed a huge amount and had a wander round KLCC park which is at the back of the towers took some more photos.
We tried and failed to get tickets to go to the top (fully booked, we booked them for another day) then headed off to find the Menara KL Tower and try our luck at ascending that.
Although KL Tower isn’t as tall as the twin towers, it’s actually higher with better views due to it’s elevated position on a hill. Because it’s so high and so distinctive you can use it as a navigational point even if you don’t know where you’re going, so we wandered through the streets, occasionally referring to the map and sweating profusely in the midday heat and humidity.
Unlike the Twin Towers, which have usable space on every floor, the KL Tower is a needle design with a narrow body and 2 wide round viewing platforms at the top – one open air (the highest point) and one enclosed (a few metres below). There’s a few ringgit difference, pricewise, between the two viewing platforms, but why would you go all that way and then not go to the very top? Strangely quite a few people did, which seems odd to me, and certainly wasn’t an option for us.
The rounded open air viewing platform gives 360 degree views across KL and the surrounding areas, including across to the Twin Towers.
It also has two Sky Boxes – glass structures built to stand out from the side of the platform, overlooking the ground below. You can stand in the glass box and get photos taken which was very cool, although I imagine someone with a fear of heights might go a bit wobbly legged! I found it incredible and well worth queuing 10 minutes for.
The only negative to our visit to KL Tower was that, after being on the Sky Deck, you then have to go down to the enclosed observation deck (which seems pointless when you’ve already seen the best views from a higher level) and we had to queue for around 20 minutes for a lift back down – the queue snaked half way round the space. It would be better to manage the number of people up there at any one time and keep the exiting procedure shorter and less frustrating.
In the evening we headed back to the PETRONAS Twin Towers to see the fountain light show on the lake behind the towers, and once again we were awestruck. The towers are all lit up at night, and with the backdrop of the night sky they’re almost more impressive than during the day.
The lightshow and fountains, which are set to music, are beautiful and mesmerising and everything was just wonderful!
More about KL in my next post!
Missed out on posts about the earlier part of our trip, Penang? Read about it here, here and here
It’s been almost a week since we left Malaysia, and I haven’t got round to sorting my photos <<bad blogger>> I will be writing lots of posts about what we got up to soon, but in the mean time here were some of my initial reactions after 15 hours of travelling!
Thank God we’ve made it!
When I came across the deal for our trip, I knew it was an amazing offer and not worth not going. I also figured that part of the reason the offer price was so good is because the flights were with Malaysia Airlines who are still trying to (re)build their customer base. Mention them to most people (certainly the people I know) and the reaction is “good luck with the plane not disappearing”. MH370 is still firmly in people’s minds, and no-one’s more than the husband. He was obsessed with the case when it happened and I knew how he’d react at the prospect of flying with them. So I gave him the hard sell on the holiday, the weather, the amazing things we’d see, the food we’d eat. I didn’t tell him anything about the flights until he asked me, and by then he was already hooked on the idea of the trip.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t part of me that was ever so slightly nervous about something happening, and we certainly both joked that if the plane was going to go missing then hopefully it would be on our way back after we’d had a great time, but then I rationalised it by how many flights are operated every single day by Malaysia Airlines without incident and thankfully the husband saw it that way too.
And, do you know what? They were amazing. Legroom, comfort, food and service were all brilliant, and I’d have no hesitation in recommending them. KL airport, pictured right above, was pretty cool too!
Does anyone actually have a driving licence?
Our taxi transfer from the airport to the hotel was pretty hairy, and it was a sign of things to come. Lane discipline is almost none existent, driving bumper to bumper is the norm, and throw in some crazy moped drivers and you feel like you need to hold onto your seat! There are so many mopeds on the road and personal safety seems far down the list of considerations – we saw people riding mopeds with tiny babies on their laps, people wearing no helmets, 3 adults squashed on one moped, people carrying oversized items like big pieces of wood – and no-one bats an eyelid. Although cars are right hand drive and they drive on the left hand side of the road – just like here in the UK – NO WAY would I consider hiring anything on wheels and taking my chances. It was crazy!
This is going to be an ugly holiday for me
You know when you go to a hot country and you get off the plane and the heat envelops you like a warm hug (especially if the temperatures have been less than great at home). Imagine that warm hug being delivered by someone in a wet shirt, leaving you all clammy and damp. That’s what it felt like when we got to Penang. We knew that the humidity levels would be high but it was like nowhere I’ve ever experienced. The only way to cope was keep my hair scraped off my face and tissues to hand to mop my heavily perspiring brow.
Me at the top of Penang Hill – check out those frizzy flyaway hairs!
Even minimal make up just fell off within 10 minutes of leaving the hotel room! Kuala Lumpur was more manageable, but I still avoided photos as I was looking less than my best!
It’s a lot greener than I expected
Because of the year round hot temperatures, I think I expected the landscape to be a lot more parched and barren. Quite the opposite in fact, it was incredibly green. Our hotel room balcony in Penang overlooked a hill of forest, and everywhere we went flowers flourished.
Clockwise, from top left – view from Penang Hill, flowers at Kek Lok Si temple, view from Kek Lok Si temple up to Penang Hill
We soon realised why, on our first night, when the rain came. It was like someone had turned on a tap and, with only seconds warning, the streets were coursing with rain water. So yeah, the plants get all the nourishment they need!
It’s perfectly acceptable to eat curry for breakfast
We arrived at our hotel just as the breakfast buffet was coming to an end so, being the greedy foodie that I am, I had a little look around to see what was on offer ready for the next day. The hotel obviously needs to cater for visitors from across the world, so the food choices reflected that. Croissants, bread for toast, fresh fruit, porridge, sausages and baked beans sat alongside fried rice, noodles and spicy curry dishes. I love spicy food and can often be heard saying I’d eat it at anytime of day, so I wasn’t going to miss out on a legitimate opportunity! I had a little taster of local cuisine most mornings, and it was delish!
Ooh, so many memories just from writing this short post!
I’m back from my South East Asia adventures, in Malaysia!
Miss me? No? Didn’t even realise I was gone? Awkward!!
Malaysia was, as expected, pretty epic. We crammed in a whole heap of stuff during our visit, and I have a whole heap of photos and blog posts to write about things we did but, until then, here are some facts and highlights of our hol!
Our trip was for 9 days / 8 nights, during which time we flew 21,870 miles on 4 different flights.
Stayed in Batu Ferringhi on Penang Island, and Kuala Lumpur on the mainland, also visiting George Town and Air Itam in Penang, and Gombok just outside KL.
“Lived” in 2 hotels, one on the 14th floor and the other on the 25th floor
Had an amazing meal for just 80 pence
Spent more on a glass of wine than 2 skirts from the market
Paddled in the sea
Took a ride in a trike covered in fairy lights blasting out “Staying Alive” by the BeeGees
Visited 5 temples, 1 mosque, 2 caves and 2 towers
Took a funicular railway to 833 metres above sea level and looked down on the city below
Ate Chinese, Malaysian and Indian food from places that you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole in the UK, but were some of the tastiest food ever!
Walked 120km, climbed up hundreds of steps, went to the 86th floor of the tallest twin towers in the world, and stood 421 metres above ground level on a glass floor in the KL tower (not all in one day!)
Got punched by a monkey (more on that in a future post!)
I hope everyone is doing well – let me know what’s been going on with you!
When we booked our trip to Malaysia last year it was THE most exciting thing on the horizon and I was beside myself with joy that we’d be travelling East, doing a twin centre trip, and eating all of the food.
While it’s still massively exciting, it’s been overshadowed by the prospect of the housemove with all the associated house buying stress, house selling DIY and general overwhelming thought of having to pack up all our belongings (and we have a lot of belongings) and move them all to a new place.
So, I’m ashamed to say, the trip has taken something of a backseat in my mind.
Imagine then, the coincidental surprise and joy when Hannah, from Hannah International (a blog I follow) posted that she’d just got back from Kuala Lumpur and shared some great photos and experiences.
Pop on over to Hannah’s blog to have a look.
This has inspired me and, with just two months to go, it’s time to start thinking about our trip more seriously, planning a loose itinerary and generally getting into a giddy frame of mind!
We’re flying from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur (a headache inducing 13 hour flight) and then getting a connecting flight to the island of Penang which is where we’ll spend our first 5 days. We’re staying in Batu Ferringhi, which is at the North of the island and home to great night hawker streetfood markets (so much excitement at this prospect!) but getting around is easy and cheap by bus and taxi. Whilst there we want to spend some time in Georgetown (the capital), get the funicular up Penang Hill, maybe hire jet skis and eat, eat, EAT!
Of course it will be good to have some downtime too, chilling by the hotel pool, paddling in the sea and generally relaxing.
On the morning of the 6th day we get a flight back to Kuala Lumpur where we’ll spend 3 and a half days. I foresee lots of wondering, oohing and aahing. I’m excited by the mix of old and new, especially on the architecture front, and the mosques and temples are high on the list (not from a religious point of view, purely aesthetic). I now definitely want to get a train to the Batu caves that Hannah mentioned in her blog (even though I wasn’t aware of them prior to that). Obviously the architecture will be a big draw with a trip to the top of the Petronas Twin Towers (day and night, if possible), Thean Hou temple, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, Chan See Shu Yuen temple, Jamek Mosque, Chinatown, Skybar, the colonial railway station and Little India.
So. Much. Stuff.
Excitement levels are currently supersonic!
Let me know your travel plans – imminent, future, or bucket list. I’d love to know!
Just because I don’t make resolutions, doesn’t mean I don’t make plans. The beginning of a New Year yields opportunities such as a whole load of annual leave to book, as well as a summer of fun, and music to enjoy.
Here are my plans (so far) for 2017.
This is a biggy! We’ve lived in our flat for almost 11 years, even though when we moved in the plan was to only stay for 5. We’ve been so incredibly happy and settled there and never both felt like the time was right to move but now we’re both ready to take the next step (although I’m not looking forward to stairs, I love one level living!) We want a garden where we can have friends round for barbecues and have wooden sunloungers with drinks holders, and we want another spare bedroom which I can have as a dressing room and display all my shoes in an MTV cribs style (yet to be agreed with the husband). Unfortunately we have a very small search area and also need a garage (rarity where we live) so we’re going to end up like those annoying couples on Location, Location, Location who are so picky you just want to shout at the TV that they don’t even deserve a home of their own.
Go to Whitby
Part of my birthday present was a weekend in Whitby, at a future date of my choice. Home of Dracula, Whitby has the stunning abbey ruins, a pretty harbour and the super cool Bats & Broomsticks guesthouse, which is where we’ll be staying. Each room is decorated individually and the candle lit breakfast room is in the basement. It has nothing but brilliant reviews so that’s one to look forward to.
Go to Malaysia
This is booked and in the bag – we fly at the end of April. I’ve always wanted to travel East and although Malaysia has never really been on my radar this appeared as a deal that was way too good to turn down. We’re spending 5 nights in Penang and 3 nights in Kuala Lumpur and it’s very exciting because we’ve never done a trip like this before. Oh, and imagine the food!
See Guns n Roses
I don’t actually love Guns n Roses (I find Axl pretty screechy at times tbh) but I do love some of their songs and the husband has a lifelong love of the band so when they announced a tour with 3 of the 5 original members it was a done deal that we would go. Lots of our friends are going too so it will be a cool day and night out at the Olympic stadium, although the ticket cost of £95 is disgusting, especially when you consider that £9.99 of that is a transaction fee. Per ticket. Bullshit.
Change my car
I do a 60 mile round trip to work each day so the miles have quickly clocked up on my car. I think it might be best to change it now before the mileage gets too high and affects the value, although I have no idea what I want instead.
Get back into blogging
The end of last year was not good for me – I (understandably) lost my mojo and blogging took a back seat. But I’m feeling inspired again with lots to talk about and, having blogged more regularly so far in January, it feels good to be productive again.
Start contributing to My Trending Stories
Last autumn I was contacted on Instagram by a representative for My Trending Stories, inviting me to become a contributor. I’ve seen some people suggesting that the website is trying to piggy back on successful bloggers, but I’m just an iddy biddy blogger with a small audience, so they’re certainly not taking advantage of me! Anyway, it was a compliment to be invited and it’s another outlet to share my thoughts and interact with other people so why not?
I’ve seen lots of resolutions around people eating more healthily, going to the gym, etc but it would be pointless me including them in my plans, because it would be an out and out lie! I can only be who I am, unfortunately!
Have you made any resolutions or plans? Leave me your links in the comments box!