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.
When I think of the Holiday Inn chain, I don’t think of them as a beach holiday hotel, but the Holiday Inn Penang in Batu Ferringhi was absolutely perfect for our needs. Situated in the heart of the resort, the hotel is made up of two buildings – the beach side (which is around 6 stories high and has the main check in reception, restaurant, pool and access to the beach) and, across the road, the tower which is 24 stories high and has a salad bar, games area, gym and children’s play area).
The two buildings are connected by a walkway over the road, for safety and ease of access. During our stay there was some work being done on the beach side, with the bar closed for renovation, but everything was boarded off and it didn’t interfere with us in anyway.
We arrived in Batu Ferringhi at around 11am after a looooong journey and it was already in the low 30s and incredibly hot. I’d emailed the hotel in advance to ask about an early check in, because the official check in time wasn’t until 2pm and they’d said they would try to accommodate us. There wasn’t a room available as soon as we arrived, so we had a wander, had a drink, and an hour later not only were we able to check in, but we’d been upgraded to a balcony room on the 14th floor of the tower building, overlooking a wooded hillside from where we used to hear monkeys and birds chattering from dawn til dusk. The room was huge, with incredible air conditioning (an absolute must, as humidity levels were through the roof), a massive and super comfy bed, lots of storage space, a big marble bathroom with separate shower cubicle and the afore mentioned balcony with a table and two chairs.
The staff were, without exception, an absolute asset to the hotel. Everywhere you went people would say hello and smile, and not in a fake way, they genuinely seemed happy to see you. That was actually the case outside of the hotel too, the people on Penang were absolutely lovely and so welcoming and proud of their country.
Breakfast in the hotel was served on the beachside – the restaurant was partially indoors, partially undercover, and partially outside facing towards the sea so you could choose where you wanted to sit each day.
Served buffet style, there was quite literally something for everyone! From sausages, baked beans, doughnuts and pastries, through to Malaysian curry and noodle dishes (traditional for Malaysian breakfast – I enjoyed being able to eat such spicy food in the morning without being judged!), cereals, an egg station where you could have eggs cooked fresh in front of you anyway you chose, including omelettes, fresh juices, fruit, cooked meat and cheese – it would be impossible to not find something you liked to eat. Again the restaurant staff were very friendly and efficient, and the whole area was incredibly clean and well looked after, with that beautiful sea breeze coming in from the beach.
The pool was an OK size and pool towels were provided free of charge. I can imagine that in high season it would get very busy, but we were slightly out of season so there were always sunbeds available on the days we chose to chill out rather than sightsee. There was the option to sit in the gardens too, looking out to sea.
The beach view, accessed through the gardens, was rather lovely!
The outdoor bar was a nice touch, and we enjoyed a cold glass of wine or beer after a day out, or before heading out to dinner. Prices were very reasonable, for food too, not overinflated as you would usually expect in a hotel.
We couldn’t have been happier with every aspect of our stay, and I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone.
The temple is just outside of the capital, George Town, in the Air Itam area. You can reach it by local bus, the hop on hop off tourist buses, or taxi. We opted for the latter to make the best use of our time and get there as quickly as possible. If you’re accessing the temple from the street then you could quite easily miss the entrance, it’s a little dark passageway which looks like it leads nowhere, through stalls selling cheap bits and pieces, fake clothes and bags, and up a number of stairs. Once we got through this bit we saw that there’s an upper entrance to the temple grounds with a car park, where, in retrospect, the taxi driver could have dropped us. Never mind – all those steps are good for you, and certainly lead to a sense of achievement!
The construction of the temple started in 1890, although further development and building work continues to this day. The temple and connecting areas are now very heavily commercialised, with shops selling trinkets and souvenirs at every opportunity and around every corner (we found this very surprising).Although the temple is free to enter, there are nominal fees to enter certain parts of the development, but these are only a couple of pound each and well worth it.
It probably took us around 90 minutes to get around all areas of the temple; which included a slow amble, stopping off to take lots of pictures, sheltering from a couple of rain showers and climbing all the steps to the highest points possible to make the most of the views below.
The 7 story main pagoda has Chinese, Thai, and Burmese influenced architecture. This was completed in 1930.
This 99ft bronze statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, was built in 2002. A pagoda has since been built around and over the statue, and there is currently scaffold and some work happening around it.
The whole site is a riot of colour, with bright decorations, flowers and gardens.
There are buddhas everywhere! Big, small, printed on tiles – they’re all over the place!
This really was one of the highlights of our entire trip, and certainly is not be missed if you ever visit Penang.
I had planned this post as a standalone to my other Malaysia trip posts as soon as I left the Kapitan Keling mosque in Penang and, in view of the bombing in Manchester, which has now been claimed by Muslim terrorists, today seems the right time to write it.
I love religious architecture; the grand scale, the intricate detail, the commitment to beauty. As I mentioned in my previous Malaysia post, the temples were one of the things I couldn’t wait to visit on our trip. I’m fascinated with churches, despite being a firm atheist, and will always seek out grand religious buildings whenever we’re on a trip.
Yet I’ve never been in a mosque.
On one of our visits to George Town, capital of Penang Island, we walked past the Kapitan Keling mosque – a stark, white building in the middle of the city, with it’s strong arches, rounded domes, and towering minaret.
We took some pictures from the outside and were spotted by a volunteer in the foyer, who invited me in. I was given a scarf to cover my head (I was already dressed conservatively, with my legs and shoulders covered because of the possibility of visiting religious sites, but people who were dressed in strappy tops and shorts were cordially invited in and given clothes to cover themselves) and the young female volunteer began to tell me about the history of the mosque, and more about the Muslim faith.
I was struck by the simplicity of the inside of the mosque. In contrast to churches, and the Buddhist and Thai temples we had visited earlier in our trip, there were no physical depictions of Allah, no decorations or ostentatious shrines.
My guide explained to me that Allah’s physical appearance was never described anywhere in the Koran and so there are no imaginations of what he looks like anywhere – not just in a mosque but in every day life. Also, it is against the religion of Islam for any person or animal be represented in a mosque, part of which is that it can lead to idolatry, and also that there is no distraction during the praying process. Praying is a direct connection between the individual and Allah.
She explained to me about the pre-prayer washing process, which has to be done in a particular order, and that prayer water is inhaled into the nose and mouth for healing and purity reasons. She explained to me about the call to prayer, and prayer times – I incorrectly thought a prayer time had to be adhered to exactly, but she told me that as long as prayer is taken between the first call to prayer time and before the next call to prayer then that’s acceptable. She pointed out the segregated women’s prayer area, showed me the Koran, and read the Islamic prayer which is said to Allah 5 times each day.
It was incredibly enlightening, calming and interesting.
When I left the mosque she gave me some leaflets to take away and, because I’d been gone for a while, the husband joked that I’d been radicalised which is just the kind of sense of humour we have but not quite so funny in view of recent events.
When we got back to the hotel I sat and read the leaflets (more inappropriate radicalisation jokes!) which are designed to dispel some of the myths, rumours and negative press that Islam gets across the world.
Two quotes stand out to me:
“Have you ever wondered why a nun can be covered from head to toe and she’s respected for devoting herself to God, but when a Muslim woman covers, she’s viewed as “oppressed”? Or why a Jew can grow a beard and he’s just practising his faith, and when a Muslim does that, he’s an “extremist”?”
“Would you send your car to a butcher for repair, or a sick child to a florist? Of course not. A butcher is not qualified to repair a car, nor a florist qualified to treat the sick. Likewise, people without Islamic knowledge are not qualified to inform others about Islam. So why is it that people are willing to accept information about Islam from those that do not have the required knowledge?”
I’m not here to preach or change people’s minds, or even to share the content of the leaflets, but the way they approach common misconceptions was definitely an interesting read, and something I believe a lot of people could benefit from reading (EDL and Britain First members, I’m looking at you).
Whenever there’s a terror attack, the level of vitriol towards the Muslim community rises, and it’s so often misplaced – aimed at innocent people who simply believe in a religion and a God who is there for them; in the same way as a Christian or Catholic may believe in religion and God. We don’t turn against Christians when a Christian fundamentalist commits a murderous crime. We don’t see the religions of criminals reported in the news – unless they’re Muslim.
Crimes committed by Muslims in the name of Islam are anything but what they profess to be. They are extremist individuals who have a twisted view of “their” religion and the world at large, and try to justify a thirst for blood and an anger against a perceived threat in the name of a God who would deplore such actions.
Apologies if there are any inaccuracies in my writings about the mosque, but that’s the information as I recall it.
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!