Thursday, July 31, 2008
Destination: Kuala Lumpur (KL) Number of Days there: 5 Population: est. 4 million
Our Best of: PETRONAS Towers at night, strolling through the wet market in Chinatown, Little India despite the jet lag
One thing unexpected: Took in the New Batman movie one night
Times we took the: Bus: 2 Train/Subway: 7 Taxi/Car: 0
Estimated KM walked: 18 - 20 Times we were “lost”: 3
Where we stayed: Tune Hotel - 96 RM/$30
26 days after leaving Denver, we wave a final goodbye to family and board the plane bound for Kuala Lumpur. Forty hours later we arrive into Kuala Lumpur International at 7:50 am two calendar days later without a hitch. It always seems to amaze me that we have never had one problem with an international flight (yet of course) and quite often have a problem with domestic flights, but I think I have covered that at nausea so I digress. One thing of note is the Singapore airport has to be one of the nicest in the world and certainly the nicest we have ever been in. Complete with spas, a swimming pool, nice hotel rooms (so we hear), carpeted throughout (Tracy feels this makes an airport so much more comfortable feeling) as well as free massage chairs and lounges not to mention free Internet, this place has it all for the weary traveler. Sleeping in this airport will probably make some of the hostels in the near future seem like the bottom of the barrel.
Day 1: Cricket anyone?, Little India and little night market
Our first day in Kuala Lumpur was spent finding the hotel, checking in, walking through Little India and taking in the nearby night market. The hotel we chose was the Tune Hotel. It’s a spin off if you will of their sister company, Air Asia, which is the low cost air carrier in the region. Their hotels are operated similarly, “fares” start at $10 a night and go up from there based on availability and options you choose. The hotel comes standard with a bed, fan and hot shower (similar to a seat, snack, and reaching your destination). It costs extra for air-con, towels, and Wi-Fi. I like the concept and will probably be staying in another one in Kota Kinabalu when we go there. Little India was our first stop, mainly due to the fact it was close to our hotel and jet lag was really starting to set in. Stroll through the markets and shops and you get a true feel for the neighborhood. It’s a bustling section of town complete with a covered section of the market selling mainly perfume, purses, watches and designer clothing knockoffs. After walking a short distance we settled on a little restaurant and had our first meal in Malaysia – Indian. May sound strange, but the truth to anyone who has been here is that Malaysia is really a melting pot society. There are three main population segments – Malay, Chinese and Indian. Furthermore, that population is again segmented into several religious beliefs – Hindu, Buddhism, Christian and of course Islam. Despite all the differences in culture and dress code everyone really seems to get along just fine. After our meal we made our way down to Merdeka (Malay for Independence) Square, home of the world’s largest flag pole and the old British cricket grounds. The park seems to be appropriately named as the British are who they won independence from. After the square, we walked over to Majid Jamek, the Mosque right in the heart of KL, only to find visiting hours over for the day and then returned to our hotel, checked in, and decided to take a “quick” nap. Four hours later (not planned) we wake up, get ready and make our way over to the Malay night market before the shops close up for the night. Aside from a few food stalls, we were rather disappointed in the “Sunday” Market on Saturday night. Perhaps it was due to the light rain keeping people away but the market seemed dead with few stalls even there. After walking around for about twenty minutes, we decide to grab a quick bite and head back to the hotel for the night.
Day 2: All the stories that oil can buy, Towering Skyscrapers and my favorite pastime
Paris has its Eiffel, Big Ben in London, Statue of Liberty in New York and for Kuala Lumpur it’s the PETRONAS Towers. Certainly not as well known but that might all change in the near future as South East Asia and specifically Malaysia move more into the global economy. Once the largest building in the world (now passed by a tower in Dubai still being built) PETRONAS has 84 floors and towers over the rest of KL, which has its fair share of skyscrapers. The towers (still the largest twin towers) also houses an upscale mall, that we could never seem to stay out of for some reason, movie theater (Batman here we come), and is connected underground to the subway. Passing in between Tiffany’s and Prada brings you into the main hall leading to the towers. You have to get there before 9am to even think of getting a ticket to go to the bridge (located on the 42nd floor). We get there at 8:50 and were one of the last to get a ticket. While waiting for our time slot we decided to walk through the little park that is adjacent to the towers. The park serves as a little oasis in the middle of a compact city not only for tourists but locals enjoy the park as well. At one end of the park there are children and families playing in the water and at the other end young couples sit together at night admiring the bright lights of the towers at night. While the bridge I feel was worth it (free) a better view can be had from the KL Tower. An impressive structure in itself, the KL Tower was built in the 90’s as a communication tower as well as tourist trap of sorts that they have certainly tried to build on adding a Zip line on one side and a huge swing on the other. Non-the-less it is the best view to be had in the city. From the observation deck of the tower you really can tell just how high PETRONAS really is. After taking in the views of the city from both the Tower and the bridge of PETRONAS, we decided to waste no time in doing one of my favorite activities abroad – Grocery shopping. It may seem like an everyday chore to most, but to me, it is exploration time. We always like to do the picnic thing everywhere we go and KL did not disappoint. Being in the upscale mall where the affluent Malaysians like to shop, Isetan had a nice selection of take away. The three venues I thought were really cool and added a lot of theatre were the fire roasted cookies, fresh tofu stand and the individually wrapped sushi rolls. I snapped the picture of the two guys rolling and fire roasting these little cookies before I was told I could not, oh well! Hot fresh cookies, how can one resist! We passed though once and the guy was actually pressing out the tofu in this little room and then sealing it and cooling it in the tank of water below. Unfortunately when we passed by again he was gone for the day. The Sushi venue you could mix and match and the prices were not that bad considering the item, about $4 dollars for 6 veggie rolls and a mixture of 6 fish rolls. After sitting out and watching the “lighting” of the towers while chowing down, we decided to call it a night a little early still feeling a little jet lagged.
Day 3: A quick stop in Vietnam, some Cultural learning and I bet I can guess where you got those shoes
Since we have pretty much decided to move Bangkok/Thailand after Vietnam, we needed to get our Vietnamese Visas here in KL at the embassy. It’s a little more expensive, but not prohibitively, so we went ahead anyways considering the cost implications of waiting around in Thailand for one would be far greater than tacking on an extra day in KL. With the formalities out of the way for the moment, we headed over to the National Museum. Not really worth the visit in my opinion. The video of the Grandpa telling the kids about Merdaka (Their independence day) was a little funny in a cheesy way and it shed a little light on the past history (Portuguese, then Dutch, then British all had a finger on Malaysia at one time or another) but otherwise a waste of time. In its defense, only half of the whole museum was open so perhaps when it is all open it will be worth it. After making a few wrong turns, we made our way over to the Islamic Art Museum. A definite upgrade from the history museum, the art museum was organized really well with separate rooms for each area of art (ex. Tapestry, Guns and Weaponry, etc.) The Architecture room was my personal favorite with all the important and famous Mosques in the world in scale sized models. It’s amazing that the main Mosque in Mecca can hold over 1 million people! We left the Museum and made our way up to the national mosque just in time for…visiting hours to be over. Still got a decent look at the outside including the one large minaret, largest in Malaysia. We then decided to walk back up to the other main Mosque – Majid Jamek but it too was closed to visitors. Alas the Mosques will wait for another day to explore. With our cultural windows of opportunity closed, we decided to duck down into Chinatown for a little “shopping” excursion. One of the many positives to having everything you own on your back is that the next thing you buy also goes there forcing you to think twice about that handmade this or that. Window shopping becomes the norm and actual purchases become rare. I certainly don’t mind this aspect but Tracy feels slightly different. After wandering through the Central Market and taking in a few regular, but still ornate, temples we begin our walk down the famed Chinatown market that runs the length of Petaling Street. There is but one word to describe it – chaos. Arriving there on the earlier side, 6:30pm, many were still setting up their wares. The ones set up were packed with potential shoppers and the ones not were filled with metal scaffolding with shop owners frantically putting the pieces together. Down what little path there is to begin with came more blue containers holding all the junk and precious treasures one could ever hope for. There was no real stopping and becoming trapped between a shop going up and a shop still on wheels running down the path was common place. One thing about this market that we have not really seen before in other markets was the large amount of shoe vendors. Practically every other booth was a shoe vender and they kept coming. At least a dozen or so men whizzed by us carrying large racks filled with shoes on their backs. We made it down half the way and decided that we should leave this for another time and ducked out of the main market into one of the food booths for supper. After another rather boring meal in the market, we head past one more temple on the way back to the Monorail and to the hotel.
Day 4: Chinatown Pt. 2, Batu Caves, third time’s a charm and we get lazy already
Now here’s where Chinatown and a lot of markets redeem themselves – the wet market. To find this little area of any market, follow the locals early in the morning, turn down the dingiest, darkest ally, go past that and there it will be in all its glory. This is where the magic really happens. These merchants mean business. Armed with machetes, clubs, hatchets and sometimes even the smallest of paring knifes, they wield their tools of the trade as if it were an extension of their arm itself. Chopping up chickens and separating the bones from the meat and skin, Pork butchered down to bacon, fish sometimes clubbed to death right there (at least you know it’s fresh when it’s still twitching!) and then promptly filleted. You might wonder where the refrigeration is (none), where the bleach to sanitize with (I have never seen any), and gloves…surely you gest. Fish are sometimes on ice and that’s about it. And yet this is where most people and restaurants come to shop on a daily basis. The reality is that entire market will sell out in the day; nothing is carried over to the next. Fresh slaughter/caught and cut all in the same day or two. Who needs refrigeration when the chicken (yep right underneath there) will be making its way to the top of that coop real soon and find its way to the numerous Indian buffets around town for lunch? I love it no matter how disgusting it may seem, it’s how it done. It’s the same process in the US, only on a much larger scale, perhaps more sanitary, but no where’s near as fresh. After exiting the market, we made our way to the bus station for a quick trip out of town to the Batu Caves. With 272 steps to the entrance, it’s a workout. To aid you on your quest to the top, you are flanked to the right by the Hindu god Murugan (yep, you guessed it, largest one of those in the world) and the seemingly endless supply of monkeys. Once to the top, it’s a rather unimpressive temple inside and the cave itself, while the roof is really high, is really nothing to special as far as caves are concerned. The only real draw here seems to be the monkeys, unless of course you are Hindu and coming here on a spiritual quest, which a million do for a weekend festival in February dedicated to Murugan. Back in KL, we get lost, then turn around and make our way back for the third time to Mosque Majid Jamek and this time we are successful in hitting the right time window! Once inside a Mosque you are really limited in what you can see and do if you are not Muslim. You can only walk the grounds and cannot enter any buildings. Somewhat considered a letdown, we still relished in our accomplishment and decided to go celebrate by watching the new Batman Movie – The Dark Knight. I won’t go into detail on that, but it was an excellent flick, cost half the price as it does in the US and the popcorn is Caramel instead of butter.
Day 5: The visa, the crafts, the card, and the bus
We arose on day five and made a return trip over to Vietnam to retrieve our visa. I truly believe that they do absolutely nothing with your visa application until you return on the date you paid to have it ready. Honestly, what could possibly take three days much less seven? They have the stamps; they swiped our Passports on day one. Are they waiting three more days to see if we do anything drastic? Perhaps we commit some sort of crime in that length of time that we would otherwise not commit? Whatever the reason for the slight hassle, we hear Vietnam is well worth it and are definitely looking forward to visiting in November. Since we have some time to kill, we run down to the crafts market. Not expecting too much, it ends up being quite rewarding. Not only did we get to see local artisans carving on some wood or making scarf’s and sarongs, but the market also housed the best meal we have had so far. Down in the basement in the corner (and I believe it was also called the Corner) had the best Nee soup and only about $1.20 to boot! We finished that off, grabbed some fruit and headed back to the Hotel to wait for the package. Not only were we waiting in KL for our visas, but we also were waiting on the Debit card to be sent to us from Capital One. Word to the wise – they certainly have the best deal for international travelers that we could find (no ATM fees, 2.75% interest earned + miles, and practically unlimited use of the card) but plan on jumping through numerous hoops to get it. We signed up over a month and half prior to departure date, and still had to have family send us the card via FedEx. A huge thanks to Dad and Darlene for making that happen along with Uncle Danny for keeping us in the loop via e-mail. The card arrived with about an 1.5 hours to go till the last bus out of town.
For more pictures of Kuala Lumpur please visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/28401320@N03/sets/72157606470329233.
We load up and pull out, card and visa in hand, to our next destination…the Cameron Highlands for a little cooler (temp wise) vistas.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
*Warning - Vegetarians, Vegans, and perhaps a few PETA members in the audience could probably do themselves a favor by just skipping this paragraph fair warning* Growing up in North Carolina certainly has its advantages when it comes to some good BBQ (and I don’t mean beef or sloppy joes for all you mid-westerners). As many masters of the trade will tell you, barbeque is not a hot flame on a grill in your backyard. Traditional barbeque is pork slooooooow cooked over a low heat using embers from burning wood for 10-12 hours. Patience, consistency, and a good heat source (Hickory being the choice of a lot) give it that fall right off the bone juicy smoked flavor. One of my going away wishes was to cook a shoulder (front quarters of a pig) in this time honored tradition. Pops took it one step farther by bringing in the whole pig! Friends and family came over to take part in the Pig Pickin’ (typically done in the fall after harvest and when it’s not 99° in the shade) where you come up to the pit and pick off what part you want. Some of you may turn your head in disgust, but to me the best part of the pig is actually the skin. I don’t mean the bags you see in the grocery stores, but the real deal typically has some fat and a little meat still stuck to it. Now that’s some good eatin’ It’s best a day later when it’s hardened up a little and is more crispy. Alternatively, deep frying (what can I say – its heritage I guess) or baking (the healthier option?!?!) to finish them off preserves them a little longer so you can enjoy for weeks to come! The rest of the meat gets chopped up and Dad’s special sauce get’s thrown in to seal the deal.
While we did not actually make it to any of the Vineyards this year I wanted to throw in a little bit about it since I have been calling my hometown the “Napa Valley of the East” in the future. Tobacco for years reigned king of the crops for North Carolina for many years. After several circumstances: declining sales, larger farms taking over the industry, governmental subsidies going away (yes tobacco for years was guaranteed by the government and was purchased on the open market with tax dollars if the big boys didn’t buy it) and now days you have to have a contract. As with many things as one door closes another opens and in steps another vice to peddle – wine! Ahh how we love our guilty pleasures! While the initial startup costs a bit more (three years of basically throwing grapes in the ditch from what I understand) it must be paying off. Ten years ago there were two vineyards in the area.
Today that has grown to at least 27 vineyards with their own wine producing facilities including the largest on the East Coast (Shelton’s http://www.sheltonvineyards.com/) as well as countless others that sell to the local Coop (North State http://www.carolinaharvestwines.com/). Perhaps one day the name Yadkin Valley will be as well known as Napa but only time will be the judge of that. For more info on the area as well as a full listing visit: www.yadkinvalleywineries.com/
Blues Lake sits about thirty minutes north – northeast of Winston-Salem. What makes it different than other lakes and rivers in the area is the fact that the water temperature sits between 90 and 100+ depending on where you are in the lake. The source of the heat comes from the Steam Power Plant that looks eerily similar to Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in the Simpsons. (Quick Smithers – go dump that toxic waste in the lake!) After being assured that it was perfectly safe we jumped in. Dad got to take his boat out for another spin around the lake and test out the new tube he just bought. I think my ribs are still a little sore from the hit I took from the water, but hey that’s life.
And now we have arrived at the moment – the Last Supper. Perhaps not as momentous as the real Last Supper, and hopefully no backstabbing was taking place, but all the same memorable. What was the cuisine of choice you might ask…Americana at its best…Mexican. In all reality – this will probably be the hardest to find in SEA for the next five months. Burgers, steaks, fries, all that is synonymous with this great land can all be had elsewhere just as easily as across the street at your local diner, albeit nowhere near as good. Globalization and homogenization of the world, love it or hate it, at least it does produce a “western” toilet when the hole in the ground has worn out its welcome. For only the price of an ice cream cone at the “local” McDonald’s! It never tasted so good!
Off we go! Next stop Kuala Lumpur.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Nestled right in between Wilmington, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC Holden Beach is one of the Brunswick County islands in North Carolina. White sand, peaceful lapping of the ocean waves, fresh seafood, and of course our family bring us back every year. The nightlife consists of the occasional 50’s and 60’s beach bands passing through so if the party scene is your thing, this is not the place for you. If that is what you are after head straight for Myrtle Beach, about 40 minutes away!
The area also hosts one of the largest concentrations of world class golf courses anywhere in the US. We took a spin at the driving range one afternoon
and were lucky to even hit the ball! If you have never tried to hit a golf ball before, it’s quite a bit harder than you think. Right down the fairway I am ashamed to say is not really part of our vocabulary at this juncture but we had some good laughs at one another on where the ball actually went, if it went anywhere at all.
After attempting to whack the ball as hard as we could (which we found out later was probably why we sucked so badly) we decided that the putt-putt course might be a better fit. We come here every year during the summer and there always seems to be a least a half a dozen more of these tributes to commercialism that have sprouted up. The array of choices is stunning – From pirate ships sinking to volcanoes that spew “lava” to dinosaurs roaring this place has it all and in abundance. It never fails to amaze me how busy every one of them is no matter what day you go.
If anyone ever writes a book on how to appease the family and still not gain weight during a trip home, it would have to be a best seller. I swear I put on an extra 10lbs every time we visit. Moderation would be a good start to that equation but when the words “Homemade Peach Ice Cream” are passed around how could one really resist? Follow that up with another batch of Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream and you are certainly heading for trouble. I think for sure we are hiking Mt. Kinabalu now!
On the subject of food, the area also has lots of fresh seafood. Naturally in the time honored southern tradition most of it is battered and fried but there are a few “healthier” choices on the menu from time to time. Steam pots and steamed shrimp (apply Old Bay liberally!) are on most menus and make you feel a little less guilty about eating a whole basket of Hushpuppies with Honey “butter” (actually that oh so good for you margarine full of the good artery clogging Hydrogenated Oils – get real butter if you are going this route – at least there is “some” nutritional value) while waiting for your meal. For those of you not from the south Hushpuppies skip the battering of some type of animal flesh and is simply the batter itself deep fried in all its greasy goodness (Cornmeal deep fried). Bet you can’t eat just one (even though you really should just eat one!).
Clogged arteries and all, we pack up and head to our next destination, my hometown – Dobson, NC!
Monday, July 14, 2008
After our stop in North Dakota it was off for some fun in the sun with Jason’s family in Holden Beach North Carolina. We came to the airport in Minneapolis, MN with hopes of reaching the beach by night to begin relaxing the following morning. Little did we know at the time that a certain airline (sounds like fAIR TRAiN) had other plans in store for us this fine day. We arrived at 11am to realize that the flight was delayed by 40 minutes due to bad weather in Atlanta. We thought at the time no big deal, we had nearly a four hour layover in Atlanta so we still had plenty of time to make our connecting flight to Raleigh.
The following is a timeline of events that happened thereafter:
11:45 – bid the family a goodbye hug and best wishes…Niagara Falls ensued
12:05 – wasted $2 on Minnesota lottery scratch games (can’t resist sometimes)
12:40 – received word that the plane had not even left Atlanta yet
13:10 – original departure time came and went; plane still on ground in ATL
13:30 – plane is on its way!
17:10 – we board the plane, things are starting to look up
17:20 – pilot informs us we can’t take off for another hour…forgo previous optimism
20:00 – plane lands in ATL, we wait for a gate to open for another 30 – 45 minutes
20:45 – we get off the plane we join the already existing refugee camp; our flight to Raleigh is delayed as well until 21:35 so we grab a quick bite
21:35 – board changes from flight to Raleigh to flight to Charleston without a word uttered by anyone from suspect Airline…customer service line begins to grow…my favorite line of the night is uttered by the gate agent “I am feeling really incompetent right now but as soon as I can tell you anything I will”
23:30 – plane lands, more refugees join the herd and the board changes back to Raleigh. No announcements made but we’re on the big board!
23:40 – boarding begin!
23:45 – everyone that has boarded walks off the plane, the gate agent says, “I am waiting for a supervisor to come over and confirm but it looks like the flight to Raleigh has been canceled”. Just lovely…
00:00 – There are a total of four (4) agents at two customer service desks helping customers with their respective canceled flights; still no supervisor in sight, and the “Customer Service” hotline is closed. You can however talk to some nice ladies about booking your next flight as the reservations number is open for business!
04:00 – yes, after FOUR hours we are able to talk to a representative and they inform us that they will not be covering a hotel, the next available flight is two days later and there is no chance of flying on another airline – it’s the weather (that ended twelve hours earlier at 14:00 by the way and some flights did get out before and after ours)…could we have announced that maybe? – We opted for a refund on our ticket and stalk off to get our bags – seeking transportation elsewhere.
04:20 – after the trek from one end of the airport to the other (trains don’t run that time of the night) we arrive to another lengthy line to get our bags
04:45 – agent comes out and tells us they are not accepting anymore requests to pull luggage
05:30 – we finally get to the one person in the left luggage section and she informs us that our bags went out on the 2am flight to Raleigh. They are waiting for us there for pick-up! Good think we’re not staying until Tuesday…could this high quality airline have announced this?
06:00 – Louis, a fellow traveler from the Land of Lakes was nice enough to allow us to hitch a ride with him in his rental car up to Raleigh.
13:00 – arrive at the Raleigh airport via car, 26 hours after beginning and 16 hours after our original
I understand there can and will be weather related issues that arise that are beyond a company’s control, but a little communication could have saved not only travelers but employees a lot of time and frustration. The only bright spot is that we saved a little $ by getting a refund on that portion of the flight and finding a free ride to Raleigh – a big thank you to Louis if you ever read this!
Friday, July 11, 2008
We start this posting with a little math quiz! What do you get when you add Bored Farmers to Long Cold Winters? That's right! Large sculptures! North Dakota has no shortage of memorable photo ops like Salem Sue (world's largest Holstein cow), W'eel Turtle (largest turtle in the world) & the Jamestown Buffalo (world's largest buffalo. There are so many in fact that we have passed Sandy, the Sandhill Crane (worlds largest of course) more than a dozen times and finally noticed it for the first time a couple of months ago! For more excitement that will have the young ones screaming "More North Dakota Please!" visit the following websites: http://www.realnd.com/ or http://www.ndtourism.com/
All joking aside, North Dakota truly is a great place to visit for really the same reason that we love to travel: The people you meet. This is the heartland of America, the true grit. It's a more simpler place up here, one away from the hustle and bustle of huge cities, traffic, noise and pollution. The nearest chain restaurant is over thirty minutes away and that's just the way we like it. You can see the Stars! The people here are the salt of the earth, willing to withstand the harshest of winters (that most of us will never experience or care to) to feed not just their families but all of ours as well. They are always welcoming and never think twice about helping each other. Being here for the Fourth of July you get a real sense for the patriotism that each and every one of these
true blooded Americans have. Most have served in the Armed Forces with several seeing action. I always get a sense of nostalgia coming here. It's a place that hearkens back to the American family of days past. The big news is not the latest shooting or robbery, but who's visiting who for afternoon coffee (yes they print that in the paper!). It may seem boring to most, but to me, it's has always been a quiet oasis in a constantly moving world.
Most people don't think of North Dakota as a stop on most round the world itineraries but for us an extended trip home will always be on the top of our list!
To all our North Dakota/Minnesota family - best wishes, stay in touch, and we will see you for a short break in January!
For more pictures of our trip to North Dakota including a side stop at Devils Tower, Wyoming please click here:
Next stop: North Carolina - Family Fun part II
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Early July - North Dakota
Mid-July - North Carolina
South East Asia
Late July - August - Malaysia (depart July 24th/arrive July 26th)
- Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Cameron Highlands, Perhentian Islands, Taman Negra, Borneo
- Side trips to Brunei & Singapore
- Sumatra, Bali, Lombak/Gili Islands & Flores (Komodo Dragon Island)
- Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane & Pakse
- Hanoi, Hoi An & HCMC
- Beach Break - Koh Lanta/Koh Samui - TBD
Late December - North Carolina, USA
Early January - North Dakota, USA
Countries - dates TBD: Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina & Chile...our best guess below
Late January - Peru
Early February - Bolivia
February/March - Brazil
April/May - Argentina
May - Chile
June - Turkey
July - Syria
August - Jordan
September - Egypt
South East Asia (again)
October - mid-November - India
Late November - Nepal
December - Thailand
Future Travel - We'll see!