Saturday, April 19, 2014

And on to Singapore - even if they leave you behind at the border

Getting to the Malaysian/Singapore border from Melaka was a straight forward and comfortable 4 hour bus trip.  The Malaysian process was quickly completed and everyone got on the bus to drive over the causeway and to Singapore immigration.  Here, we had to take any luggage as there was customs control.  I managed to pick the slowest line in the entire hall and by the time I got through all the channels the bus had driven away without me.  Not happy!  On the bright side I was in Singapore, I had my bag, I had local cash and there were public buses which were heading toward my central city bus terminal.

Sadly I hadn’t realised one of the 1st bus stops had been an MRT underground station which would have got me to Sarah’s in about 15 minutes – but it was not much use to me as I only saw the signs after we drove away.  So instead I had 100 stops through the outskirts and suburbs of the city with my overnight bag perched on my lap.  Hot, sweaty and having wasted an hour I finally made it to Sarah’s apartment.

In my two days in Singapore I had 2 main destinations on the plan.  The 1st was the Gardens by the Bay, which Andrew had visited on a stopover back in October.  I too really enjoyed the experience.  In the garden dome there was a temporary exhibit on roses on billed as “War of the Roses” and the drift wood horses carrying the knights were really nice pieces of art.  (The roses and the display were a bit ho-hum)

Singapore gardens by the bay

I did prefer the Cloud Garden dome with it’s mountain waterfall and mist clouds – which meant you couldn’t see entirely from one side and dome to the other, and made it very atmospheric.
 
cloud mountain

Gardens 2

The outdoor gardens, which are free,  were a lot bigger than I had expected.  So after some wandering I had spent over 2.5 hours at the complex it was time to work out how to get to my 2nd destination of the day –the Singapore flyer - the big viewing ferris wheel.  I could see it over the river but couldn't work out how to get there.  It was lunch time so I headed to the Marina Bay Sands for some air-con time and some lunch - which was a very average Laksa.  I wandered out a side door of the mall to find directly in front of me the pedestrian bridge I was looking for!

Singapore Flyer

When I bought my tickets for the gardens there was a deal that you could add the flyer on for $10 – so I did.  At $33 for the normal admission to the flyer I would never have paid that much for the experience.  It was a good view, but only so interesting. Interesting yes, fantastic, no.

The size of the Marina Bay Sands hotel is huge and there was a good view back over the entire site of the Garden by the Bay, the multitude of ships sitting outside the harbour, and the layout of the city.

flyer

The second destination I had planned was the Asia Civilisation Museum.  It is a Pan-Asian museum with good collections of artifacts from Burma to Indonesia, that were all really well laid out.  I managed to spend nearly 2 hours quite happily there.

And apart from gardens and culture – a bit of eating went on.  One definite recommendation is the Wine Connection Tapas Bar & Bistro.  It was amazingly good value in a world where Singapore prices for alcohol are mighty scary.  The place was packed, the waiting staff friendly and the food was excellent.  
It was only 2 nights in Singapore, but I had such a nice relaxed time in the big city - thank you my kind hostess Sarah.  Returning to Kuala Lumpur I took the 40 minute flight and the next morning at 7:30am I was winging my way back to Vientiane – having confirmed that Andrew had made all the connections on his return flight and was happily ensconced back in the apartment.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

While the cat's away, a trip to Melaka

In late March Andrew did a 2 week trip back to NZ for a board meeting.  He was actually lucky to get there due to nearly missing the flight from Sydney to Wellington.  He wandered off from the lounge to get some exercise and eventually headed to the gate.  Somehow he worked out that there wasn't a Qantas flight leaving from that gate and went off to check the board.  He found out 2 things - he was at the wrong gate and that the scheduled departure time of his flight was 2 minutes away.  Now imagine him sprinting from one end of the international terminal to the other.  He got to the gate to find his bag was just about to be offloaded and that they had been calling him over the public address system.  He must have looked in pretty bad shape when he collapsed into his seat, as people kept offering him glasses of water.

Safely back in NZ apart from the board meeting he managed to do some gardening, oversee repairs at my rental property, make numerous trips to Moore Wilson and spent some quality time with his wine collection. He went out to Waikanae to see Albinia and then down to Dunedin to see Noel.  (I am also very proud his lessons on using the self-timer on his camera worked really well!)


With Andrew in NZ and me needing to do a visa run I headed off to Singapore to see Sarah.  A direct return flight from Vientiane to Singapore costs close to $1000.  A trip on Air Asia to KL is $200 return, so I obviously went with Air Asia.  From there I could have taken a 40 minute flight from KL to Singapore for under $40, but I decided to use the opportunity to visit the Malaysian city of Melaka (or Malacca, depending which dictionary you use), 150 km south of KL, 230 km north of Singapore

To get there was a “2” hour bus-ride direct from the airport south on a luxury bus.  And the bus it self was great and only 60% full.  BUT 2 hours turned into 3.5 hours. 

We left on time but it was all downhill from there.  1st we headed to KLIA airport (KL has 2 airports basically alongside each other) and picked up 3 passengers.  We then drove off but entered a petrol station.  Initially I thought the driver was heading through the McDonalds drive-thru (nothing would surprise me here in Asia) but no, we needed to fill up on LPG.  The problem was there was only 2 pumps and about 20 taxis in front of us.  30 minutes later we left the petrol station.  While waiting in the taxi line, the driver had a loud telephone conversation in Malaysian.  It’s content became clear as we drove a big loop road to go back to KLIA – he had left a passenger behind.  He yelled at her and pointed to the 3 other passengers who had got on at that stop.  But we headed off again on the loop for the 3rd time.  The airport is near the Formula 1 circuit and it was the weekend of the Malaysian Grand Prix.  As a result we got caught in end of practice day traffic jams.  Once we got past that the rest of the journey was fine till we hit Melaka and there were more traffic jams.  Eventually we got to the bus station on the outskirts of the city and everyone except me got off – I had booked to a city centre stop.  The driver said he would give me $5 to take a taxi to the city centre rather than continuing through the traffic.  Given my bus fare had only cost $8 – that was a winning solution.

Melaka is probably famous for 2 main things – it’s history and it’s food.

It has been awarded World Heritage status and has a long history related to its position on sea trading routes.  The Chinese visited regularly until 16th century when it became a Portuguese colony.  The Dutch took over in 17th century before it became part of the British colonial empire in 19th century.  It was occupied by the Japanese during WWII and only returned to Malaysia post WWII.  As a result there were plenty of architectural styles on display

Probably the most obvious Portuguese remnant is the Fort A Famosa – and here is a picture just for Andrew – he missed out on canons – he really likes canons.  And the fort is what you see in the picture – nothing more & not overly exciting.

Fort A Famosa

On the hill above is the ruins of the Portuguese church, St Paul’s.  While this too was a shell, there were enormous carved gravestones displayed, leaning against the interior walls. Many were so big they came up to my shoulders.  And while I can’t read Dutch I had a good idea what they were saying – I like the social history of gravestones telling of the hardships of colonial life – lost at sea, or born in Amsterdam but died far away in Malaysia.

Gravestones1

Gravestones3b

There were plenty of Dutch influenced buildings, but I rather liked the plaque on a random wall on the riverside – explaining these were Dutch bricks.  Um, okay

bricks

The Chinese houses could be very ornate, but the nicest influence were the front porches with the circular viewing holes

chinese

And the city had plenty of colourful street art ranging  from the Orangutan cafe and the Minion drainpipes through to some seriously weird decoupage of cats heads on bodies outside a nightclub
.
grafitti

There are also no shortage of bicycle taxis that have been pimped way beyond generally accepted levels of taste.  They also have car batteries on the back to provide power for the fairy lights  and loud speakers.  If you hear "Gangnam Style" booming it's way closer to you – you know a bike taxi is heading your way.

bikes2

Hello Kitty, want to ride on my Mercedes bike taxi?

bikes1

And food, both at the night market on Jonker Street, and in the cafes was excellent.  I had one of the best Laksas ever here

food

2 nights and 1 full day in Melaka was enough for a good taste of the city