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Traveldiary chapter 13 [June 2006 - July 2006] as PDF
(Kuala Lumpur + Singapore two fascinating cities that are melting pots of cultures, and beach-holiday in Thailand)
|Photos: Kuala Lumpur||More about Malaysia: chapter 17 (Sarawak & Sabah), chapter 34|
Kuala Lumpur: modern Metropolis as host for different cultures
The last half hour before landing, more and more lights became apparent and many towns and suburbs, connected by well lit motorways became visible.
After eleven and a half hours flight, we landed in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur. The airport was very
sophisticated, as was the highway into the city centre. We hadn't seen an 80 km
stretch of such a good highway for a long long time. Also along the roadside,
everything looked modern and it felt more western than where we just came from.
But as we reached "
Even though it was almost , the streets were still bustling with people and there were exotic smells everywhere, especially along the night market. It was vibrant and fascinating and we dived in and soaked up the atmosphere, hardly knowing where to look first, as there were so many new impressions all at once. Then we ordered what we had been looking forward to so long: a delicious and freshly prepared Asian meal, accompanied by some freshly squeezed fruit juices.
We started the next morning with an ice-coffee (Asian style with
ice and condensed milk), trying to wake up, but also to cool down and bear the
heat and high humidity. Here it was twice as warm as in
Religion is just as diverse. Almost all Malays and some Indians are Muslims and they are by law not allowed to change their faith. The Chinese population follows Taoism or Buddhism, though some are Christians. Also some Indians are Christians but the majority of them follows Hinduism. Accordingly, each culture has built its own places of warship and therefore, many mosques and temples can be seen everywhere.
Of course, many people, especially women, also express their cultural background in the way they dress; Muslims are often covering up in colourful dresses, whereas Indian women wear saris. Only a few Chinese prefer their traditional two piece costume still, most prefer something western and often sexy.
In theory, the Chinese and Indians have their little quarters, but
we found every culture blends well into the others' all across the city.
Still: the contrast between the city's different areas is striking. Whereas
most parts have been re-built to look now very modern and western, "Little
Upon completion in 1996, the 452 M high headquarters of the Malaysian petroleum company had been the world's tallest building until 2004, when Taipeh 101 with it's tower of 508 M took this title.
The base building houses a shopping centre with around 600 shops and several food-courts on six floors.
Hawker markets and food courts were abundant all across the city and they offered mainly very good, healthy and freshly prepared food and drinks. Sugar Cane, Melon, Starfruit, Mango, Apple and many more fruits were squeezed after order and served with ice. Apart from all those Asian delights, the locals also loved to savour what we would call rich "continental style" cakes. Therefore, many bakeries and caf้'s offered a wonderful variety of baked delights, as we hadn't seen for a long time. Finally, we know why the few good bakeries Down Under were so often run by Asians. Those treats could be pricier than a simple noodle dish, but in general hawker-food is so cheap, big parts of the population eat out quite regularly.
After a while we found out, that even some ordinary and rather old fashioned looking office- or apartment-buildings could contain a modern air-conditioned 8 storey shopping centre, that was connected through various corridors into several attached buildings. One of them usually had a flashy main entrance, whereas other entrances needed to be known to be found. Some of the shopping centres would sell electronics or clothes only. In others, each floor was selling the same type of product. The amount of hi-fi, mobile-phone, cameras etc. sold everywhere, seemed out of proportion, but those shops were always busy - and not with tourists hunting for a bargain!
We have often heard that
Whenever we crossed a road on a traffic light, we were amused by the animation of the pedestrian’s light. Ok; red was red. But when it turned green, a digital display would count back the seconds and a little green man started walking. Slowly at first, but then faster and faster, until the light turned red again.
In most parts of the city, only the lifestyle of the people was
Asian, but it didn't look very different than in any part of the west. The only
area where this didn't apply, as far as we had discovered, was around
"Little India +
These street stalls sold everything from fruit to clothing and souvenirs and they were also famous for selling genuine looking copies of watches, clothing and shoes of famous brands for just a few dollars. Every now and then the police cracks down on some of them and confiscates the goods. That's why Heinz had to wear his worn-out sandals a bit longer still. He had hoped to replace them here, but since there had been a raid on "Birkenstock" copies only recently, such shoes had now totally disappeared. The vendors don't even think about selling ordinary Birkenstock-type shoes, which would be totally legal. They rather wait until the situation has calmed down a bit and then put their "genuine" copies back into the shelves.
In one part of the night market, a big food court was set up on the street. Whilst most locals, young and old, had a meal prepared on the gas heated wok's that cost around 3-5 Ringgit (0.60-1.- Euro) and a fresh fruit juice for another 2 Ringgit, most tourists sat there, drinking one beer after the other. At 16 Ringgit (3.20 Euro), they felt it was such a bargain. Would they still order it at home, if it cost five times the price of the meal?
Another contrast were the little monkeys we saw roaming freely in the big parks and other green areas of this city with 1.4 mio. inhabitants. Quite a surprise to us, but these Macaques have learned to take advantage of living next to civilisation and we have seen them loitering the rubbish bins.
We have experienced a lot during the week we have had there and walked dozens of kilometres, despite the heat. On most days, a brief afternoon shower came down, that usually gave us a good excuse for another drink or piece of cake.
Also going back to the airport was easy easy easy. As it was rush-hour, we didn't take a taxi. It was only
three minutes to the train station, where we hopped on one of MRT's trains that
passed every five minutes and another three minutes later, we arrived at
|Photos: Singapore||More about Singapore: chapter 15 (Light Up Festivals), chapter 17 (Thaipusam), chapter 18 (Farewell), chapter 34|
Singapore: efficient Chinese paired with Malaysian and Indian culture
It was only a short flight to
Singapore held many
surprises to us too. 13 years ago, we had known it quite well, but of course
many things had changed since then. This city-state with 4.2 mio. inhabitants
living on only 604 square kilometers (66 times smaller than
There are many more shopping streets all around the city and
The number of people shopping was just amazing, on any day of the week and even more so on weekends. It seems that Singaporeans only have two hobbies: shopping and eating!
No wonder, there are lots of opportunities to eat out cheaply and
good. Hawker stalls and food courts are abundant all across the city - as
unbelievable as it is: even more than in
In some areas, almost every second building housed a small or big
food court. An outsider would not always find them, as often a small stair
only led down into a kingdom of several dozens of food counters with a seating
area in their middle. Many food courts are now air-conditioned and we heard
that the others will gradually be upgraded as well. Also here, the food is
freshly prepared and cheap and there is a wide selection of freshly squeezed
juices and shakes with ice. As in neighboring
There are also quite a number of restaurants of which some serve western food and inevitably, the "fast-food chains" are represented as well. As the locals don’t use them too often, there is almost no obesity.
They are even fit to work until they are quite old. Recently, the retirement age was risen to 68 years but this is not enough, as the Taxi drivers just applied for the right to work until they're 73 years old!
The population is culturally well blended. The majority of 77% is of Chinese origins, followed by 14% Malay Singaporeans, 8% native Indians and some Westerners. Seeing these figures, it seemed like a joke to find a big area called "Chinatown", although like in "Little India", these were the last places with old buildings and they had been well restored, giving the quarters a charming - if touristy atmosphere in between all those skyscrapers.
For such a small country, it's amazing, how many people own a car, as the public transport system is excellent and in addition, a fleet of taxis serve the customers cheaply.
Again, we stayed in the middle of a very "happening" and
cramped area: at
This island has many pedestrian areas with large boulevards and parks, often along the water. For those that can't be without winter, there is also a 300 M long indoor ski slope. More about Singapore: chapter 15 (Light Up Festivals), chapter 17 (Thaipusam), chapter 18 (Farewell)
|Photos: Thailand||More about Thailand : chapter 8 (Main Story), chapter 15, chapter 17, chapter 34|
Thailand: finishing off with a beach holiday
After a week, on June 17, we flew to the
Some things had even changed in these two years. Lamai was now polluted with European time share touts: what a pest!
We have heard that after the Tsunami hit Thailand's west-coast,
the number of tourists increased dramatically here on the east side of the
peninsula, especially on Koh Phangan, which is mainly visited by independent
travellers that don't book ahead. The number of daily flights between
For most bungalow-owners, this raised hopes that this trend would continue and so they started building like crazy. Within one and a half years after the sad event in the Phuket area, almost every old wooden bungalow on Koh Phangan has been replaced or is in the process of being replaced with modern concrete structures that now mostly have air-conditioning. As the small bungalows often have given way to hotel rooms, they can host much more tourists than before. A few up market resorts have already been added, not only to Haadrin, but also to the outer beaches and more are under construction. Even the cheaper resorts started to add swimming pools, regardless of the limited resources of electricity and water. A newly laid underwater electricity cable to Koh Phangan had become too weak already after three months, as all now have air-conditioners.
Unlike on Koh Samui, where mainly families and sex-tourists are visiting, Koh Phangan is the destination of backpacking party freaks and the island is overrun once every month for the infamous full moon party. The rest of the time, it's (been?) pretty quiet. We guess that the bungalow operators aim for a better heeled and more mature crowd, that would spend their two weeks family holiday there. However, as long as they put up two big screens in their posh and expensive restaurants, showing videos all day long and selling plastic vodka-buckets, we believe they don't understand that their desired clientele is looking for something else than the young people before. Consequently, they stay empty, as those seeking entertainment and booze rather go to the cheap eateries or beach-restaurants, which are still abundant.
As we were in Haadrin during the time when the "world cup 06" reigned the world, it was even harder for us that are not interested in soccer, to find a quiet spot for a meal. Along the beach and in many restaurants, big 3x4 M screens were mounted and as everything is always "open air", the noise even bothered the "quiet" places. Therefore, sometimes we had to listen how the winner gained another "devastating victory" over the loser. For us, this sounded more like the coverage of a major war. First, we intended to move to a more quiet beach, but either the place was closed until high season in December or the phone call went like this: "no, we don't have TV, but you can watch soccer" ... probably on big screen...
Finally we changed only to a more quiet bungalow outside Haadrin village. Several rocks were smartly integrated into bath- and bedroom, which were separated by a fountain and there was a breezy balcony with sea-view and later found more peace in Thong Nai Pan.
It was interesting to see the self-imposed segregation of the nationalities. Whereas the noisy and video polluted Haadrin area was mainly popular amongst English speaking nations, small and quiet Thong Nai Pan was much more favored by Austrians, Germans and Scandinavians.
Koh Phangan was still more laid back than Koh Samui and there were
no "girlie bars". The local authorities had
decided recently, that beach hawkers are more of a pain than a joy for tourists
and forbade their presence. So now this island was as peaceful as a Thai island
can be. It's probably the best compromise for a beach holiday in
It felt good that once in
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