CNY 2020 – Day 4 – KL to Singapore

I’ve grown spoiled with China’s high speed trains, and I figured our trip to Singapore would be a quick one, given its proximity to Kuala Lumpur. I was wrong…

China’s high speed trains are incredible. They’re fast, cheap and can take you just about anywhere on the East coast!

A few years back, Singapore cancelled the train coming directly from Malaysia’s capital, leaving only two options: bus or plane.

After our experiences in Laos (where they sell motion sickness pills at every pit stop), I was a bit nervous about the bus…

For this trip, I tried very hard to minimize the number of flights we booked. Flying is not great for the environment, but we aren’t left with many other options during our holidays in this part of the world. South East Asia doesn’t always have the best roads, so flying is often our best (and safest) option.

With poor infrastructure and winding mountain roads to worry about, driving can be hazardous in South East Asia

We ended up looking into both options and saw that although flights are generally very cheap going from KL to Singapore, they quadrupled over Chinese New Year. The buses were more expensive too but still cheaper overall, so we decided to take the longer (and more environmentally friendly) option for this trip.

The plus side of driving is that you get to see more of the country. I’ll never forget the drive from Vang Vieng up to Luang Prabang. Breathtaking!

We arrived a half hour before our scheduled departure, as recommended by the booking website (we used http://www.easybook.com). We were a little annoyed when we tried to board the bus with our full cups of coffee, only to be told they weren’t allowed. We drank as much as we could and left our half-full coffees behind, much to our chagrin.

The bus was clean and about half empty. With buses going to Singapore nearly every hour, I imagine they don’t often fill all the way up.

These are all the companies making the trip daily. Each company makes various trips throughout the day.

There are a lot of different bus companies making this trip, but we decided to go with The One Tours. They rated well online, while some of the other companies had awful reviews. Some bus drivers refused to even take passengers all the way into Singapore, leaving them stranded at the border. Aside from our wasted coffees, we were very happy with our experience and I’d recommend The One Tours without hesitation.

This is what our bus looked like. Lots of space and comfy seats

Because there is a border crossing, this trip into Singapore has a few stops (in addition to regular rest stops). The first stop is to leave Malaysia. You’re stamped out and sent on your way. The process doesn’t take long as long as you don’t have anything to declare. We had to put our bags through an x-ray machine but it wasn’t nearly as much of a hassle as at the airport.

Singapore is a very small island. The bus drives over a bridge to get there. No ferries!

After “leaving” Malaysia, you actually need to get back on the bus for a few more minutes until you reach customs on Singapore’s side. Here, you’ll get stamped in, asked a few questions and then be on your way!

It’s all very simple if you’re lucky enough to be Canadian. I’m sure it isn’t as easy with other passports. You’ll want to check your government website ahead of time, just in case you need to apply for a Visa before you arrive

I should note that each bus company does pick ups and drop offs at different locations. We were dropped off near a hotel in Singapore, where we were able to get onto WiFi to order a Grab (like Didi or Uber). It turns out that we could have gotten cheap roaming on our Malaysia Sim cards if we had done it before leaving, but once we were in Singapore it was too late, so of course, we had to get a Singaporean sim card too.

Each of these companies has different pick up and drop off points so make sure to double check once you’ve booked!

If you’re planning to take the bus out to Singapore, I can reassure you that it’s nothing like Laos or The Philippines . There will be no live (or dead) farm animals on your bus and the seats are comfy. Best of all, it’s a safe and reliable way to get around.

No one was sitting in either of the seats next to me. A very relaxing journey!

My next few posts are going to be long ones! I’ll be writing them on the bus ride back to Kuala Lumpur! Check back soon!

CNY 2020 – Day 3 – Bukit Bintang

One of the best things about living in Asia is undoubtedly the food. Food markets are one of the first things we look for in any new city, and that’s how we ended up in Bukit Bintang last night.

Our first stop: BBQ lamb!

Some of the best food markets we’ve seen have been in Taipei, Taiwan. We’ve also enjoyed some great meals at night markets in Bangkok (Thailand), Luang Prabang (Laos), Danang (Vietnam) and of course plenty in China too. Kuala Lumpur is special though because of the diversity you find in their food markets.

They sure love their Durian in Malaysia!

Malaysia is one of the most diverse places we’ve had the fortune of visiting. There are strong Hindu, Muslim and Chinese influences here, and each culture provides its own dining sensations! Plus, of course, Malaysia has its own ethnic foods as well.

Malaysian Milk Tea and Nasi Lemak: Malaysia’s national food (rice cooked in coconut cream)

We did as we often do, and followed our noses though the Bukit Bintang market. If something looked good, we stopped and tried it. Plenty looked good!!!

There was dim sum to enjoy. You could choose from a variety of different dumplings. I especially liked the mushroom and pork and the curry dumplings.
Our selection
There were also several bbq places. Dave especially enjoyed this one.

Eventually you run out of room and it becomes very hard to choose what you’ll eat.

This little girl looks about as stressed as I did when I realized I didn’t have room to try it all!

There’s often live entertainment in these markets as well. Several bands were set up just outside Bukit Bintang metro station, playing live music. Crowds formed and enjoyed the show.

They were quite good!!!

The next part of our journey takes us to Singapore!! Stay tuned!

CNY 2020 – Day 2 – Airports

Living abroad, I spend a fair amount of time in airplanes, at airports and on long flights. Between long queues, lost luggage and rude co-passengers, I’ve really grown to hate flying.

We’ve managed to have our luggage misplaced a total of 4 times in the last 5 years…. It’s a horrible feeling

More than once we’ve nearly missed flights due to other passengers and poorly managed airports. So many people wait until the last minute to check in and then cut in front of everyone else so they don’t miss their flights. Those people suck. Please don’t be those people.

Crowds are bad enough. Crowds this size + people repeatedly cutting in front of you are much, much worse

Security is also a brutal point in the whole flying process. I am always very polite to the staff in that area, mostly because I know they control my fate… But I like to think I’m pretty well liked by security personnel as well because I simply follow the rules.

  • I don’t bring liquids and insist on drinking them before I’ll go through the rest of security
  • I pack all my electronics into an easily accessible part of my bag so I can get at them quickly.
  • I pack my miniature liquids and gels all together, so they can be easily retrieved
  • I don’t fly with belts, change in my pockets, excessive jewelry or difficult shoes (many airports require you to take them off)
  • I pay attention and hand over my passport when needed. I move through the queue aware of my surroundings…
  • I don’t bring half eaten sandwiches and burgers in my carry on
  • I don’t bring half drunk alcohol in my carry on

These are all things I’ve seen people do by the way… It shocks me how hard people make this for themselves. So many people don’t even pay attention to the line up. Dave and I always arrive with our bags half unpacked and ready to go.

Get yourself one of these bags. They’re a life saver

I get especially annoyed with other passengers when it comes time to board the plane. Getting stuck in an aisle while people struggle to get oversized bags into the overhead bins has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s like they’ve never flown before! Please don’t be this person!!!

Also annoying: people who come into the plain with bags and bags of duty free and shopping bags.

This guy hit me in the head with his bag about 4 times while be waited for people in front of him to get out of his way so he could store his back pack. No one is comfortable at this point in the process so please do what you can to make it easier!! Get your book and headphones out of your bag before you board. Move quickly and don’t stand in the aisle!

Once seated and ready to go, the next concern is always what sort of neighbour I’ll have. Yesterday, I sat next to a lady who seemed to be unaware that she had someone sitting on either side of her.

She took up her space and half of mine with her newspaper and kept bumping me with her wet bag of fruit. People are strange…

Dave also sat next to a weirdo. The man kept picking at his face and putting his dead skin on the ground. I’ve also seen people clip their nails in airplanes, pick their noses and in a couple of cases…spit on the floor….

I didn’t take this picture but I’ve seen airplanes this dirty. Especially on longer flights. I don’t understand how people would want to be surrounded by so much garbage!!

Dave and I are lucky enough to do a lot of traveling, and we’ve gotten better at it over time. I’m sure I ticked some people off on my first flights. So, if you’re reading this, and you do any of these things, please consider how your behavior effects everyone else’s experience.

Final tips:

  1. Be at the airport, standing in line to check in, 2 hours before your flight.
  2. If it’s a national holiday and lots of people are traveling, try and be there even earlier if possible.
  3. Pack smart! Don’t bring stuff that you know you can’t bring. They are going to take away your water bottle, so just save everyone the time and get rid of it before the lineup
  4. Put all your gels and liquids in a plastic baggie, together!
  5. Don’t wear knee high boots, excessive jewelry or difficult belts and don’t show up with pockets full of change and garbage. It slows everything down!
  6. Take out the stuff you want for the flight BEFORE you board the plane. Don’t wait until hundreds of people are waiting to get to their seat to retrieve your book from the depths of your carry-on abyss.
  7. Don’t go overboard buying duty free and other items at the airport. We all have to share that limited overhead space.
  8. Keep your stuff in your space. There isn’t a lot of room in the plane and I don’t want your newspaper hitting me in the face.
  9. Don’t leave a mess!
  10. Be nice to the cabin crew. They have to put up with this every day. They very well may be the most patient people on the planet.

Be nice! Airports suck for everyone!

We’re in Kuala Lumpur now! Many more posts to come!!

CNY 2020 – Day 1 – Bonus Holidays

I’ve never been much of a fan of Shanghai. It’s polluted, crowded, expensive and it takes forever to get anywhere. Unfortunately, there is no airport in Suzhou, which means that any time we travel, we have to go to Shanghai.

We’ve been to the Bund only once.

Things have become better in the past couple of years, since we discovered some great restaurants and Shanghai’s vibrant expat scene.

Turkish appies in Found 158. We also very much enjoy the Vietnamese restaurant down there called Cyclo

The Hop Project was a game changer for us. They serve gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches on sour dough bread. I’ve never seen this in Suzhou.

Now, we spend the night before our flights in this megacity, to enjoy food and atmospheres we don’t really get in Suzhou. It’s become a bit of a bonus vacation for us, something I never really thought was possible.

Spanish Tortilla. Love!!!

Meatballs

Chorizo soaked in red wine

Fantastic sangria

Last night we had an especially cool experience at our favorite Tapas bar in China, Tres Perros. From its music to its clientele, Tres Perros takes me back to Spain. The food and drinks are on point and the atmosphere of the bar is just like we experienced last year as we traveled around Europe.

Their Churros and flan are decadent

Even some of the Chinese staff speak Spanish and they all speak some English. Last night, while we were enjoying our dinner, one of the waiters came by and explained that he had a friend who had been in an accident and who had lost his leg. He asked if we could help him out at all. Before I knew it, everyone over at the table next to us was ordering him food, drinks and just having laughs with him. They were Spanish expats and it was a wonderful thing to see. They didn’t pity the disabled man. They just treated him like he belonged there and that he was welcomed there. It was a beautiful reminder that there are amazing people in the world.

They were a very fun crowd.

Shanghai has won me over. It took a while but I’m glad we’re friends now. After all… Who doesn’t want bonus vacation?

Day 10: Spas

There are probably about 100 spas in the small city of Danang. I spent quite a bit of time in them this trip, as I’ve tried sorting out the muscles in my leg, and I had an array of experiences from excellent to “what the heck just happened to me?”

These are just Danang’s most high end and fancy spas. Most spas are small, and just do the basics: foot massage, oil massage and hot stone massage.

Most of these spas are run by women who sleep during the afternoon while tourists are at the beach and work hard in the evenings, when tourists are walking around, looking for dinner and something to do.

One of the many small spas in Danang

The prices are astoundingly low. You can get a 1 hour foot and leg massage for about $10. A hot oil massage is usually around $15. The fancier places have larger packages with more options (facials, body scrubs, mud baths etc…), but even the high end places are reasonably priced when compared to Canada.

Dave and I got hot stone foot rubs here. The masseuses were lovely.

Of course, in Canada, you’re paying for a certified professional who went to school and learned about the body. In South East Asia, you’ll get some masseuses that know a thing or two but you’ll also get ones that don’t seem to understand that the human body isn’t just a large punching bag.

They forgot to advertise their UFC- Style massage…

We decided to go for Thai massages together on new year’s Eve at a little place called Kaly Spa. It was the worst massage of my life and anything but a Thai massage! They punched and slapped me, and dug their toes into my ribs. Multiple times I had to ask the woman to ease up. At one point it felt like she was trying to remove my shoulder blade. She dug her fingers under it and pulled and pulled until I actually got mad. And I’d like to say you get what you pay for, but this was the most expensive massage I went for the entire trip (it cost about $30).

Avoid this place …. It’s horrible!!

Of course, I also had some very good experiences. Thuy Nguyen Spa was fantastic. It was down a back street, a few doors down from our first Hotel. The women there were lovely, and they undercharged me every time I went. Vicky, the woman I saw there, was determined to help me, because she knew that I was in a lot of pain. She would work on me for 2 hours but only charge me for 1. Amazing and caring people.

I highly recommend this place!!

So if you’re heading down to Danang, be sure to stop into a spa or two! The hot stone massages are so nice, and there’s nothing like a nice foot rub after a day of travel (or leisure!)

Day 9: Winter in Danang

We knew before we booked that Danang wasn’t going to be a bit cooler than it had been in southern Vietnam. Still, it was an affordable holiday destination with great food and coffee!

Delicious Banh Mi!!

Our first few days here were actually lovely. We had Sun and relaxed on the beach. It was nice and warm, without being too hot to do things. Perfect weather.

Our first Hotel had a rooftop pool. It was a bit cool but perfectly comfortable in the sun

Then winter hit, the sun disappeared and we wished we’d packed more than 1 sweater each.

Our hotel in Hoi’an had a lovely pool but it was much too cold for us to swim in

Still, we aren’t ones to let weather dictate the quality of our holiday, so yesterday we head down to the hot springs near Danang to get some swimming in!

It was beautiful and up in the mountains, which was lovely!

On our drive there and then again on our drive back, we got drenched in little mini rain downpours, still it was worth the trip!

It was a beautiful drive either way!!

After drying off, we decided to do another bbq dinner at the night market. After we’d enjoyed yet another delicious meal there, we decided to do a bit if shopping, and had into the sales market. That’s when the skies REALLY decided to open!

They had to cover up all the merch and a lot of vendors started packing up after the rain hadn’t stopped 15 minutes later

The tarps covering each shop began collecting water quickly, as shop keepers pushed on the bulges to move the water in a direction away from their valuables! It was a bit like a game of wack’a’mole, trying to stop water from collecting in any particular area

Still, people kept shopping

We hung around until the weather cleared, and then walked a few streets down for the new year countdown. Why let a little rain ruin our fun??

We also got shirts made with our cats on them

My favorite picture of Oliver. This was the first time he climbed up on to of the cat scratch and he liked very pleased with himself!!

A perfectly comical depiction of Hugo

Poe either absorbs all the light in her photos, or she looks angry. There are no other photos of her haha!!!

Happy New Year to all my readers!!!!

Day 8: Markets!

There is nothing like a South East Asian market! They’re an endless collection of souvenirs, shoes, bags, clothing, with the odd live chicken to keep things interesting.

These are all barrels of snacks for purchase. In this particular market, coffee, mango candies and coconut crackers are the most common items for sale

It’s overwhelming being in these markets. Sometimes, shop keepers will try pulling you by the arm. Dave and I never purchase anything from anyone who does that. The market is crowded, noisy and full of strange smells. For some reason though, I love it. There’s such a buzz in these places and it’s almost like a game, trying to get a good price on things.

Open bags of food are the reason why it smells kinda weird in these markets. We only ever buy sealed stuff… Don’t worry!

This particular market had seamstresses making clothing for people right then d there. They take measurements, you choose a fabric you like, and then a style of dress or shirt… and they make it for you! I’m sure they get paid a far more reasonable wage for this than what they get paid if they work in an H&M or Walmart factory. It’s a pretty cool set up!

Speaking of name brands, you’ll find everything from knock off designer bags to ‘faulty’ H&M clothing. Shoes, purses and clothing, everywhere you look! Some of them actually have legit tags, which is why we figure they are either somehow faulty or an old model that didn’t sell. Other items, of course, are just blatant knock offs.

Pro Tip: try and get everything you need from just 1 or 2 sellers. The more you buy, the better of discounts you get! It can save you a lot in the long run.

I’ll be back soon!