Travel: 2014 – Malaysia and Singapore

This is an abbreviated chronicle of the business trip I (myself and two other co-workers with a large group of trainees) took through the countries of Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore in May 2014…

It began Sunday, May 4th, 9 am.

I packed my cats up, caged them, and took them to their vet to be boarded for a week. A whole week. I was terribly sad.

cats in boarding
So were they!

Then it was back home to finish packing. Met with co-worker-Friend. Originally, we were told that we would meet at our office in Phuket, but the night before it was revealed that, no, we would meet at the tour office in Krabi, a province a few hours away from Phuket. Because of this, Friend and I buy seats on a public van to make the trip. We leave at 4pm. We arrive way too quickly. Van driver drove around 120 kph the whole way, no matter the speed limit. He sped up into curves, passing on the inside, like he was a race car driver, or at least one in his fever dreams.

I did that once. When I was 16, with a freshly printed license and a history of watching NASCAR with my father on Sundays.

We did not die. So….there’s that.

Friend and I arrive in Krabi near to 6 pm. We are scheduled to leave at 1 am, so we rent a room, leave our baggage, and go hang at the weekend night market. Friend goes to Krabi about once a month, and I often travel with her, so we know the area pretty well. At midnight, we pack up and join the rest of the group at the tour bus.

It is now Monday, May 5th, 1 am.

Most of the 40 of us are in casual clothes. Sleeping clothes. The idea is that we’re taking the overnight bus into Malaysia, so most of us will sleep on the way and wake when we hit the border, which will be around 6 am. The tour company seems very prepared. They provide motion sickness tablets for any with that particular problem (me), which also help to calm the nerves and sleep.

We sleep, with a few quick bathroom stops. Hit the border on time, and then arrive at destination #1, Penang, at 10 am.

Here, at a rest stop, I change into shorts and a t-shirt. A few others do as well, but most people remain in their bus-pajamas while we visit the most tourist-trap Buddhist temple I’ve ever seen. And I live near Wat Chalong and have visited the Grand Palace. From the street, it looks impressive (though, also under construction).

Don't let it fool you.
Don’t let it fool you.

Getting up the hill, however, requires walking through what are basically tunnels. Tunnels of trinket stalls selling the most generic of souvenir goods.

But hey! Dragons!
But hey! Dragons!

After Temple 1, we eat lunch at a bland Chinese tourist-restaurant (more on this later). We visit Temple 2 (a Burmese-style Buddhist temple) and Temple 3 (a Thai-style Buddhist temple).

thai temple
…this place feels so familiar, but why…

Yes. We 40 tourists from Thailand spent over 12 hours in a bus to visit a Thai Buddhist temple in Malaysia. In our jammies.

After the temples are seen and experienced, the tour bus hits more modern retail areas of the town, and we are dropped at a fairly high-class shopping mall. The mall is conveniently situated across the street from yet another bland Chinese tourist-restaurant (it’s coming, I promise).

But shopping mall has a Chili’s. Fuck bland Chinese, it’s Cinco de Mayo.

Nachos and Tacos were consumed
Nachos and Tacos were consumed

Thank you, Chili’s.

No. Really. Thank you.
No. Really. Thank you.

Friend and I, after good food, met the rest of the group at the assigned boring Chinese restaurant (still later!). There was boring food. There was boring food despite the fact that some of the fish in the “fresh food” area of the restaurant looked super interesting!

dick fish
Friend’s husband says they’re called “goose neck” clams or some such… I call them penis clams, because…well, look at ’em!

Away to the very average (very CROWDED) hotel for some very average sleep!

Tuesday, May 6th, 8 am.

Back in the bus. We visit a similar business (this is the point of the trip) to discuss ASEAN and how it will affect our work, and how we can make the ASEAN work for us. That sort of thing. It’s not all that long a meeting, but it’s good for the trainees to see how things are changing with the new emphasis on this particular form of regional-international communication. (ASEAN is a big thing for us…)

After the meeting we spend 10 hours to get to the town closest to the border with Singapore. On the way there we stop for boring Chinese lunch-

Which Friend and I ditch for some local fare: Laksa mee and three-layer tea
Which Friend and I ditch for some local fare: Laksa mee and three-layer tea

And boring Chinese dinner-

Ditched for roasted chicken and rice with a super spicy sauce
Ditched for roasted chicken and rice with a super spicy sauce

At 10 pm we roll into what looks like a pretty cool town. There are some great looking restaurants and bars, a few clubs. But by the time we get in our rooms, it’s 11 pm, and we’ve been in a bus for more than 10 hours. We’re scheduled to leave at 8 am the next morning. I knew a few people went out, but I did not.

Wednesday, May 7th, 8 am.

We make for the border with Singapore. It’s pretty close by, but any border crossing can time up some time, even easy ones. Especially when you’re crossing 40 people in a group. Add to that, there are a number of people who live in Malaysia – which is fairly cheap – while working in Singapore – which pays better.

I have a university friend who lives in Singapore. The original tour plan had us staying overnight in the country, so I planned to hang out with him and his wife in the evening. And his new baby, too! I might not be a baby person myself, but I love that my friends love their children.

Suddenly, it’s decided that we aren’t staying overnight. So, suddenly, I decided there was no need to stay with the tour at all that day.

Friend and I ditch right off. We go shopping in Little India, which has like … the largest grocery/other-shit store I’ve ever been in. And I grew up in Texas Walmart country, so that’s saying something. It was awesome. There was like … everything … ever.

We meet my Singapore Friend & Family for Indian lunch, hit a few more shopping areas that – he says – have way cheaper prices for kitschy goods. (I bought Singapore pens!)

We ride the MRT (Singapore’s subway) to another shopping area. Bras Basah, an art supply wonderland, which houses Fook Hing, a haven of nice fountain pen stuff. We’re talking nicer than those lame-ass Mont Blanc stores in the mall. Handpainted maki-e level stuff.

Fucking. Beautiful.
Fucking. Beautiful.

While also rocking products I can afford.

INK!
INK!

All while being in a not-fancypants shopping center, but rather a place for practical users. I found that very nice. I was given directions by a sweet little old lady and her even older husband when I stepped into their paper shop. Needless to say, I was impressed with the place.

Then Bugis Villiage (not the modern-mall Bugis, but the local-market Bugis). It felt much like a Thai market, but with aircon and a few different products.

(NaKa market in Phuket is AWESOME, but … not so much with the a/c)

Despite our rebellion, we returned to have dinner with the group, so as to not miss crossing back into Malaysia. The boring Chinese that night included some roasted chicken and rice.

Oh, and while Friend and I were away, there was minor food rebellion, and the 38 remaining members of our group took money and a food court over whatever boring Chinese tourist-restaurant was scheduled.

Back through the border. Back to the hotel, again too late to do anything but sleep.

Thursday, May 8th, 8 am

Eventual destination is Genting Highlands, but we stop at Malaka, Putrajaya, and Kuala Lumpur on the way.

Malaka was pretty. It has a sort of one-culture-on-top-of-the-other sort of historical appeal. Old traditional, colonial, new traditional, modern, but we were there for a grand total of 45 minutes, tops, so we didn’t get to see much of it.

But there were cannons!
But there were cannons!

Putrajaya is a fairly young city. Established, they said, in 1995. It was farmland before, but now houses a lot of government buildings. We were there for, also about 45 minutes. It looked really pretty-

But had this lovely mosque.
But had this lovely mosque.

-but we saw virtually none of it.

It rained in Kuala Lumpur. The bus stopped for 10 minutes, several kilometers away from the KL Twin Towers. It was a photo-op stop, only.

Close as I got.
Close as I got.

We made it to Genting Highlands skylift right at sunset. Up as night fell. It was lovely. A real trip highlight, not that it had much competition.

Would have been more fun if they sped it up... I mean, that public van would have passed us four or five times!
Would have been more fun if they sped it up… I mean, that public van would have passed us four or five times!

We are in our rooms, which were tiny (in an effort to make sure you didn’t want to stay in them and instead went out and spent money) at 8-9. One night, only.

First World and Genting are famous in the region for their casino. I don’t gamble, so Friend (who basically grew up in a illegal, family-run, home casino) goes gambling while I hit a live music club inside the complex. The music was much too loud for Friend (if she had come), but I enjoyed it.

Nachos. Better than they looked, flash in a club never comes out right.
Nachos. Better than they looked, flash in a club never comes out right.

I slept terribly.

Friday, May 9th, 8 am.

We head down the mountain. I wrenched my back sleeping, and am generally grumpy and unsociable.

I still give credit to the nice view.
I still give credit to the nice view.

We are told we will arrive home around midnight. Thai time. An hour behind Malay time. That means we’ll be traveling Thai- 7 am to Midnight, or Malay 8 am to 1 am.

And they get huffy when we ask for bathroom breaks.

17 hours. Sure, two hours were spent at a Duty-Free store stop (I wonder why … oh, yeah, tour guides get commission). We stopped for Thai lunch and dinner… rebellion, it works.

But the rest of it was bus hell.

Arrive in Krabi at Thai Midnight. Friend and I get to our pre-booked hotel at 1 am. Between waking and sleeping, we were on the move – in tight quarters the whole way – for 20 hours.

That’s about how long it takes to get from DFW International Airport to Phuket International Airport. Not QUITE, but pretty darn close. Sure, that’s a plane, but STILL.

Friend and I took Saturday in Krabi to relax (plus we had the room), and then returned to Phuket on Sunday. Picked the cats up Monday.

Howlite.
Howlite.

And Tuesday is a holiday.

Thank goodness.

Not the worst vacation ever, but last year I almost broke my ankle and was barred from going to Vietnam, and that one ended up being so much more fun.

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