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Sunday, June 5, 2011

2011 Asian Adventures-Malaysia, Singapore, Bali

Continuing where I left off, my friend Kia and I took a two-week excursion around Southeast Asia in celebration of my birthday. After our extreme peaceful stay at the Crown Lanta, we ventured to the colorful city of Kuala Lumpur, the capitol of the Muslim country Malaysia. KL is the largest city in Malaysia and, in my opinion, with Bangkok being second, the most diverse city in Asia. I'm sure there is someone out there ready to prove me wrong, but like I said, it's my opinion based on my travels thus far. The mere fact that Kia and I could get our hair done in KL is evidence alone that this city has a varied collage of cultures that call Malaysia their home.

With Malaysia being a predominantly Muslim country I reminded Kia; many women would be fully covered. However, do not be fooled, "Muslim women be shoppin!" You will see these women dressed to the nines, fierce shoes, bags, the whole fit together with the matching veil to top it off. I noticed in general Asian's like to shop . . . . a lot. KL is no exception with a shopping mall on every street corner it seems, and it felt as if most malls were connected, so you don't have to go outside and bear the heat. Aside from good shopping, Malaysia is a beautiful country. It's well organized, clean, beautiful beaches and countryside. After the weekend in KL we took a coach bus to Singapore, and I enjoyed the car ride scenery; pineapple tree forests, so sweet. Of course no trip to Malaysia would be complete without trying the food. If you do not have a taste for Indian food, then you will not enjoy Malay food. Fortunately, I love food regardless of the country it's from. My favorite Malay dish: Roti Canai ("chanai"). You can eat it with sugar in the morning, for lunch with peanut sauce, or with curry sauce for dinner. The bread alone can be a bit bland but with a little sugar, or salt, or curry it's delish. I enjoy watching the creation of roti as much as eating it. If you live in a diverse city, find a Malay restaurant and get some roti!

We only spent the weekend in KL so we had to make the most of our time, but with our flight times being early and staying up late, we were exhausted the first night. The car ride from the airport to the city was enough for me. I refused to use the squat toilets, (except the one and last time in Bangkok) so my bladder was not happy. Kia was barely hanging on. She may be a closet narcoleptic cause in every car ride she was knocked out. Regardless, we did manage to see Arab Street, then grab Persian food. Many thanks to my pal T for showing us around and being a great host. I know it was a lot to put up with two prissy women. That next day just happened to be Mother's Day, and a horrible day to eat out early, no brunch started before 11 am, uggh. So the scavenger hunt began for some food, not Chinese or Malay food, American bacon and eggs, hot cakes, french toast breakfast food. Mission: unsuccessful. So we settled for stir-fry and European pastries. The rest of our day was filled with electronics shopping, clothes shopping, flat iron shopping, hair care bargaining, hair treatments, exhausted feet, Petronas Towers! and a bomb a*# view of Kuala Lumpur from the highest point in the city called Ampang Look-out Point. Definitely a must see while you're in KL.

So as I mentioned earlier we traveled to Singapore from KL via the coach bus of Transtar. This was a great way to travel and see the country side of Malaysia. As our chariot awaits, Kia and I realize we are the only people on the bus, along with one woman. A whole bus all to ourselves, finally! Not only do we have personal service from the concierge, the seats have built-in massagers, a TV with American movies is at hand, I can put my feet up and recline my back, receive a free meal and unlimited coffee or tea. Perfect. However, it wasn't so perfect to stand in the heat for 2.5 hours waiting for my friend's roommates to open the door. (Note to self: find out if hostels exist in Singapore) Since we had some issues with where to put our luggage, my friend T came through again. He introduced us to Zazaaa, another Algerian brotha who just so happens to work for DKNY. He let us keep our luggage in his office while we shop along Orchard Road. We're in Zara trying on dresses, when Kia realizes she lost her iPod touch. Obviously upset, she was reluctant to continue exploring. Luckily I convinced her to get up and out. So we visit the Marina Bay Sands, "the most spectacular hotel in Singapore." We take some breath taking views of the skyline from the top of the hotel. Later that night we decide to check out the Sky Bar of the Ku De Ta lounge and run into a quirky crowd, the cast and crew of the Justin Bieber tour. . . yeah it was an interesting night.

The next morning we leave the Marina Bay Sands, go back to get our bags and rush to the airport to catch our flight to Bali. Yes, we spent the night in "the most spectacular hotel in Singapore" for free. It was grand. The AC in my friend's apartment wasn't working, so we couldn't boil to death in our sleep. Needless to say, we have some priceless video footage. Well, the end of our trip was near and we arrived to Bali on a Tuesday afternoon. The airport was packed, and customs was a biatch. Not only did they detain me for an hour or so, since I was running out of space in my passport, but the custom's officer also had the nerve to ask for a bribe so he could put the sticker in my passport. A bunch of crooks I tell you! The rest of our stay in Bali consisted of more locals trying to get as much money out of us as possible. They also need a lesson in customer service from the Vietnamese. It seemed that every interaction with the locals was rude and curt, not friendly and inviting. I would advise if you are some who does not like crowds, do not visit Kuta Beach. But lets focus on the positives, since this was our last stop.

Bali seemed to be a hub for the product development of glass wares, wood carvings, bamboo mats, bronze sculptures, batiking, and metal smiths of silver and gold. If only I had more money. . . There was literally a Fed Ex on every corner it seemed. I acquired what is probably the best jewelry discovery of my travels to date: a sterling silver locket, shaped in a sphere, with a brass chime ball inside. It was all of $4 from the Ubud Art and Craft Market.Gorgeous. We also saw lots of silk and dyed goods, but this market was not as inexpensive as the markets in Vietnam. I can sense I have been spoiled. Well, Bali, Kuta Beach area is now spoiled with toooo many tourist that the charm of being in a tropical paradise has dissipated, or covered in trash. The best food we had was at a cafe near the Ubud market. We ordered spring rolls, and the presentation was unique. Later we tried Indonesian food. Mmmm, not a fan, not a fan at all. There was nothing interesting or tasty about it. But they can make some great spring rolls. Well, if Bali hadn't been annoying enough, on the way out of the country, we also didn't get on our plane (running very late for a 6:30 AM flight) and we forgot there is an "airport tax" due once you leave the country. We tried to side step and get past this, but we were stopped at the gate by the customs officers. Dang! They got $50 out of me to cover for me and Kia, way more than we should have paid, it was again, another bribe. Needless to say, I won't be back to Bali, ever.

Lesson Learned: Do ALL the research you can about the country you are visiting, especially Visa fees, taxes, etc. and talk to as many people as you can that have already visited the country and cities in that area. If they say "stay away", heed the warning!