I've been to Malaysia a few times and this trip journals contains a few of my favourite hotels, an account of a dive trip to Tioman Island and details of my favourite KL attraction
by koshkha on September 26, 2009
Kuala Lumpur is a great city and one where visitors are spoilt for choice with so many and varied options for entertainment. Being a country girl, I find big cities drain the life out of me very quickly and I can easily get overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle. When that happens, I’ll try to find somewhere clean, quiet and peaceful to feed my need to escape. If it’s beautiful and interesting as well, then that’s a big bonus. Such escape might seem like a tall order in a full-on high-octane shopping-frenzy city like KL so the purpose of this review is to share my top tip for regaining your sanity. The answer is the Orchid Garden in KL Lake Gardens. KL Lake Gardens (or Taman Tasik Perdana) lies up a hill over-looking the city. There is probably a bus service up there but the two times I've been I have taken taxis. Surprisingly, even that can be a problem. Getting up there is relatively easy – just grab a cab at any taxi stand in the city - but getting back can be a struggle. The gardens don’t seem to be on the standard KL taxi driver's prowling route so you can struggle to find a cab when you are ready to head back to town. You may have to loiter outside the entrance to the Orchid Gardens or one of the other attractions and wait for another visitor to arrive in a taxi. Then you should pounce and grab their driver for the return journey. Last time we asked the driver who took us to come back an hour later. If you aren’t sure how long you will be, take his driver’s mobile number and call him 20 mins before you need him - drivers in KL are very accommodating and most of the younger ones speak understandable English – I think they learned for the Commonwealth Games a few years ago. From memory, I think we paid around £5 for the ride each way - it won't break the bank. If this all sounds like a bit too much trouble take my word for it, it's not. The KL Orchid Gardens are worth the bother. They have more than 2000 different species of orchid - including more than 800 that are native to Malaysia. ~Getting in~Once your taxi driver works out where to drop you - not always the right place but don't worry it'll be in the right area more or less - you stroll up a sloping driveway to the gardens. I would imagine this would be a bit of a tough push for someone in a wheelchair or with restricted mobility so please bear that in mind. There's a little booth half way up to take your money but there was nobody there last time I went so we just strolled on in. In fact, I think they may have stopped charging entrance fees. The gardens are surprisingly low-key and understated. There’s not a lot of information around the place, so you won't feel guilty about not reading lots of labels and writing down lots of names. You can just wander around, through the open gardens and the pergolas, sit down, watch the birds and butterflies, take a few photos and forget that just minutes away the streets are filled with noisy car horns and aggression. It’s a really great place to unwind. Arrive at the right time and they may have the sprinklers on in the pergolas - soak it up! It's good enough for the orchids and you'll dry off very quickly. My most recent visit was in September 2005 on a very hot and sticky day at about 4 pm. At that time there were no more than 3 or 4 other people up there. It was paradise. The gardens close at 6 pm ~Need retail therapy? ~There is an orchid market where you can buy plants or - if you are planning on bringing them back to the UK - you can buy a conical flask full of seedlings that can be planted up when you get home. Allegedly these are UK customs compliant but I’m not so sure whether you’d want to try a flask sweaty little baby orchids in your hand luggage during the current hand-luggage restrictions. There’s no hard sell at the market - just people who love orchids and are happy to talk about them. I brought back some baby orchids from my parents who nurtured them for a couple of months and then went on holiday and forgot all about them. I think a couple may survive in spite of the neglect. ~What else can you do?~Also on the Lake Gardens site you will find the bird park and the butterfly park. The butterflies are spectacular so make sure you have your camera and any macro lenses with you - entrance is 4 ringitt. The bird park is also a raucous but fun place to visit. Allegedly it's the largest in South East Asia but whilst it's good, it's not as outstanding as the Singapore bird park so if you are doing a trip to Malaysia and Singapore, hold out for the Singapore bird park instead. I believe entrance is free for the bird park. Other attractions in the park include a small Hibiscus Garden, close to the orchids and a deer park which costs just 1 ringitt. Note - the deer park and butterfly park close at 5 pm - i.e. an hour earlier than the orchids so you may need to see these before the orchids if you are going to be pressed for time. Because they close earlier, you’ll also find even fewer taxis in the area after 5 pm.
Airside Transit Hotel isn't the best name I've ever come across for a hotel but by the time you've been in the air for a while it will take on all the attraction of a 5-star luxury hotel. Why? Because it offers the things you crave the most when travelling without charging a fortune for the privilege.When you are travelling long haul it doesn't take very long sitting on a plane before you start to fantasize about how wonderful it would be to be able to lie down on a proper bed, watch a film on a real television, eat real food that doesn't come in tiny square plastic pots and best of all take a long hot shower or bath. Obviously most of these things are completely impossible to do on a plane, but once you get off the plane they're all high on the list of things you most want to do. The Airside Transit Hotel at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) felt like heaven on earth when we stayed there during a 10 hour flight connection between Vietnam and London.KLIA is a famously lovely and interesting airport which goes to a lot of trouble to try to make itself a pleasant place to be. However we'd already spent a few hours there on the way out to Vietnam and there wasn't a lot left to see on the way back. One valuable discovery we'd made on that first visit was the Airside Transit Hotel. We'd not used it but we had learned of its existence, popped up to reception to see what it looked like and checked out what it would cost.I know of very few airports who have airside hotels and even fewer who have inexpensive facilities. Normally if you wanted to have a hotel room at an airport you'd have to go through passport control, out to the hotel and then come back again later and go back through security and passport control all over again. The airside approach removes all that trouble.The basic package offers a room for a six-hour block of time and costs around $40 dollars. If you want longer, you can extend by up to three extra hours for $6 per hour. Anything over 9 hours and they charge you for two six-hour blocks. We had about 10 hours between one flight arriving and our next departing and we knew that we'd probably be able to fill a few of those with dithering around, getting something to eat and actually boarding the plane so we opted for the simple 6 hour package. We didn't pre-book, we just walked in and got a room.The hotel was astonishingly quiet. The corridors had deep carpets, the windows were all triple glazed and there was a real hushed aura about the place. People don't go there to party; they go to catch up on sleep and get clean. Our room was neat and tidy with a large double bed, a desk, a television with satellite channels, a tea and coffee tray, comfy chairs and a coffee table and not too much else. Nobody needs a massive wardrobe and lots of drawers in a hotel when their luggage is waiting elsewhere to be put on the next plane. The bathroom was bright and clean and had a bath with a shower over. I decided to take advantage of the spotlessly clean bath and have a good soak. I'd really not seen a bath in the previous two weeks that I'd have felt comfortable to do that in. After my bath, I slept for a few hours and watched football until our time was up. My husband managed to polish off all the teabags in the short time we were there.Had we wanted to leave the room and let's be honest, why on earth would we? the hotel had a gym and a sauna as well as a bar/café that served light meals. There's also a business centre but again, it wasn't something we wanted or needed. If you don't have 6 hours to spare or don't want to pay for a full block of time, you can use some of the hotel's facilities on an a la carte offer which starts at $6 for a shower and rises to $15 for shower, sauna and use of the gym. I think those are all very good value deals. The hotel is on the Mezzanine level in the Satellite A Building of KLIA and in my opinion is worth every penny. I just wish more airports had places like this.
In the late 1990s I was in Kuala Lumpur for a trade show just before Easter. I'd learned to dive about 6 months earlier and, having gone all the way to Malaysia, I wanted to get my fins wet again.The Easter break meant I could get about 5 days on the island without using much of my holiday allowance.I did my research on good dive destinations and found Tioman Island. It's perhaps not the BEST dive destination - the Perhentians have a better reputation - but the good thing is you can get there by air. If you are back-packing on a really tight budget you can also go by bus and ferry but if you are going to all that trouble, you might be better with the Perhentians.~Where is it and why might I have heard of it?~Tioman lies off the North East coast of the Malaysian peninsula and is famous (if you could really say famous) for being the Bali Hai Island in the musical South Pacific. It's promoted as a paradise island and there are a number of good expensive resorts which means that you can fly there. The centre of the island is mountainous jungle and the beaches are clean with stunning white sands.~Getting there~You'll need to take up to date advice on this as it's a long time since I went. I took a taxi to the old KL airport which has now closed down. I guess today you'd take the train out to the new airport. I flew with an airline called Pelangi Air - I don't know if they still exist - in a tiny little plane with about 16 seats. Cabin service consisted of a sealed cup of juice in the back of the seat in front and the co-pilot turning round, giving a big grin and a thumbs up sign. The plane flies low and isn't pressurised so as you hit the clowds, they stream into the plane - this is a bit freaky the first time but you get some great views.These days you can go with an airline called Berjaya Air and in addition to flying from KL you can also fly to Tioman from Penang, Kuching, Langkawi, and Kota Kinabalu. You may struggle to get any European travel agents to confirm flights for you with the local airlines - I had to sort out the confirmation when I got to Malaysia. I think it cost abour £60 to £80.~On arrival~The plane lands in a tiny aerodrome near to one of the fancy resorts. You stand around whilst they take your bags off the plane and then wonder what on earth to do next. I took a boat up to the top of the island to Teluk Salang where there are dive operators. Luckily I'd met a girl on the plane who also wanted to dive so we went hunting for accommodation together.~Accommodation~Looking back I really can't believe I just turned up on Good Friday without any kind of booking and stumbled around looking for something. In Salang you can find a wide variety of accommodation - at the far end of the village North from the jetty there are beautiful water bungalows with nice facilities but I headed south with my bags, unwilling to lug them too far. Locals hang around the jetty and attempt to lure you to their properties. The first guy we found took us off to look at some cabins half way up a hill. He was too lazy to go up and just told us which one was on offer - we sweated up the hill to a grotty little place with a healthy population of bugs. No way were were going for that one. By the time we got down again, he'd given up on us, but someone else had given us a tip off. We found a cabin with aircon and a bathroom and paid about $20 a night between two of us. The landlord was sleezy and leery but he was a big lad and we both figured if he gave us any trouble, we'd be able to run faster than he could.After my room mate headed home to France, I moved to a smaller fan-cooled cabin for $10 a night~Diving~There are 4 or 5 different dive operators in Salang. I was new to the game and I really didn't have a clue how to assess which would be best. The operator we went with was very laid back and disinterested in how much diving we'd done before. The kit wasn't a bit hit and miss - he didn't have a wetsuit in my size - and the whole operation was quite disorganised. I wouldn't stand for that sort of attitude now but at the time I was new and inexperienced and I didn't know better. We booked to do two dives the following day - which was my birthday.The boat took us out towards a neighbouring island for two dives with lunch in between. I can't comment on the quality of the diving because these were my first post-qualification dives and I was so scared silly that I kind of doubt I even had my eyes open. The boat was crowded and the water rough and I spent the afternoon puking over the back having my back rubbed by a Danish policeman who kept telling me "Don't worry, it happens to everyone!"That night a storm blew up and knocked out the diving for the next 3 days. If that happened to me now on a holiday I would be livid but instead I took it as a chance for some serious chilling.~ What else can you do?~In Tioman hammocking is considered a serious activity. I did a lot that. The place I was staying rented books so I lay around and read a few, wrote postcards, took long meal breaks and assessed the range of available banana pancakes on offer through the town.There's a marked path over the hillsides that takes you to Monkey Bay - a beautiful secluded beach. I took a walk through the jungle with plate sized butterflies and howling monkeys which was tough but definitely worth a trek.Warning - Watch out for sand flies if you lie on the beach - they ate me alive.Summary: Tioman is perfect for....... a short relaxing break by the sea without too much activity to tempt you. ....backpackers needing somewhere cheapTioman is not so good for..........families with small kids - I have no idea what you'd do with them.......serious divers - if you got a storm like we did you'd be gutted.......anyone who likes everything really clean and nice and 'just so'
Kuala Lumpur is a city of fantastic hotels with exceptional service at great value prices. I've been three times and always come away completely amazed by how good the service ethic is in the hotel sector. However, even my high expectations were exceeded on my most recent visit when I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental. I was in the city for a trade fair and very glad that the colleague who'd organised the trip had decided that we'd not perform well at the fair if we had to stay in a nasty cheap hotel. So she had booked us all into executive club rooms way up on the higher floors. I'm not sure how much of the service we had was due to the status of the rooms and how much was standard so keep in mind that not everything might be on offer if you book a more basic room.We'd flown in overnight and were picked up by a driver at the airport. It's quite a long trek into town these days so by the time we arrived we were glad to see the hotel and shocked at just how close it was to the famous Petronas Towers. It really is literally next door. We were greeted at the car by a hostess who took our details and then we were taken through the marble lobby, directly to the lifts and straight up to our rooms. Check in was carried out in the room without any need to queue or wait. Everything was very courteous and pleasant.My room was very nice. Sadly I didn't have a view of the Petronas Towers but I could look out over the lake, the KLCC conference centre and the aquarium through the floor to ceiling windows. The bed was large and very comfortable with luxurious linens. There was a seating area with table and chairs and a bowl of fruit which was topped up daily. I could make coffee if I wanted to, there was a fridge, a good sized work desk and chair and free wi-fi (always a bonus). The bathroom was glorious lots of marble and twinkly lighting with a separate shower and bath and some very nice toiletries. One of the benefits of our executive room plan was a dry cleaning or laundry allowance. This is not unusual in KL hotels and since it's such a hot and sweaty city, you do tend to get through a lot more clothes than normal. I took full advantage of my allowance each day, even hunting out things in the bottom of my suitcase just to get them pressed or freshened.We kicked off the visit with a briefing for all the trade fair attendees in one of the hotel's meeting rooms and followed it with a Chinese banquet in a nearby room. As a non-meat eater I had plenty of choice but found some of the food a bit over the top. It's hard to say no when you're given soup and don't realise that it's sharks fin and you'd really rather the shark had kept his fin for himself.We had access to the Executive Club which was beautiful and had fantastic views of the towers. The club was large, filled with comfy armchairs and sofas and offered plenty of free snacks and drinks in the late afternoon and evening as well as breakfast in the mornings. We tried out several of the hotel's many restaurants and considering the five-star status of the hotel, didn't think that the food prices were outrageous. One of my rather traditional 'meat and two veg' colleagues struggled a bit with the sophistication of the menu but I really enjoyed the international options on offer. We didn't always get the restaurant we wanted because the place was so busy that even as a resident you couldn't guarantee a table.The hotel has a gym, spa and pool but I'm ashamed to say that sipping cold white wine in the club lounge was all I was fit for most evenings after a day at the trade fair. We had a bit of free time and took advantage of the really nice shopping centre that's just next to the hotel as well as dropping into the Aquarium which has some beautiful displays. I also dragged my colleague off to the Orchid Gardens which are my favourite place in the city.
I spent one night at the Hilton in Kuala Lumpur in December 2004 but one night was enough to make me want to sell my house and all my possessions and go and live at this fantastic hotel. One night was enough for Hilton's Asia-region 'flagship' hotel to burn itself into my mind when many other hotels had long been pushed aside in my goldfish-like memory. My visit was at the end of the first week of a three-week business trip. One week into a trip like that with another two weeks still to go, hot and sweaty, very alien environments, not to mention the hard-drinking boss and colleagues with whom I was travelling, I was starting to get a tad 'jaded'. This hotel put a spring back in my step. At the time I visited, this hotel had only been open for a short time and they were still offering special opening offer prices and we paid about £55 per night.~Finding the Hilton~ If you haven't been to KL before - or haven't been since they opened the new airport - the first shock you will get is how far the airport is from the city. The new KL airport is 60-70 km from the city. The Hilton is located directly on top of the Sentral Station (that's how they spell it, it's not a typo), so you can get to or from the airport in just 28 minutes. In ten minutes using the same train service you can get to KLCC - a popular city centre shopping arcade which is next door to the Petronas .Above the Sentral station are two hotels - the Hilton and I think the Le Meridien but don't quote me on that. When you arrive by car, you pull up under cover beside a large metal sculpture in the middle of a fountain. The hotel overlooks the Lake Gardens and is near to the National Museum. I've not been to either so can't tell you whether that's a good thing or not! ~The Lobby~Hilton really went to town when they built this hote. There's a high ceilinged atrium with lots to look at like original paintings and sculptures throughout the hotel. The lobby merges into a large downstairs bar and there are shops and other facilities at this level. I can't say too much about the check in process as a couple of the people in our party had high level loyalty cards and so blagged us all a check in on the executive floor and we skipped the general check-in. ~My Room ~I walked in and found that, without doubt, I had died and gone to 'Elle Deco' heaven. If you have ever read that magazine you'll know what I mean - lots of light wood, lots of glass and loads of technology to boggle your mind. Functional minimalism - lots of hidden cupboards and multi-functional furnishings. I'm a maximalist of the worst type so I love to experience the minimalist dream before I head home to my clutter. To put in context the sheer wonder of these rooms, of the six of us who checked in together, only one (my thirsty ex-boss) actually made it to the bar at our allotted time. The rest of us were all too busy playing in our rooms and just couldn't tear ourselves away for something as unexciting as lots of booze and dinner. ~So what makes these rooms so special? ~Somebody really sat down and thought about everything you could want in a room and then added some extras. The room is large with floor to ceiling windows and, to make sure you really enjoy the view, there's a sofa to recline on in front of the window so you can lie back and soak it up. The bed is wide and firm - just the way it should be - and at the perfect angle for watching the 42" plasma screen TV. And if you can't find anything on the multitude of TV stations, you can play computer games. There's a glass-topped desk with lots of gizmos so you can link your computer to the net and check your mail. Not for me, I was too busy having fun and exploring. Tucked in one of the cupboards in the bathroom were three boxes of goodies. Hilton calls them 'lifestyle' boxes and they contain everything you might need in three themed containers. The first box is 'Business' - it's got staplers, pens and pencils, post-its and all those bits and bobs. The second is the 'Relaxation' box - it has extra nice toiletries you can use in your room. And the clever thing is if you USE them whilst you are there, you won't have to pay. But if you take them with you, you will be charged. That baffled my mind and I ended up leaving them just were they were thinking 'what if they think I've taken them? Do I have to leave all the empties on show? Or should I wander down and show them how lovely my skin is looking? The third box is 'entertainment' and contained puzzles and games and a set of juggling balls. There was a book of short stories in there too.Now there were also some extras you could get 'on demand' by calling housekeeping. These included office equipment, a super-dooper coffee machine and, get this, a bowl of goldfish. Now then, I've stayed in hotels where the concierge would send friendly ladies to your room (not something I'm in the market for obviously) but never a bowl of goldfish. What a cool idea. I assume you are expected to return the same number the next day - they aren't for snacking on. ~The Bathroom~ If you are the type who likes to change into your Winceyette nightdress in the bathroom or under cover of darkness then you are going to freak about the open plan bathroom. There are glass walls between the bath and the bedroom. They didn't go the whole hog though - don't worry, the toilet does have a door and you can't watch what's going on. The bath has a whirlpool and there's a fabulously powerful rainshower called and the toiletries are yummy and smell fantastic. ~What else?~Everything you could possibly need is tucked in this room somewhere - a safe, a trouser press, an iron and ironing board, an alarm clock , a minibar and a hair dryer. ~The Gym~ It was a tough call but I dragged myself away to burn up some calories before putting them straight back again in the bar. The gym was gorgeous. Row after row of treadmills, bikes and steppers all looking out over the pool. Friendly staff hovering to push your buttons and explain anything that wasn't obvious. A very nice experience and even at peak pre-dinner time, there were plenty of machines to go round. I nearly forgot to mention the pool. I didn't use it but it was a joy just to look at. On a boardwalk setting it's a free-form pool with landscaped islands. The total length is 120 meters.~Eating and Drinking~There are 10 different bars and restaurants in the hotel covering a wide range of cuisines. Just as KL itself is a racial melting pot, the food choices reflect the local diversity. The restaurants include Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese and Western options and there's also a coffee bar and a poolside eatery. As our hosts were Chinese Malays we were taken to Chynna, the Chinese restaurant. I'm a strict fishitarian - I eat fish and various weird sea creatures but I draw the line at meat. On this occasion I was quite glad. Our hosts went out of their way to show off the local delicacies and fortunately decided that they'd do strict vegetarian for me. What a relief! This meant I missed out on the sea slug, the sea cucumber and of course the goose feet. I wish I'd had a camera to capture the faces of my English colleagues when they received the goose feet. ~Back to my room~I was practically running back to the elevators to get back to my room for a late night look out over the sky-line through my windows. I watched a bit of TV then I tidied myself up, put on my pjs and spent the next 15 minutes working out how to switch off all the gizmos. In fact I spent the night with one of the lights on because I just couldn't work out how to turn it off. Two other colleagues had the same problem so it wasn't just me being daft. When I left the next morning it was with a firm impression that I'd just spent the night in a hotel that had somehow rewritten a lot of the rules of normal hotel design and behaviour.
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