Summary of the trip: Mainland Euroasia

I was always going to give some awards at the end of my trip and this is the award for the final third of the trip. As well as this I will follow this post with some overall awards which will include some additional awards as well. That post will follow this evening UK time.

Best site

The Great Wall, China, the Great wall was stunning, especially seeing it snaking off into the mountains – apparently 20% of the entire Chinese population worked on it at one point, meaning it probably wasn’t the great military success it was supposed to be.

Honourable Mention

Taj Mahal, Agra Although Agra and frankly the rest of northern India isn’t exactly the nicest part of the world to travel in, the Taj itself is absolutely stunning. Angkor Wat was pretty damn cool as well too.

Best museum

Hermitage, St Petersburg, although some of the artwork wasn’t amazing a large proportion of the artwork spread over 400 rooms was stunning, the rooms it was kept in were pretty good to look at as well.

Honourable Mention

Shaanxi Museum, Xian, this museum gave an excellent overview of Chinese history – excellent.

Best tour company

No Winner, all of the tours I have been on in this part of the trip have been significantly flawed though I have to admit I haven’t been on very many.

Best city

St Petersburg, Russia, St Petersburg is absolutely stunning to look at and it is great to see a European city that hasn’t been ruined by plate glass like Oxford has for example. The European style buildings that exist throughout the centre are stunning and the streets are wide enough as well.

Honourable Mentions

I thought that Singapore was going to win the best city award as there was enough to keep me busy for the 8 days while I was there, that was until I got to Beijing, which was frankly better as it has two world class sites within its city limits. It was then pipped to the prize itself by St Petersburg. This is undoubtedly the top 3 however.

Best non-Family accommodation

Etour hostel, Shanghai, I was going to give it to the Beijing Novotel but they offered a dodgy tour to the Great Wall so I’m not granting it to them, but Etour hostel was well located behind the JW Marriott on People’s Square. It also had a great lounge with good food and drink – and excellent staff and th

Best food for under US$25

Food court, apm, Beijing, after eating far too much Western food in China it was good to get some Chinese food for a change, and the apm food court in central Beijing was excellent.

Honourable mention

Singapore and Malaysia’s foodcourts for being consistently strong and cheap too.

The Lee, Mohan and Tim award for the best burger

Burgers seem to be turning into a staple on this trip and in honour of my time in Chicago when I had four burgers in six days with the guys from Chicago (including two for two successive meals.

Rice Burger @ MOS Burger, Singapore, this was gorgeous, disappointing I had to wait until Singapore before I could understand the menu enough to get to try a rice burger. The burger was delicious too – can we have a branch in Oxford please.

Best nightlife

St Petersburg, Russia, because clubs in half finished buildings are cool and the ballet was pretty solid as well.

Best Activity

The acrobatics, Shanghai Centre, Shanghai, this was absolutely awesome and kept me riveted to my seat for 90 minutes.

Friendliest People

The Russians the Russians always seemed to be friendly and went the extra mile to help pretty damn frequently, given their limited resources it was great to see.

Best Transportation Company

No Winner, nothing particularly stood out, but China rail, the metros in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and the buses in Xi’An were all pretty damn good.

Best bargain

“Russian” coat from Giordano, ¥299 for a coat that would probably be the better part of £100 in the UK was a great deal.

Biggest rip-off

The tour to the great wall for costing probably 3x as much as just doing it yourself on public transport with the Chinese and then taking us to a dodgy medicine centre on the way back.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

The winner is Milk, a great film on American gay rights – and given the “great” state of America at the moment, maybe it has wider importance to all the other issues in the country.

Langkawi and the Batu Caves

My next few days on Langkawi continued the pattern of lounging around and relaxing. I read some more books and headed to Underwater World an aquarium which started off not very good and got better. At RM22 (£4.50) for students the price was OK too. I also headed to a Reggae bar on the beach and a club where surprisingly as I am massively out of practice I was complemented on my dancing! The music was solid too. Not dance but more poppy music which I prefer. I don’t go clubbing that often – I can count the number of times on my trip on one hand but if you are with friends it is great fun (though as I want to have a real attachment to a woman it’s not my ideal place to pull women.).

After Langkawi I returned to KL which was fine though the bus trip was a bit dodgily organized so I had to buy the bus ticket twice. Only RM50 (£10) lost but still it’s not good.

After arriving into KL late I went to my absolute favourite restaurant (McDonalds) for dinner before going to bed. The next day after breakfast I headed by bus (which took seemingly forever) out to the Batu Caves. These are an awesome set of caves on the outside of Kuala Lumpur. The caves are a Hindu temple and have a giant gold statue of a Hindu god outside. The caves themselves are also impressive and absolutely massive and stretch up to the top of the hill breaking through into the jungle as well as giving a great view of KL. Unfortunately they are also very dirty and smelly and need more proactive clearance of rubbish. I also headed into the dark caves for an “educational” tour which was interesting and cost RM35 (£7). This contained lots of bats and other animals which live off the bat excrement including cockroaches that was interesting to see. We also got to learn about the beautiful rock formations in the caves and a temperature controlled “wind tunnel”.

After this I headed back to KL and went back to the Petronas towers to do a brief bit of book shopping and bought this weeks Economist (which has a very interesting article on the spread of English – EDIT: link) before heading to have dinner and watch Slumdog Millionaire. First though I had the most expensive meal I’ve eaten in Malaysia which was delicious Korean food. It cost RM17 so I would spend more than RM15 to get a free cinema ticket to see Slumdog millionaire. I did OK as the cinema would have cost RM8 otherwise. On the film itself I don’t know if it’s a true story but it’s an excellent and believable tale on modern India and love that is well worth seeing if you have the chance. The premise is a guy from the Indian slums beats lawyers and rich people to win 10 million rupees (about US$200,000) and the police don’t believe him as he’s uneducated. Of course coming from the slums exposes him to the “real world” more than the lawyers so not everything is against him.

Pictures named

I named the rest of my photos this morning.

Sorry I don’t have time now to post about what I’ve been up to here in KL as I need to go and get my bags and head over to the airport for my flight to China this evening. It has been pretty good however.

Photos uploaded

My friend Rupert has kindly uploaded a bunch more photos for me, which I’ve started to name, I’ll finish when I’m not in the most expensive internet cafe in Malaysia in the KLCC complex (it costs RM8, 1.60GBP for 1 hour!). I’ve named some of them as well

Thaipusam and Langkawi

On Saturday evening I thought I wasn’t going to get up to much, but in fact I had had quite an interesting evening. I was pursuaded that it would be a really cool idea to go to Thaipusam festival which was being celebrated by the Tamil in Penang. First to get there we headed up towards the festival by bus which took almost 90 minutes; unfortunately we didn’t get off at the right place so we had to get a taxi back towards the festival so the whole process took ages. After we eventually got to the festival we grabbed some food before heading towards the temples themselves.

The festival is actually a two day affair and I only caught the first day, where a chariot is brought up from one temple to another pulled by bulls. The festival also involves people piercing themselves which people do to prove their resistance to pain. They often had a bar in between their teeth to stop them biting off their tongue so it must have hurt a lot. First we had a wander around the temples, one of which was surprisingly in a colonial style building and the other opposite was more traditional before we walked back to the bus stop and the chariot. This took absolutely ages as there were tons and tons of people walking, and there was a bit of a crush as we tried to pass the chariot which got a little scary for a moment or two.

The festival was really good overall – much better than the mediocre Chinese New Year.

On Sunday morning I left Penang and I arrived into Langkawi on Sunday morning on the express boat, the journey was fairly uneventful, except that they didn’t have breakfast on board the boat and I got to watch some tom and jerry cartoons. That evening I had a pizza for dinner which was expensive at RM30, but the main issue was that I ate it too fast as I hadn’t had much food that day, so I had to sit down afterwards on the beach for 30 minutes to digest it fully.

Over the next few days I basically just chilled out, and on Monday I sat on the beach for several hours and managed to get really sunburnt which still hurts a bit now a couple of days later. I’m not going t-shirt less on the beach or snorkeling again as its actually pretty embarrassing. One of the main problems was that I didn’t get all the sand off as the showers are cold so that probably made matters worse. On Wednesday I went up to a nearby mountain to go on a cable car which gave great views of the rest of Langkawi island which was really good to see.

Langkawi itself is a tropical island in the north of Malaysia near the Thai border, basically it has lots of restaurants and the prices aren’t too bad, really its like a combination between Tahiti and Moorea though the prices are literally less than 20% of those on Tahiti, and I’m eating all my meals out here, rather than buying food from the supermarket as I did on Tahiti, except for one meal/day where I’d buy a meal on the side of the road.

Bed bugs

Well it appears that the mosquito bites I talked about weren’t actually mosquito bites at all but were actually bed bugs, so now I have to wait for my clothes and stuff to be washed to get rid of them.

It also appears that the accommodation in question, Love Lane Inn has a problem with them. There is a trip advisor review from 2006 saying the same thing, as well as the owner of where I am staying now on Langawi.

Oh the joy.

Georgetown, Penang

On Friday evening after an excessively long bus ride that included 2 hours messing around in KL bus stations and no movies I arrived into the small port of Butterworth. From there I was able to get the RM1.20 (US$0.33) ferry across to Penang island itself. As the sun set Georgetown looks like a typical city with some skyscrapers towering overhead. After the boat docked I headed into the area of town with the travellers accommodation and checked into a guesthouse. That evening I didn’t do much other than grab some chicken noodles from a nearby street stall before heading to bed. I decided to stay in Penang for a couple of nights though so I wouldn’t have to leave first thing the next morning to go to Langawi It also gave me some time to sort out accommodation.

The next morning I set out to explore Georgetown. First I headed to the KOMTOR tower where the tourist office was supposedly located. I also thought that I’d be able to grab some breakfast as well. Upon arrival the only open place for breakfast was an overpriced Starbucks where they hadn’t even put on the air conditioning. After a wander I found the tourist office but it failed at it’s task by only having it’s opening hours in Malay – for a country with a sizeable Indian and Chinese community and where English is the lingua Franca between those communities and the Malays as well as being the language of tourism that was very surprising to see.

After this things got much better however. I headed back to my accommodation to book my onward transport and accommodation on Langawi. After doing that I headed to the excellent Penang museum which only cost RM1 ($0.28). This had thoroughly interesting coverage on how the British founded Georgetown and the communities that live there. It was pretty fair in general though it was probably a little biased towards the British. After seeing that I went to an Indian restaurant to have a delicious sweet lassi and slightly spicy rice and cashew nuts that also wasn’t too expensive – the whole meal only cost RM6 ($1.67). After this I headed through the colonial part of town before looking at the main mosque and an impeccably restored Chinese temple before returning to my hostel to shave (which is actually an event when you don’t use a manual razor) and catch the end of Casino Royale on Star Movies which was excellent.

Of note the island of Penang is actually spelt Pinang in Malay and like many only recently romanised languages it is pronounced like Spanish or Portugese (and maybe Venetian) reflecting those countries dominance in the world in the 16th century.

Melaka

I arrived into Melaka on Wednesday evening. The bus ride up wasn’t particularly exciting as it was motorway driving all the way. The crossing over from Singapore was fairly painless however. Melaka itself doesn’t seem to be particularly exciting beyond the usual shopping centre. Even most of the restaurants shut early. The town itself is quite pretty and has some ok European style buildings but it isn’t really my favourite city. The highlight was sitting around my hostel chatting and on Thursday evening having a satay dinner where you dipped scewers into a central pot. It was good but a little expensive at RM10 (£2). On Friday I’m going to get the bus up north to Penang and from there I’ll probably go and relax on the beach for a few days.

Relaxing, trains and Chinese New Year

After the museum the next day I just chilled out in Kuala Lumpur and read the excellent book Absolute Power. This is about an American president who has rough sex with a woman which goes too far and she lands up dead. The problem is that there is a witness; a three times convicted burgler so from there the plot unfolds.

Apart from that I chilled out in my dorm. On the 25th I then took the train to Singapore which actually ended up taking 7.5 hours to complete the journey. This is due to the extreme speed of the Malaysia/Singapore border controls which took absolutely ages to complete. The issue is that Singapore and Malaysia have a lovers tiff over a few different issues including Singapores water usage and the railway line which is owned by Malaysia. I can see why the Singaporeans are upset about the railway. It is hardly used but the space taken up would allow six tracks to be constructed all the way through Singapore. To put this into perspective the Japanese run a Shinkansen up to 9 times an hour between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka with only two tracks (aside from stations which have four tracks – two fast, two slow) and some of those trains are much faster than others.

After arriving into Singapore I caught the bus from the unmarked railway station bus stop (evidence of the lovers tiff from the other side) to the MRT to get to my hostel. After arriving in Singapore I headed down to get some food first of all – as it’s Chinese New Year I expected to have some Chinese food. Unfortunately all the Chinese restaurants were shut leaving me with a choice of McDonalds, Burger King, KFC or fish and chips. After careful deliberation over my difficult choice I went for the fish and chips – however it was only average as it was in breadcrumbs rather than only being cooked in batter.

After this I headed down to the bay to watch some free live Chinese jazz by the waterfront (the venue is actually called Esplanade outdoor theatre) before returning to my hostel at 9pm to see who was there. I liked the atmosphere on the waterfront it was chilled out and relaxed and not tense at all so it was very non-Anglo Saxon in a good way. They do this every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and it isn’t a Chinese new year think so if you’re in town go and check it out.

At this point I returned to my hostel were I met some English guys and we had a few beers before going to Chinatown via the longest wait ever at the MRT ticket machines – if you go to Singapore at festival time get an EZ link card – do not pass go do not collect £200 (which at the current exchange rate is US$200 :p – seriously it’s only US$270 when at the start of my trip it was US$400.) the people I was with didn’t and we had to queue for 30 minutes. After this we hung around Chinatown waiting for midnight. At which point there were some cool but loud firecrackers followed by frankly mediocre fireworks. My local school has put on better for bonfire night in the UK.