Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kuala Lumpur 20-23 June 2011

We had the rare opportunity to go for the first ever twosome holiday for the first time in 16 years , because our girl has gone over to Tioman with her school for a biodiversity trip for 5  days.

It was an impromptu decision, prompted by the cheap budget air tickets. Kuala Lumpur was our destination of choice because of its proximity to home. Should H has a change of plans , we can cheaply include her in our KL plans or ship ourselves back for her with the snap of the fingers.

As you can see, we are clearly prepared for the empty nest syndrome and yet, not quite.

Mon, 20 June 2011 :

We booked 2 tickets to KL with budget Tiger Airways. It was TR 2456, seats 11A/11B, departing Singapore's Changi Airport at 2:45 pm.

That was barely half a day before that we sent H off at school, to her own destination, with 20 odd girls from RGS and a good number of intrepid teachers. The choice of departure to KL on the same day as H was very much motivated by the very affordable passage, it being a Monday. Also we wanted to be there for the Malaysian Philharmonic concert on Tuesday evening. The flight cost Pat a grand total of SGD114 return fare , tax included, which was pretty decent. The disproportionate cost of taxi from home to Changi and back, however, would undo all possible savings we  made out of the trip.

Still, our first twosome holiday, is priceless.

It took us 1 hour to reach Malaysia. It may be a mid afternoon arrival, but the LCCT felt like a weekend, with passengers disgorged from Tiger Air and AirAsia, spilling all over the budget terminal to the point of bursting.

Contrary to the reports of slow immigration at the Johor causeway, our entry at KL was a breeze. Perhaps the finger printing exercise was abandoned to cope with the deluge of people.

We bought a taxi voucher, after customs, for a 'economy taxi' at RM 74.30 ride to MidValley. Our other options of traveling to KLIA by bus from LCCT  and then by train from LCCT to KL downtown. It  was not feasible since our  lodging was Cititel at MidValley, midway between KL and KLIA. To do so would mean going all the way north to KL and then southwards to MidValley .

Besides, LCCT is located an insane 20km from KLIA and a bus ride from LCCT to KLIA would have eaten into our dinner time. The prospect of a delayed dinner on the first day of our holiday was not agreeable to both of us at all.

One hour in the hot taxi with an uneventful ride  and I almost fell asleep in the drone of the taxi. We got off at Cititel, zone C of Midvalley Mall. My sister had touted the convenience of Cititel's location and price, though at RM200 per night for a smoking room ,with view of the highway, I was beginning to have my doubts. I would later learn that convenience is a relative term of speech.
Cititel hotel room

MidValley Mall was at our feet, self contained with many anchor stalls with an even more  posh Gardens shopping mall at the next wing. Now for dinner :  I did my homework well , with tips from, and zeroed in to Gardens Mall, via the basement to our first target restaurant, Purple Cane Tea Restaurant.

As mentioned by the many tripadvisor fellows, Purple Cane was overrated with tea themed dishes. But each dish was cheap, by Singapore standards. There was tea, tea flavored rice, mushrooms, assorted beans, eggplant, duck and goodness more ! For RM 60, I almost considered it obscene to be paying such prices. Without saying, we gloated at our good fortune.
Purple Cane in basement of Midvalley mall

With every good thing, we were bound to lose good reasoning and be foolish once a while. At the titbits stalls in the basement, we scooped up desserts and snacks , from one end of Gardens Mall to the other at MidValley to the tune of RM40. We literally wiped out all the savings we made from the sumptious dinner at Purple Cane.

Pat made his first shopping kill with a purchase of a pair of Crocs slippers, for RM 139. KL is not exactly a cheap place, but since we have made our way there, we might as well enjoy it ! I thought Pat looked strange without his usual leather shoes but the crocs did grow on him and soon, none of us noticed the bulbous anomaly on his feet.

Tue, 21 June 2011

I have quarrel with the cranky air conditioning at Cititel's hotel room, with it either being cold or not at all. The huge pillows gave us a neck ache and I might as well have slept sitting up.

Our room did not include breakfast, not an issue, because of our food stash made the previous night. We headed to KL Sentral, by KTM at Midvalley . The station was almost at our feet, steps from the hotel's lobby.

I must remember not to equate the nearness of the KTM with its punctuality of its train. In fact, we  instantly regretted staying at Midvalley, because of the train's poor schedule.

Chugging on the KTM, we got off at KL Sentral. As far as this learned critic here sees it, KL Sentral's KTM and Putra LRT is pretty much connected. Peak hour as it is, it offered a more decent ride compared to the ones in Singapore. The only grouse is that it was not a seamless transfer from KTM to the LRT, which involves the purchase of a separate fare to Pasar  Seni. Aiysh!

Pasar Seni LRT and its surrounding areas is , euphemistically, functional at best, with its bus services fanning out to all over Malaysia and Chinese businesses  spilling over from the nearby Petaling Street.
Pasir seni transit hub

We hiked in the oppressive heat to Central Market, a tourist oriented place for kitschy tourist paraphernalia . At the food court on the second level, we had 'mystery ice blended coffee' . At RM5, it was a joke and a drop dead tourist trap.
Central Market for tourist

After our leg rest, we tracked backwards to head towards Petaling Street. This was Chinatown, rousing from its sleep. Stalls were being set up and music were primed to blast through the day.

Our lunch target restaurant was this acclaimed chicken rice place at Jalan Sultan. Nam Heong chicken rice was on the road parallel to Petaling Street which our printed google map was not sufficient to locate. But everyone we approached knew where it was so we did not lose much time looking for it. An added bonus was picking up tea leaves at a specialty tea houses nearby : Dongdin oolong tea leaves for RM60 .
Nam Heong chicken rice

Nam Heong Chicken Rice was one of the best decisions of this trip : succulent kampong chicken, lean but soft charsiew , crunchy bean sprouts and very fragrant chicken rice,  all for a modest RM40. We smacked our lips and up to this day, still waxed lyrical about the char siew and tender chicken.
Can't wait to start eating

We worked out our heavy lunch with a little walk towards the train station. Barely 50m, we popped into another tea shop and was so pleased with the proprietor's service, we bought 50g of jasmine tea leaves. At Rm 13 with a discount of RM3, I thought KL is one of the best places in the world !

Trekking towards Masjid Jamek LRT station, past little  India, we spied the Moorish mosque. It was a handsomely built mosque but the blazing sun prevented us from enjoying the architecture.
Masjid Jamek

The ride from Masjid Jamek to KLCC cost us RM1.60 each, the most expensive ride so far. So far, all our rides has been RM1.00 , so  it a short trip at this price felt like a ripoff.

KLCC train station was located  at the basement of the KLCC. We exited from the wrong exit and at road level, oohed ad ahhed at the towering twin Petronas building that looms proud all over KL. It was very spectacular. For  someone who is indifferent to all shorts of architectural wonders, this amazement speaks volume about Petronas twin towers' charm.

We could not get a ticket to the top of the building, even if we were willing to pay for it. Tickets were sold out for the next 3 days, though I wonder how tourists can ever get to see KL in its full splendor if entry is so limited.
Petronas Tower

Resigned to our lack of luck, we vented on shopping . It was not entirely satisfying because almost everything costs as much as Singapore or even more!

From 2pm-4pm, we rested our feet by visiting the Petronas museum, RM12 each. It had a lovely ride in the dark, which took some tiredness from our feet.  We played with some interactive displays, rode a simulator chopper and  learned lots, even if geography wasn't my best subject.

We collected our Malaysian Philharmonic concert ticket at the ticketing office. There was only 2 persons ahead of us, but the intense deliberation of the customer service guy and patron over the seats took forever. I almost tore my hair out.
Outside MPO

MPH concert hall was nice, though we could have been better off taking a seat at the center instead of at the extreme right , near the front. It was a sort of ensemble. The first piece was from Schubert, a double bass and piano recital. My unprofessional critic : weak with a couple of mistakes.

2nd piece was a quartet : 2 violins, 1 bassists, 1 cello. No violist, though it was advertised as so. Rossini sounded  déjà vu, because part of it sounded like Schubert's 'Trout'. I  enjoyed all 3 movements as the collective sounds rose and fell, like waves.

3rd piece was played by oboe and piano. The collaboration between the 2 instrumentalists was much better than the bassist and pianist. The only part that disturbed me was the constant saliva that had to be 'poured' out from the oboe. Yucks.
Parting shot of Petronas Towers

60 minutes of music by members of the MPO and soon it was over. Pat took more stunning shorts of Petronas in its night  time glory. Then it was the LRT from  KLCC to KL Sentral and then a KTM train back to Midvalley. I hated the train ride, packed to the gills from start to stop. I must remember not to stay at Cititel so as to avoid this useless hassle of train transfer in future.

10pm. Time for another dinner for the day. Especially when the food at KLCC food court left an aweful impression ,there was much urgency to put things right. At Midvalley's basement, people were still out at full force eating on a Tuesday night. We had dim sum, noodles and porridge at Xiang Fan. For MR59, it was not exactly a steal for a less than top notch Cantonese cuisine. Nevertheless, we were grateful as we remembered how we were without food after the opera in Munuch.
Night Dim Sim at MidValley basement , Xiang fan

Visa and energy maxed out, from spending and walking, we hit the sheets, never mind the hard pillows and smoky room.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

We woke up late and missed the 8.20 am KTM train to downtown , if it ever came at all. We reached KL Sentral at the ungodly time of 9.30am and should have considered a taxi for all that loss of time.

From KL station, 1 stop from KL Sentral, we oohed at the Moorish design of KTM's HQ. It was beautiful, seriously! The last time I 'lusted'  a train station so much as the one at Musee Dorsay in Paris. Then, of course, I have this new found fascination with train related buildings so my opinion does not really count as accurate, does it ?

Beyond, it was the national mosque. White, huge and dignified, it stood resplendent in the morning sun.
We made a visit, free of charge, but I had to put on this purple robe to cover my modesty. Not that I wasn't, but well, in Rome , do as the Romans do. We toured the massive prayer halls , walked on cool huge marble floors and had a documentary from a China Muslim volunteer. That was when I decided my mandarin was beyond redemption.
Prayer hall

From the mosque, we walked over to the KL train station and ended up at Central Market again. Despite its kitsch, we bought a little note book for H, RM4, and went over the place with a fine comb, in case we missed some good bargains. There was none.

Back to the now familiar Petaling Street, we had beef horfun and hokkien mee for  a ridiculous RM20, drinks included, at Kim Lian Kee. I believe the Chinese in KL must be a happy lot, with consistently good food and great prices to boot.
Noodle place Kim Lian Kee in Petaling St is a die-die must try makan place

We took a bus from Pasir Seni station  ( u41, RM1 ) to Bukit Bintang. It was a long ride for such short distance, due to the horrendous traffic. The bus driver bent backwards for us to alight these 2 lost tourists at the traffic junction of Jalan Pudu and Bkt Bintang, nearest the shopping belt and a distance from the actual bus stop. This would never happen in Singapore! I was beginning to love these easy going KL-lites already !

Bkt Bintang bore the brunt of the invasion of the Chinese foot massagers. They were literally everywhere, though why so many were needed beats  me! I would not speculate if there were more extra services other than foot massage.

We dropped by Sungei Wang Plaza, Lot 10 and found nothing to our liking. It was like shopping in Serangoon shopping center or Bukit Panjang Mall. Double blah!

One of the new kid on the block was Pavillion. We surveyed the overly ornate fountain and much lauded bakery, The Loaf. The bakery is owned by Malayisa's former premier , Mahathir. Pat had decided that if we see the man drinking coffee in his own shop, we would grab a copy of his biography and get him to autograph. He was not in and just as well. I would have given him a piece of my mind about the limited choice of buns and cakes.
The Loaf @ Pavillion KL

Despite this shortcoming, we ate cakes and buns and did a rerun of the coffee food from 3pm-4pm, talking and daydreaming aloud. It was good that 20 years into the marriage, we still could find something to say even though the food could have fueled our conversation more. Mostly, I repeated everything while hubby listened.

At Pavillion's Parkson store, Pat got himself a jogging shirt for less than RM50, while I bought 2 jogging T's for RM117. J said sports things are cheap, but perhaps it had been sometime since she had visited KL.

A short detour to a book shop , and bought a comic book on Malaysia's politics ( evidence of Malaysia's free speech ), we proceeded to Poh Liang Bakutteh at the top level of Pavillion. It was bakuteh of all sorts, 4 dishes at a princely RM75. Food was good actually but the posh exquisite restaurant was  a bit over the top for me. I would have preferred a place where the locals eat. But after a day of walking, I was bushed and nothing sumptuous could tempt me to walk further.
Bakuteh place at Pavillion
Our most expensive meal in KL

On the way back, at Lot 10, Debenhens uplifted my spirit. I bought a pair of pants for almost RM200. Suddenly , the tiredness of the day lifted and even the long annoying commute back to Midvalley seemed bearable, perky in fact.
KL is alluring at dusk

The second last day in KL has all the hallmark signs of a successful holiday.

Thurs 23 June 2011

This day, we were home bound, 1 day before H is to be back from Tioman.  I never fail to be prepared for the unexpected !

We checked out of Cititel at 9am , surprised at the lack of tourist crowd. It was speedy enough. We left our bags at the concierge and head for the last food target in KL : Yong Tofu in Ampang.

What could have been a 30 minutes taxi ride took 2 hours because of the long commute. The train connection from Midvalley to Ampang was horrendous. It was a KTM ride from Midvalley to Bandar talek ( RM1 ),  a rapid train to ChanSowLin ( RM1.60), and then another train to Ampang. The poor connection at Midvalley cascaded and we had a domino effect delay all the way. It was going south so as to go north wards, a bad decision. It was not cheap either. Another lesson learnt : cheap and fast public commute can be a fallacy.

11am, lost in Ampang, hot and bothered, we did not have the good sense to catch a cab. Google showed the restaurant to be close by but someone must have tweaked the scale or something. We walked 2 km in the simmering noon heat and almost abandoned our quest for Ampang Yong Tofu.

In an obscure junction, Foong Foong Yong Tofu stood cheek and jowl with a couple more such restaurants. There was not much other than YTF, which we devoured. Our agonizing hours of reaching this place was quickly forgotten as we refilled our plates and reordered, eating like this was our last meal. After 30 pieces of giant YTF and a bowl of supersized dumplings for RM30, we forgave everybody and everything. That was how good it was.
TO me, KL is about the most delicious yong tofu in the world !

With a lesson learnt, we took a cab back to Midvalley, for just RM 18 , which lasted 30 minutes, even in the noon jam. At Gardens Mall, we shopped aimlessly , from 1.30-2.45 pm, and achingly. We sought refuge at Coffee Bean for 30 minutes before retrieving our luggage from Cititel.

3.15 pm, we made our way back to Midvalley KTM station, which we were beginning to hate. We took a train to Bandar Talak Selatan, 20 minutes and on time ! At Bandar Talak Selatan, we bought the KLIA transit train tickets to LCCT for RM10.80 each. It was a train coach combo, with train from Selatan all the way to Salat Tinggi and then a transfer to coach service to LCCT.
Rapid train to KLIA. Originating from KL Sentral, it stops at Selak Tinggi for coach transfer to LCCT

It was a small world for Pat, as he met an army mate on the coach. While the guys played catchup, I dozed off.

5pm. LCCT. Our flight, TR2549, was delayed for more than 1 hour. We checked in our luggage at this leg, all 14 kg, 1 kg shy of our purchased limit.

Dinner was the most uninspired meal of nasi lemak and beehoon at the 'Food of Asia' canteen in LCCT. I would not even attempt to describe my meal, and at RM20 for such quality, was a total ripoff.

TR2549 touched down in Changi almost 1 hour later than scheduled. We could not stomach any more train rides , having had our fill of train adventures in KL on this day. Taxi from Changi budget airport set us back by $25, a price to pay for speed and convenience.

All in all, one of the best trips, sans the grilling weather. We had a day of washing before H came back with her own load of dirty laundry the next day. Would I go to KL again ? Definitely! Lovely food, sweet people and wonderful prices. But not staying at MidValley again! Maybe somewhere downtown , with easy reach to Port Klang or Batu Caves.