Posted by: Richard Marshall | January 17, 2017

Family Holiday Singapore and Malaysia December 2014


Singapore Skyline

So I’m now three Christmases behind on this blog, but determined to have caught up by the time I leave Malaysia in March this year!

For Christmas 2014 my parents came to my part of the world from New Zealand. We all flew to Singapore, where I met them outside our hotel in Chinatown. I don’t remember exactly what we did each day, but I took them around places I had been previously and had really enjoyed. We went to the botanical gardens which are as spectacular as ever, as well as to the Gardens by the Bay. Unfortunately, since it was December, the decorations in the greenhouses were kitschy white Christmas themed, somewhat bizarre for tropical gardens! But they were incredible all the same! It rained the afternoon we were there so we couldn’t make it up the elevated walkway, but on the whole we were very lucky with the weather.


Greenhouse with Christmas decorations


Mom and I in the botanical gardens

We also visited the historic downtown -the Asian Civilizations Museum and the quays – and walked around the tidal basin admiring the skyline. And of course we ate as much food as we could. We had a magnificent fish head curry at some old barracks near the botanical garden, and made our way to the Bak Kut Teh restaurant on Balastier Road which is one of  my favorite places to eat in Southeast Asia. We also went to the Raffles Hotel for a drink, which remains a fun experience despite the cargo-shorts clad tourists with mewling kids having robbed it of some of its old world charm!


Eating Bak Kut Teh


Too bad it’s blurry – but this is us at the Raffles


Dad and I in the botanical gardens

From Singapore we caught the bus to Melaka. Although Melaka is suffering from over-development and poor management even more than Penang, it remains a charming little town (though absolutely packed with tourists in the December holidays). We found a very pleasant spot to sit by the river and have a few drinks, while watching the sea eagles flying around a communications tower on the hill. Melaka is small, so it didn’t take us long to check out the Dutch buildings in the town centre and to walk up the hill to A’Formosa, the ruins of the old Portuguese church and fort. We also walked through the streets of Chinatown which, though absolutely rammed, are very pretty. We went up the Melaka wheel which, while a characteristically tacky Malaysian attraction, does undeniably offer pretty good views of the city. As usual on this trip we made an effort to find some good places to eat. We walked miles to find a dim sum restaurant that had been recommended to me by a friend (and was indeed very nice!). We also queued for chicken and rice balls, a Melaka specialty, which was also fantastic. Our effort to get Laksa was unfortunately defeated by crowds, however!


Melaka River with the Catholic Church in the background


A rare quiet street in Chinatown

From Melaka we took the bus up to KL. Although I’ve been to KL several times I’ve never really been sold it – perhaps it’s a great place to live but it only need a couple of days as a tourist. It’s also always been wet and dank when I’ve been there and this trip was no exception. We stayed on Petaling Street which is in the heart of KL’s dank, rather run-down Chinatown. It’s a good base though to explore historic KL. Mom did some shopping in the renovated Art Deco Central Market, and we walked up to Dataran Merdeka, the big field surrounded by the City Hall, the Selangor Club and various other colonial civic buildings. We went up the KL tower, which while not as famous as the KLCC has a higher observation deck and gives a great view of the twin towers. We also visited the KL Botanical Gardens. Although they aren’t as famous as the ones in Singapore they are nevertheless a beautiful green space in a crowded city.


Mon and I at the KL Tower

Our second afternoon in KL we headed out to the Batu Caves in Selangor, a huge Hindu temple complex. It was another muggy afternoon and climbing the steps up to the main temple was a sweaty business, but they were certainly magnificent in a gaudy way!


Statue and stairs at the Batu Caves

Our next destination after KL was the Cameron Highlands, where none of us had ever been before. The bus wound up a terrifying narrow road through the forest and then through the hideous settlements in the highlands. In a lot of ways I found the place very disappointing. The quiet atmosphere of the old British hill station has long been buried under tawdry over-development, litter and choking traffic (the average temperature is even several degrees higher than it was 50 years ago). It was unfortunately a concentration of so much I dislike about Malaysia – traffic, litter, environmental degradation, reckless construction, and the substitution of tacky attractions such as strawberry farms and flower gardens for the original draws of the place – in this instance cool hills and forests. On top of all this it was mostly wet and cold! Nevertheless, we did manage to do a number of really nice things. We went on a birding tour in a patch of surviving forest and saw some lovely birds. We went to the famous tea plantation. And we had Christmas lunch in the old, mock-Tudor British hotel, a charming relic of a more relaxed age. We also enjoyed tasty, spicy hotpot in the cold weather!


The Smokehouse, where we had Christmas lunch

Our final destination was of course Penang, where we stayed in my old apartment in Tanjung Bungah. I haven’t yet written anything about Penang and will do so in more detail soon, but we mostly concentrated on eating as well as taking in the main tourist sites. He wandered around Georgetown looking at the old shophouses and temples. We got the hop on hop off bus which is actually really convenient for see places slightly further out, such as Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam. And I think we did a pretty good job of sampling the food! We spent New Year’s Eve at a beach side Chinese seafood restaurant just opposite my apartment. On our final evening we headed out to Batu Ferringhi, Penang’s most famous beach, which while also pretty overdeveloped has few nice spots to sit and have a drink. The next day mom and dad headed back to New Zealand and I got ready for another year in Penang!


Section of the enormous Kek Lok Si Temple


Eating Pan Mee in Air Itam


Beers on the beach at Batu Ferringhi


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