Saturday, March 05, 2011

List of the Month - Swings and Roundabouts

My recent excursion down to Malaysia was not the most wonderful holiday I've ever had. There were a lot of stresses and hassles, disappointments and small disasters, health problems and financial embarrassments and nights of very limited sleep...  I'm feeling rather as though I'll now need a week at home in bed to recover from it!

However, overall it wasn't too bad, either. And I'm trying to cultivate a 'positive thinking' habit about these things (what NLP enthusiasts call 'reframing'): non-ideal incidents usually have some redeeming value. Usually.

So, here we have....

Examples of how, when travelling, the 'bad' is not all bad

I missed out on a really cheap direct flight to KL on Air China by booking too late in the day (and dithering: the fare was still being advertised when I started rooting around on Ctrip and E-Long, but had evaporated by the time I was ready to commit half an hour later). However, the alternate fare I dug up on Cathay/Dragonair was only a smidge more expensive... and it is a much nicer airline (very pretty stewardesses!).... and the threatened 5-hour layover in Hong Kong airport on the return leg was avoided by a nifty change of flights.

I didn't have time to buy any new luggage (all of mine seems to have fallen apart), so had to make do with a very small backpack. At least this forced me to pack light (always a good thing; though I did rather regret not having room for a spare pair of shoes). And, of course, it enabled me to breeze through the airports with only a carry-on bag.

I was egregiously screwed on the exchange rate, getting barely 2.5 ringgit to the US dollar during my outward journey, while moneychangers in Malaysia proved to be plentiful, hassle-free, and paying 3 RM to the dollar. However, having been unable to obtain any ringgit in China, I certainly saved myself some time (and potential hassle, and anxious uncertainty about arriving mid-evening with no local money and having to find a bureau de change in KL airport before I could head into town) by changing money during my afternoon stop in Hong Kong. And I learned (re-learned!!) an important lesson: never change money at an airport, especially not airside. I should have been paying more attention, too; I shouldn't have changed so much money at once (my sleep-deprived gormlessness cost me about 250 ringgit, which would have been another two or three days' spending money!); but I only noticed how unbelievably lousy the rate was after the nice girl at Travelex had printed off the forms for me to sign, and I didn't want to make a fuss at that point (most unlike me!).

Malaysia is one of the most expensive countries in the world in which to drink (way the most expensive in south-east Asia!), but... I had been planning to give up drinking (well, cut down) anyway, so this was a useful introduction to a new regime of moderation.

I picked a budget hotel based on its advertised convenient proximity to the Puduraya long-distance bus station in the centre of KL. Unfortunately, that bus station no longer exists; like so much of downtown Kuala Lumpur these days, it is just a huge building site. Its temporary(?) substitute at Bukit Jalil is a hangar in a field on the south-east edge of the city, a chaotic hellhole of jabbering touts and unlabelled bus stands. However, once you've worked out how to get there, it's really not that hard to reach from the city centre (although a lot harder than just crossing the road, as I had thought I'd be able to do). Moreover, this small unexpected additional hassle in arranging transport discouraged me from undertaking originally planned side-trips to Melaka and the Cameron Highlands - which, given my dodgy health all week, would probably have seriously overtaxed my stamina. (It's good to leave something for a return visit in a year or two, I think.)

The hotel room had paper-thin curtains, and was uncomfortably close to (on top of!) a busy main road, but.... traffic wasn't too bad overnight, and it wasn't getting light until after 7am... and who wants to sleep in any later than that? Not me. (Not usually.  Being able to sleep in after 4.30am or 5am, though, I do rather covet - see last item below.)

The nightclub hosting the music competition I'd gone to KL to see was the only completed element (well, there was a nice little Japanese restaurant downstairs as well) of an otherwise ongoing construction project. It was, thus, extremely difficult to find, or to access once found. However, this meant that the crowd was not too large, and there was no danger of the tickets having sold out in advance (something I'd been fretting about a lot before I left: it would have been wretched to go all the way down there to support my favourite China band and then find I couldn't get in to the show!).

And my Kuala Lumpur hotel's curious decision to promote itself as a transit lounge rather than a hotel? Well, I still struggle to come up with any consolation on that one! I discovered, to my intense chagrin, that they fairly regularly book in large groups of people to use single rooms as a 'bag drop' for a few hours (when folks don't fancy waiting at the train station or the airport - where there'd be more room and facilities for them... and no-one to annoy??), taking no account of the fact that such tour groups - wanting to use their room themselves to rest or sleep or at least sit down, as well as to deposit their luggage, but finding (to their surprise?!) that it is much too small to accommodate them all - will colonise the entire corridor, block fire exits, and bug the crap out of all the regular guests. I don't know - is this a common practice in Malaysia, in Asia?  I haven't come across it anywhere else. For me, it completely destroys a place's prime function as a hotel - to provide a quiet space where you can rest up for a spell in between your sightseeing and so on. In the wee small hours of last Saturday morning, a dozen or so middle-aged Muslim ladies camped themselves right outside my door and proceeded to have a very NOISY 'tea party' all night - which limited me to about two hours of sleep, and very nearly ruined my entire weekend.  [The hotel manager evaded my attempts to complain to him in person, but I'm now doing so by e-mail - and hoping to get some financial compensation out of him, or maybe at least an offer of a free stay there next time. Although, frankly, I'd rather extract a promise from him that this ridiculous practice will be discontinued. It makes no commercial sense at all. The place is otherwise a fairly decent low-end hotel, but routinely allowing gabblesome rabbles to take over entire floors like this - it was not a one-off incident! - renders it valueless to the ordinary guest.  Ggrrrr.....]


The British Cowboy said...

I am more than a little shocked by you Froog. I thought you were the conssumate travel - 5 hours as a layover between flights is pretty close to nothing, and there are significantly worse places than Hong Kong Airport to spend it.

The British Cowboy said...

Damn I hate not being able to spell.

And the word verification is scones. Now I want scones.

Froog said...

Hmmm, scones.

I'm told there's a guesthouse up in the Cameron Highlands that does cream teas...

No, I really can't think of a worse airport in the world than Hong Kong. Well, I can't think of a more expensive one. Since I'm not a 'VIP' traveller, that's the same thing for me.

The British Cowboy said...

My defense of Hong Kong airport...

1) It was new to me.

2) I had a pass to Cathay Pacific's business class lounge, which while not as good as their First Class one, is pretty awesome.

3) That's it.

But you missed the key point - 5 hours isn't that long a layover at all.

Froog said...

It is when you can't afford to eat or drink, and there's hardly anywhere to sit down.

1 hour is much better.