Malaysia and Singapore with Parents

My parents (Jean and Susan) braved 22 hours of flying to meet up with us for a two-and-a-half week tour of Malaysia and Singapore. Despite the 35 degree weather they were epic troopers, never turning down an activity and always bouncing along with more energy than Yann and me. Among many things, they enjoyed closet-sized dorm rooms (with broken air-conditioning), culinary misadventures, vomit-inducing bus rides and a night train across the country. But there was lots of good stuff too, as you'll see below in the highlights of our sweaty tropical tour!

My parents landed in Singapore at about midnight and we all went to bed way later after hearing a play-by-play of the nearly disastrous start to the trip. My Dad had been an airport employee's decision away from not being allowed to board his flight out of Ottawa. In a classic Dad move, he had left his bag unattended as he decided to go for a last minute bathroom run. Meanwhile the entire plane (including my Mom) had already boarded the plane. When he returned to find his bag surrounded by security his obliviousness was evident to airport staff as they let him on the plane with only a mild scolding. To further endear himself to fellow passengers, my dad boarded the plane with a gigantic backpack.

He had been successful in avoiding the checking of his single bag but this had necessitated the wearing of three layers of clothing, including socks. What he wasn't wearing was dangled from his belt or tied around his waist. He arrived in Singapore about an inch thicker. While, in his defence, most of his bag was filled with items that we had requested, the decision to pack three pairs of shoes and only two pairs of underwear was entirely his own.

Despite the late night arrival, we were off early in the morning to catch a bus into Malaysia where we would spent the next two weeks. Our first destination was Melaka, colonial-era trading post, recently-named UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular weekend getaway for nearby Singaporeans.

The midday heat was suffocating, but we managed to take in most of the city's sights, relics of the various colonial powers who exchanged control of the port: the Portuguese, Dutch and finally the British.   Being interviewed by local students on a school trip, at the ruins of the Portuguese A Famosa Fort

The real triumph of our time in Melaka was my parents' unbelievable culinary prowess. Our very first dinner in Malaysia was satay celup, a regional form of satay where diners cook their own skewers in a peanut broth. We joined the queue outside the popular Restoran Capitol Satay, along with dozens of locals and visitors. My jet-lagged mother dozed in-and-out of sleep while Yann made sure she didn't topple off her bench into the open sewer that ran across the front of the restaurant. By the time we were seated, we'd been watching the dining experience, and the open sewer, for almost an hour and our satay-eating enthusiasm was waning every so slightly (except Yann who was keener than ever).

We were first directed to the skewers, where, of the many choices on display, only a handful were recognisable. We returned to our table with our metallic trays, filled with a rather conservative selection of items and waited for a waitress to stir up our bubbling peanut sludge. While tasty, presentation was not a consideration. Nor was service, as the waitress repeatedly came back to stir up our carefully positioned skewers with stern-faced determination.
  Dinner at celebrated Restoran Capitol Satay

On their second night in Southeast Asia, my parents tasted one the region's most questionable of delicacies, the durian fruit. My Mom was the first to agree to the challenge, on the condition that I do it with her. My Dad, not to be outdone, also dove right in while Yann somehow got out of it. Here is part of the experience, captured in two elegant shots. You can see that by the end my Mom didn't think it was all that bad. I remained unconvinced.
  Durian-tasting in Melaka

Kuala Lumpur
We spent four days in Kuala Lumpur, as we had been warned by Melakans, it was hotter in the capital than it was on the coast. During the day, temperatures rose above 40 degrees, forcing us to seek out indoor air-conditioned locations: the Islamic Arts Museum, the KLCC Aquaria and several of the city's ridiculous, luxury shopping malls. We still spent large portions of our days trudging through the heat yet managing to do a surprising amount including a wonderful cooking class:
  Petronas Towers, Jamek Mosque, KLCC Aquaria, KL Bird Park, Jalan Alor Street, Lazat Cooking School

George Town, Penang Island
From Kuala Lumpur we booked an overnight train to Butterworth, the mainland stop across the channel from Penang Island. When we bought our tickets at $15 each, I thought they were a great deal, but I somewhat underestimated the inconvenience of a 5:00am arrival. Of the dozen or so people who disembarked in Butterworth, almost all were exhausted looking backpackers. We all shuffled along the walkway to the connected ferry terminal and waited on the cold metal benches until the gates opened half an hour later. Yann and I, having just recently been to George Town, were able to navigate the unlit streets of the old town, getting to our hotel without too many wrong turns. But not without killing a bit of time, stopping for what was now our usual breakfast, fresh roti canai and Malaysian coffee, at one of the country's ubiquitous 24-hour Indian-Malay restaurants.   Who wants bacon and eggs when you can have roti canai ?!

Our pace didn't slow down in George Town (nor did the temperature drop). We hit all the major sights, the popular street food vendors, the street art trail, the Chinese clan houses and jetties, the funicular to Penang Hill and the enormous and stranger Chinese Temple, Kek Lok Si. My Mom even talked her way into a Malaysian court room while we visited the British-era Penang Supreme Courthouse (the rest of us were excluded due to our too casual appearance).   Posing with one of the George Town's most popular art installations

The Cameron Highlands
We ended our two weeks in Malaysia in the Cameron Highlands, 1400 metres higher and 15-20 degrees cooler than anywhere else we'd been in the country. Admittedly, unless you're really into trekking, there isn't a huge amount of stuff to do, and the towns are ugly. But no one cares because of the lovely natural surroundings and the cool weather! On the weekends, tourists flock to the highlands and the single-lane highway is backed up for kilometres. We joined the masses on an organized tour of the local attractions the highlight being the spectacular tea plantations. We also made a valiant attempt at a self-guided trek, with my Dad leading the way and my Mom openly plotting a mutiny.   The Boh Tea Company's plantations viewed from the balcony of their restaurant

  No more hikes for Susan and Emilie, just freshly-baked scones from the Lord's Cafe in Tanah Rata

It took us almost 12 hours to get from the Cameron Highlands to Singapore. The highway down from the mountains was too much for my Mom to handle from the back seat of our speeding mini-van. Despite preventative Gravol, she was on the side of the highway vomiting before very long. The front seat was graciously given up, allowing us to continue without another stop, but the driver didn't seem to understand that by accelerating and slamming on the brakes through every turn he wasn't helping the situation.

We made it to Kuala Lumpur from where we planned to catch an onward bus. There was a bit of confusion about where we should be getting off and as we unloaded our bags from the mini-van, our driver grumpily ordered us to get back in when he understood that we were heading to Singapore. I wasn't entirely trusting of our driver, from what I had researched there were no direct buses from downtown Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. We reluctantly re-entered the mini-van where my Dad found his wallet on the seat! The relief of not losing that wallet made up for the subsequent madness.

We were roped onto an illegally-operating bus, boarding from a street corner as staff kept a look out for police. We had been sold fake tickets from an official counter working in partnership with the rogue bus company. My Mom got into a fight with another passenger over the seats that we had been promised by the fake ticket sellers, and we were dropped off in Johor Bahru despite purchasing tickets to Singapore. When we complained the driver bought us tickets for the public bus to Singapore and sent us on our way. Yann and I were furious, my Mom was having great fun, and my Dad was happily convinced that we were paying the price for finding his wallet.

Finally arriving in Singapore, we were ripped off by our cab driver, the air-conditioning in our tiny dorm room ceased functioning at midnight, and the robotic voice at the subway entrance outside our window repeated it's warning every 30 seconds, all night. Things picked up the next day. The hostel refunded our money and we settled into a new hotel.

We spent three days exploring Singapore, a modern and orderly city, especially in contrast with Malaysia. Of all the sights we took in: the Singapore Zoo, the Gardens by the Bay, Orchard Road, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Marina Bay Sands, Chinatown, Kampong Glam two things stood out as highlights: drinks with a view from the 33rd floor balcony of a Marina Bay restaurant and sipping on over-priced Singapore Slings at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel, site of the drink's invention. The latter, top item on my Mom's to-do list, was a perfect end to our holiday.   View from the balcony of Level33 Restaurant in Singapore

  Singapore Slings at the Raffles Hotel