After a long trip to Singapore with an equally long wait in Singapore for our connecting flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL) we finally arrived
in a steamy-hot KL around 5pm - a little worse for the experience, which was then followed by a nerve-wracking taxi drive into downtown
KL at speeds up to 140kph, not a problem normally but through the chaotic KL traffic it was a touch scary. The driver kept informing
me the speed limits were generally not adhered too, but it appeared he was the only one who held this view! Anyway, we arrived safely
at our hotel, the Park Royal, which is situated in downtown KL in what is known locally as the Golden Triangle.
As soon as we had unpacked we walked into town, only a matter of 50 metres or so, to suss out the local restaurants and sights. That evening we ate at a local eating house to taste local delicacies, I had snow frog with some weird looking veggies and Yvonne chose a safer dish of calamari. Both were very good, although the eating house was not one of the best or cleanest I had seen. Neither of us got sick so that's a plus!
KL is an interesting city, it's very first world with some amazing buildings and shopping malls, all very flash - the shops are stocked with the best & most expensive name brands in the world and some of the buildings are amazingly designed skyscrapers. Obviously the PETRONAS Twin Towers Building stands out as one of the most interesting and modern buildings - at night it is stunning.
Then there is the other side of KL, the 2nd world side of the city, which is intertwined with 1st world KL, there are pockets of these 2nd world areas all over the city which are in turn surrounded by the 1st world buildings and infrastructure. One lasting impression of KL besides the 1st world bits is of unpainted, not-quite-derelict apartment blocks and buildings in general. It's weird they allow relatively new buildings to become so shabby when a fresh coat of paint would transform them into smart looking buildings.
The other lasting impression is just how varied the food choice is, from local food available from thousands of eating houses, to top quality restaurants, fantastic French / European pastries and absolutely excellent croissants, some of the best we have tasted anywhere in the world.
There's excellent sushi and of course all the big-name western franchises as well as South Africa's most successful restaurant chain, Nandos, known for the Portuguese peri-peri BBQ chicken.
We did all the tourist type activities, going to the top of the KL Tower, the 2nd highest on the world - higher than the PETRONAS Twin Towers, visiting the Batu Caves, a very religious Hindu site - a Chinatown night visit as well as a day visit, the night visit was chaotic and wasn't too pleasant due to the crowds and very narrow aisles between the stalls.
One of the enjoyable experiences was a buffet dinner show of Malaysian dancers performing the different dances from various Malaysian provinces.
Central Market was interesting with some really superb hand-crafted goods, ranging from shoes to silver and pewter jewellery, there are also some really good restaurant there. We experienced our first ever fish foot massage at Central Market - one puts ones feet into a tank filled with thousands of 3-4inch fish, who then nibble (suck) the dead skin from your feet - it's extremely ticklish and weird but I must admit my tired feet felt better after this experience.
TIP - if catching a cab, ENSURE you use a metered cab and ENSURE the meter is used. Our first taxi ride in KL I asked the driver for a quote to go to the Central Market - RM10 was the quote. The next day a visit there again, but this time with the meter running, the charge was only RM6. Don't pay the asking price for anything, offer them 50% of the initial price and don't pay anything more than that. Make use of public transport, the mono-rail is excellent, a similar trip as above would cost about RM4 - for 2, but the trip takes less than 5 minutes whereas the taxi trip can take 20-30 minutes, due to the traffic. The trains are good and cheap, we did not catch any busses so I cannot comment on either their service or prices. I would not advise driving in KL, the traffic is horrific and the driving is chaotic.
The short 55-minute flight to Langkawi was uneventful - but, the air-conditioning at KL airport was set so cold I had to buy a tee-shirt to prevent myself freezing - it was a hideous shirt with the Twin Towers printed on the front - a typically tourist type shirt one sees everywhere - but at least it kept me warm.
To say Langkawi was unimpressive is an over-statement but it did leave us a little underwhelmed - don't get me wrong we enjoyed our 7-day stay there but it's just not as scenic as Phuket in Thailand. The visibility in the sea was a maximum of 300mm (12") and the water was not warm enough for me to swim, although Yvonne did swim and said the water temperature was fine. It certainly was not as warm as the sea in Phuket.
We had booked an ocean facing room at the Westin Resort, supposedly one of the best resorts on the island, at a nightly room rate of RM2,000 per night I expected a really good room and also expected a genuinely ocean-facing room. After checking in, by most polite and friendly staff we were taken to our room. Well, if I stood on a table, placed in one particular corner of the balcony, craned my neck in yet another direction I caught a glimpse of the sea. Understandably I was not a happy camper and told the polite young lady exactly how I felt. After a short discussion she showed us to a real ocean-facing room which we accepted. In my view the Westin hotel although very luxurious on the surface is a tired resort in need of urgent renovation - it's not worth the exorbitant room rate, however, I must complement all the staff, they were always extremely friendly and polite. In a nutshell, I cannot recommend this hotel complex, it's overpriced, the meal prices are over the top and the wine is just ridiculous - NZ$30 for a GLASS of Kim Crawford Sauv Blanc, it doesn't cost anywhere near that for a bottle!
We had a meal at Charlie's Place, which appears to be part of the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club, which is only a 800-metre walk from the Westin, the service is good, the setting excellent and the food was very good, at a price which wouldn't break the bank. A sunset dinner here really sets the mood!
Besides the hotel problems, Langkawi is pretty limited in what it offers to tourists, if one likes to get out and about, rather than just staying put in a resort sun tanning and eating. Swimming and snorkelling on any of the island's beaches is severely hampered by the cloudy and not particularly clean water. Yvonne had a sea snail lay it's eggs under her skin while swimming in the sea, which resulted in horrible blisters and a rash on her stomach, not pleasant!
One tour we did do was a Mangrove boat trip, with a trip to a fish farm, a bat cave and a lunch on a floating Thai restaurant. We also stopped in amongst the canals through the mangroves to feed fish eagles, which there are plenty off. It was an interesting tour and well worth doing, even though the lunch was unremarkable.
There is only one main town on Langkawi and that's Kuah, with a population of around 35,000. During the day it's not a particularly attractive town, but at night, with all the neon lights on buildings and trees it becomes a lot more attractive - a bit like the difference between day and night views in Vegas! We found an excellent Thai restaurant in Kuah - called Wan Thai, the restaurant was well appointed, the food excellent and service acceptable. TIP - don't go anywhere at night on the island without spraying mosquito repellent on yourself - they sting and they sting sore! We were assured Dengue fever was not prevalent.
The are some good up-market restaurants at Perdana Quay, however they are on the opposite side of the island to where we were staying and as it was recommended we did not drive at night we did not have a meal at any of them, but reports we heard were favourable.
Did we enjoy or stay in Malaysia - yes, absolutely. Would we go back, no, in our view it's not a place we could revisit. Lasting impressions - the smiling and very friendly Malaysian people, without all the smiling faces our stay would have been far less enjoyable.