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Air Asia eXperience

How was my Air Asia eXperience? To check in and get on the plane was OK - the usual minimal service and bus-station-like experience of the LCCT. Though I must say the international departures lounge now has many more shops than before - and it almost feels like a real airport.

The flight was much cheaper than the cheapest MAS flight, about RM1700 cheaper. The ‘Brisbane’ flight lands in Gold Coast Coolangatta airport, which is about one hour from Brisbane, but there’s a Malaysian/Australian company called AAExpress that runs a bus service that will pick you up at the airport and take you to Brisbane for AUD38.

So money-wise, it’s great value and I can’t complain there. But I do have two major grouses.

The seats are pretty minimal, narrow, and don’t lean back very much - OK it’s budget travel... but there is no footrest! Maybe it’s just because I have shorter legs or something, but I find that a footrest can make so much difference and surely they can’t cost a lot to have! It’s rare even to find a bus without them now.

And the second problem is the food - I booked a ‘Vegetarian meal’ and this is what I got...
air asia meal nasi lemak

yep, like one scoop of rice and a few spoonfuls of some (admittedly tasty) fake meat-type thing. Oh, and a bottle of water. It’s really not enough - and they only serve one meal in an eight hour flight. I mean, I would be fine with paying more to get a proper meal! Some fruit, bread roll, whatever... shame! :-(
air asia meal nasi lemak

And because they spend so much time giving people change, etc, it takes ages to serve.

Anyway; something I would recommend is that it’s probably well worth paying in advance for the entertainment (i.e. films, etc.) - if you’re saving RM1,000+ on the flight, might as well allow yourself RM30 or less to avoid spending the whole flight staring at a map with the plane’s flight track... And bring a pillow and blanket.

A room with a view - in Provence

A short one to at least update something! Got loads to do this week… :-|

Here is the trip we did in France - it was great! :-)

Road trip France 2009
(click for the Google Map full version)

The nicest place we stayed in was a ‘Chambres d’Hôtes’ (i.e. a B&B en français) – it was called Un Patio en Luberon.

This was our room - called 'Roussillon'
Ansouis, Un patio en Luberon, Chambre Rousillon

and the view from the window
Ansouis, Un patio en Luberon, Chambre Rousillon

It was named after this village, also called Roussillon
Roussillon, Provence

the name of the village is derived from 'rouge' which means 'red' in French, and it is famous for the ochre that is mined there and which colours the buildings

More to come, brief snippets only.

Beers!! Delicious! Enticing! Belgian!

Been travelling for over a week now, and this is the first chance I got to do some updates. It will be quick, and about BEER!!

One of my goals back here is to try as many different beers as I can :-) I didn't take photos of them all, but here are a couple from the UK (OK one is a cider I know :-P)
English beer cider

I found out that Cornish beers/ales are generally pretty nice and smooth. Also, because the weather is kind of cold, warmer ales are much nicer than a cold lager!

Arriving in Belgium, we stopped at the first petrol station for some food, and here was the choice of beers (aaahhhhhh....)
Belgian motorway choice of beers

I have to say, I wonder about the wisdom of serving beers in a motorway cafe, but I was not complaining :-P

We had a 'Blanche' and a 'Kriek'
Kriek Belle-Vue and Hoegaarden Blanche with glasses

'Kriek' is cherry beer, usually the best type of fruit beer - refreshing tartiness. Note also that each has its own special type of glass.

Next day, to the supermarket - here are the shelves packed full! (and some more were around the corner of the aisle)
Continue reading "Beers!! Delicious! Enticing! Belgian!"

Tourist in KL

Going downtown to areas where tourists go is always a bit strange for me - suddenly people start treating me like a tourist, calling me into their shop or offering me dodgy watches. In PJ, people generally may look at me a little curiously but mostly don't care; I guess it's because around Chinatown and areas like that, since they depend on tourists for a lot of trade (as opposed to in PJ), there is more competition and therefore it's more important to attract the tourists to them...

Anyway, when friends come to visit, I normally give them a little 'walking tour' that is based on a walking tour that I did once; it pretty much mirrors the one that's recommended in the Lonely Planet that our visitor had. Although it feels strange, it's also nice to be a tourist for a while - it gives you a chance to do and see things you normally wouldn't.

Here are some highlights from a walk around downtown KL :-)

Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur
A view of Masjid Jamek shows old and new, Mughal, English and Arabic influences as part of the modern Malaysia

Fortune-telling parrots in front of the peacock tiles of Chettiar House on Lebuh Ampang
Fortune-telling parrots look bored in front of the peacock tiles of Chettiar House on Lebuh Ampang.

Painted shophouses in Medan Pasar
Painted shophouses in Medan Pasar reflected in the windows of a modern building

Sze Yah Temple in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown
One of my favourite places - the Sze Yah Temple (which I call the 'Yap Ah Loy Temple' - he founded it)

Chan See Shu Yuen Temple in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown
There are many more sights around Petaling Street - we had some very nice Curry Laksa, then ended up at the Chan See Shu Yuen Temple, when it started to rain heavily.

Kampong Baru pasar malam in Kuala Lumpur
Finally, a jump across town to the evocative Kampong Baru, where houses on stilts lie under the Petronas Towers. We strolled around, checked out the Pasar Malam, and had delicious ikan bakar :-P

Checking out Gunung Ledang

We're planning with some friends to do a short camping trip up Gunung Ledang in a couple of months, and today we went on a short scouting trip to check out the area.

One of our party had been there before, and wanted to check out a resort that was not the standard one where all the tour buses go and everything. It's call Taman Hutan Lagenda, and you have to drive 10-15 minutes through a bumpy plantatation dirt road to get there.

On the way we spotted this kingfisher

The resort itself is nice, basically a start-off point for hikes - with accomodation ranging from a Deluxe Chalet at RM220 a night, to dormitory beds at RM10 each.

We followed a short trail that loops around from the resort

Nothing very fascinating, but pleasant. There was this unusual root that you could walk under

Anyway, we spoke to some guides and got a price list and all - and hopefully we'll be able to go up in May :-)

Budget hostels in Laos

Here is a short review of the hostels I stayed in while in Laos from in November 2008. Prices were between 50-70,000 Kip, about 5-8 USD, for a 'single' room (often with two beds, or one double bed) with fan and sometimes with a shared bathroom, sometimes with an ensuite bathroom; hot water was usually available with one of those electric heater things. Twice I was able to knock off 10,000 Kip off the price of a 'double' room (with two beds) by asking for a discount because I was alone. (For Malaysians, 1RM = apprx. 2300 Kip; so a room at 60,000 Kip would be RM26).

For this price you get a basic room with no frills, although often there is a towel, bottle of water and soap provided. None of them had particularly nice views (apart from in Vang Vieng) or anything else of particular note. Some places offer breakfast/food, but most did not have food. If you want to go cheaper, you have to look for dormitory rooms which are available, but not as common.

Generally the rooms and bathrooms were clean, and staff helpful and friendly - although the general lack of much English prevented much interaction. The bare switches and exposed wiring in bathrooms made me nervous occasionally. Laundry services were usually available (7-10,000 Kip per kilo), but the clothes never came back ironed, were damp once and also had a t-shirt missing once (they found it when I asked for it). In short, don't expect too much from the laundry service.

I mostly used the Lonely Planet guide and Travelfish to help decide where to go, but in the countryside I just had to take whatever there was.

Vientiane - Mixay Guesthouse
On Th. Nokeo Khumman, this guesthouse is conveniently located near the river and the centre. It was being renovated when I stayed there. There were two 'zones' with different prices (one dollar difference), I got the cheaper one though I'm not sure what the difference was. I got a single room with no window, fan, and shared bathroom for 6 USD; the room had a bed and a cupboard, the bathrooms were OK. Free coffee, tea, cake and fruits were available downstairs in the morning.

Travelfish review here; Lonely Planet review here.

Vientiane - Pathoumphone Guesthouse
On Th. Manthatulat, this is also close to the river and the centre. It cost 6 USD for a room (knocked down from 7 USD); the bathroom was OK but not kept clean all day and the room pretty dingy. There was a wide veranda useful for hanging out, and shoes were not allowed (which is always a good idea). I only stayed one night and left early in the morning to catch a plane, so I don't know if they had breakfast or food.
Vientiane Pathoumphone Guesthouse Laos

However, I can't recommend this place. There were bed bugs when I went there! Having bed bugs does not mean the place is dirty (they'll survive fine in very clean places); they can come from other travellers or in different ways, and can be very difficult to get rid of - so my sympathies are with any hotel that finds themselves with bedbugs. However, the reaction of the receptionist when I told her (she tried to convince me it was ants), would make me avoid ever going here again.

Kutsambath - Pheth Dao Heuang Guesthouse
Continue reading "Budget hostels in Laos"