Grand Prix to Tea: Malaysia Part I

A few weekends ago (22 March) we boarded a Cebu Pacific flight to
Kuala Lumpur.
Cebu Pacific is one of the Philippines’ low cost
airlines.  They have a great system
whereby you can make your booking online and pay for it at an ATM before
midnight of the same day.  This is
particularly useful when you don’t have a local debit or credit card.  I can’t help pointing out that there are a
few usability issues with the process:
  •  The Cebu Pacific
    website booking confirmation page doesn’t tell you what information you will
    need to enter into the ATM to complete your booking.  I guessed that you would need the
    confirmation number and also wrote down the cost of the booking.  It turned out that these were the 2 pieces of
    information you needed.  But why would
    you think you needed the cost of the booking? 
    Wouldn’t the system know this from the booking reference?
  •  It took us a few
    tries, via process of elimination, to figure out where to find the payment
    option on the ATM.  An example of a not
    very joined up system between Cebu Pacific and the bank (BDO).

Anyway, the flight was fine.  As it was a low-cost airline, there was no
free drink or snack served.  But they do
play games!  Granted, at nearly midnight
many people were not in the mood for games, but you could tell who’d flown Cebu
Pacific before by the fact that they had all the items they needed for the
game.  The game consisted of an air
stewardess shouting out an item and the first person to hold up one of the said
items (e.g. an ID card) won a prize.
We arrived into Kuala Lumpur going on 1am.  Immigration was seamless – we whizzed
through.  We didn’t even have to fill in
any forms.  Our bags arrived swiftly and
we headed to the taxi rank.  Following
the advice in the Lonely Planet, we bought our prepaid taxi coupon before we
left the terminal.  I explained what
street our hotel was on and was given a coupon to China Town.  I could have sworn we were staying in the
Golden Triangle, but who was I to argue with a local.
It turned out, I should have stuck my ground.  The taxi driver insisted that we were going
to China Town – that’s what it said on the coupon after all.  At one point he pulled over on the side of the highway, turned on his reading light and pointed out ‘China Town’ as printed on our coupon.  As we neared Kuala Lumpur we managed to
persuade him to take us to a stop on the Light Rail Transit line which looked
near to our hotel.  This wasn’t in China
Town, much to the taxi driver’s chagrin, but he did take us within spitting
distance of our hotel in the end.
We stayed in the Lacomme Inn.  It had fairly decent reviews on TripAdvisor,
for the price bracket we were searching in. 
It was not luxurious by any stretch, but it had a comfortable bed, a
working shower and aircon.  It was all we
needed.  It didn’t even bother us that
night that the windows were so thin you could hear a pin drop outside (not that you would have been able to hear a pin for the beats coming from the nearby club), or that
the room door was so flimsy it shook when anyone walked within a few metres of
Breakfast was included in the room rate too.  Brilliant. 
Again, it was just what we needed – tea or coffee (with condensed
milk!), 2 slices of toast with butter & jam and a fried sausage.  Very simple, but it filled us up for the few
hours until we needed to eat again. 
Although we found that our appetites were strongly suppressed – probably
because of the extreme heat and high humidity. 
Even living in Manila for the last 3 months didn’t really prepare us for
the KL heat.
We wandered up to the Petronas Towers.  They look great from a distance, so too from close up.  They glisten in the sun
and dominate their surroundings.  They’re really pretty.  It
really was too hot to spend too much time outside, so we jumped on the train
and headed to China Town for some lunch.
Coming from Manila, we found the public transport system
fantastic.  It’s a token system, similar
to the one we discovered in Taipei.  You
choose your station on the touch screen map, select how many adults, insert
your money into the machine and it spits out a blue coin-shaped token.  You touch this token on the gate as you go
through (mine never worked first time) and then insert it into the exit gate at
your destination station.  The trains, a
mix of monorail and other light rail systems, link up to take you all over the
city.  The lines were built by different
companies so at some of the interchange stations you do have a fair walk
between lines.  This didn’t seem like a
hassle at all.  We were just so blinded
by the fact that there was a public transport system at all!
Lunch in China Town was delicious, and cheap.  I had Claypot chicken with ginger, and Simon
had fried noodles.  We each had a
coke.  The total cost was less than £6.
And then it was off to Sepang to watch the Malaysian
Grand Prix qualifiers.  We bought
transport tickets at KL Sentral which included the Airport Transit train to
Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and then a shuttle from the airport
to the circuit.  The system was
beautifully organised, from the staff all wearing bright blue T-shirts so you
could distinguish them easily, to not having to wait very long for a train or
shuttle bus.  It probably took about 1.5
hours to get from KL Sentral to our seat in the Grandstand.
I’m not an F1 fan at all. 
I don’t think I’ve ever watched a complete race on TV.  But being at the circuit was really
exciting.  We were able to see the
drivers’ pits, including Jenson’s & Lewis’, as we walked to our seats (even
though we had the cheaper seats along the back straight).  There was a helicopter flying overhead,
filming the event.  And we were so close
to the circuit!  Simon had done a huge
amount of research before we went – which seats were best, how to get to the
circuit etc.  He’d also read that we
should bring earplugs.  I am so glad we
did.  I don’t think we could have sat
through the race without them.  The noise
was incredible.
Half way through the qualifiers, it rained.  This made it more of a spectacle – to see the
cars racing by with the spray coming off behind them.  If only I’d brought my bigger lens, there
were some great photo opportunities.
On the Sunday, for the race itself, I must confess that I
didn’t have a clue what was going on.  I
actually didn’t even realise that Vettel had won.  I was convinced it was Webber as he’d been
leading most of the race.  On the Monday
we read about the controversy around the final placings!
We didn’t get to see a whole lot else whilst we were in
KL.  On the Saturday night we headed to
Jln Alor to the ‘Hawker Stalls’ for dinner. 
I was expecting lots of carts, with people selling food.  It was more like lots of restaurants.  We sat down at one of them and ate delicious
Satay, grilled corn and grilled broccoli. 
Delicious.  On the Sunday we found
an Indian restaurant.  Simon ate chicken
tandoori and I had roti canai (roti with dhal). 
They were both absolutely delicious.
Early on the Monday morning we headed to Puduraya Bus
Station to catch our 9:00am bus to the Cameron Highlands.  We’d bought the ticket the day before, as had
been recommended since it’s a popular destination and it also happened to be
school holidays.  It was hassle free –
there was a ticket office inside the train station where we paid.  We then took the receipt to the main ticket
hall in Puduraya station to exchange it for our tickets.  The ticket hall wasn’t as busy or frenetic as the Lonely Planet had led us to believe – it was a really painless experience.
More on the Cameron Highlands to follow.

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