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Three Weeks of R&R in Malaysia

Kicking off our three-week inter-relocation vacation in Malaysia! The first stop? Five days in one of our favorite world capitals: Kuala Lumpur.

1 October 2019

It’s always fun to kick off a new month in another country, and that’s where we find ourselves at the beginning of October — in Malaysia.

Getting to Malaysia from Laos is pretty straightforward. AirAsia offers nonstop service from Vientiane to Kuala Lumpur for around US$160 round trip, and the flight takes just over two hours.

That’s not to say the path to our three-week vacation in Malaysia was easy.

For us, it meant moving out of our house in Vientiane and essentially closing out our life in Laos with two little ones.

Once we finished all of that, we got to spend our final night in Laos in a hotel before catching our flight to Kuala Lumpur the next day.

…which, to put it lightly, was a night from hell.

But, before we get to that, our 3-week Malaysia itinerary:

DateLocationLodging
1-6 OctoberKuala Lumpur — Bukit BintangAirbnb: Robertson Residences
6-12 OctoberPenang — GeorgetownAirbnb: #4 UNESCO Heritage
12-18 OctoberPenang — Batu FerringhiAirbnb: Green Ocean Seaview (Sri Sayang)
18-19 OctoberKuala Lumpur — KLIA2Plaza Premium/Aerotel Transit Hotel

 

A Rough Night

We could tell early that evening that Noe was going through some stuff and processing the whole move in his own way. Up until we checked into the hotel, he had been doing a pretty darn good job for a three-year-old or any age.

And then, he snapped.

Our final dinner was at Tyson Kitchen, a Lao-Canadian joint run by a friendly older couple. Out of our dozen or so visits to the restaurant, they chose this night in particular to chat us up and get to know us…our last night in the country and an evening when both boys were completely losing it, of course.

Food was thrown, there was screaming and tantrums. And if we hadn’t left when we did, I think I probably would have joined the boys in that respect.

We haven’t done a lot of traveling this year, so Riley isn’t nearly as accustomed to sleeping in the same room with us as Noe was at that age. Suffice it to say it was a challenge to get (and keep) him down. So there was that.

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And it was a particularly warm night in a stuffy concrete hotel and the air conditioner in our room did a fantastic job of cooling our room down to around 90 degrees (F). So there was that.

Noe did a great job sharing a bed with us during our recent trip to Vang Vieng, so we hoped that would hold true for this particular night — the one, single, solitary night for the next three weeks in which Noe would not have his own bed.

But no. Noe was working through some things.

And to make matters worse, daddy did something really, really stupid.

At the eleventh hour rushing around to pack up all of our stuff before DHL and the landlord arrived, and trying to work around AirAsia’s insanely stingy carry-on weight allowance, I made sure to pack Big Monkey, Monkey Blanket AND Noe’s own pillow for Malaysia. But made the executive decision NOT to pack Bubble Blanket.

After all, Noe just hasn’t been that into Bubble Blanket lately (or so I thought).

So…Bubble Blanket was relegated to our Vientiane luggage that we’d collect when we came back through town at the end of the month.

Worst. Decision. Ever.

The fallout?

A freaked out little three-year-old screaming bloody murder into the wee hours (for literally hours) in an otherwise quiet hotel.

Which of course kept Riley up (and wailing and screaming).

Lori and I tried everything to calm Noe, and were even successful a few times. He was beyond tired and would finally drift off to sleep, only to wake again five minutes later screaming and wailing…

BUUBBLLEE BBLLAANNKKEETT!!! AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

This went on until around 3am when I finally whisked him out to the balcony for the third or fourth time and had a long, long talk with him about Bubble Blanket. Perhaps the 11th or 12th heart-to-heart about Bubble Blanket that night.

I’m not sure if it was what I said, Noe’s sheer exhaustion, or the “fresh” air, but it seemed to do the trick. We returned to the room, Noe climbed into bed, and we all managed to grab a couple hours of sleep.

As you’d imagine, we were not the most bright and cheery group of four the next morning when we all got up at 6am to catch our flight.

Not exactly an ideal way to kick off a three-week vacation, but it is what it is.

Thankfully, the hotel was able to pack our breakfast for takeaway. Nothing like stuffing your face with a tuna fish sandwich and feeling like a zombie at 8am at the airport with minutes to spare before an international flight.

This being Wattay International Airport, we just had to get ourselves up the escalator and through security and immigration, which generally takes all of ten minutes and 16 steps (or 32 Noe steps).

Seat belts fastened and ready for our flight (but still in a daze).

The visibility most of the way was excellent. Passing over the Gulf of Thailand, we spotted the gulf islands. Seeing Koh Phangan (above) and Chaloklum Bay where we spent the better part of a week in 2012 made me think of other places we haven’t been back to since moving to Southeast Asia in 2016. Phnom Penh is one big one that comes to mind. Seven years…

It’s only been 18 months since we were last in Kuala Lumpur, though it certainly doesn’t feel like just last year.

The four of us managed to get a bit of sleep on the flight, and then nice little nap on the long taxi ride from the airport (KLIA2) to central Kuala Lumpur.

Airbnb #2: Robertson Residences in Bukit Bintang

Following on the success of our first ever Airbnb experience last April in Hanoi, we decided to go that route again in Malaysia. For us, going the Airbnb route in Malaysia represents a significant shift in our attitudes towards lodging since our last visit here. I even wrote at length in a post covering Kuala Lumpur as to why we preferred guesthouses over Airbnb.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you will have noticed that our lodging preferences have evolved over the years, and continue to evolve. It’s easy to blame it on lifestyle creep and getting older (and therefore less tolerant of roughing it, so they say). But I think what those sorts of arguments fail to consider is how the hospitality industry has changed globally in the past twenty years.

In the late nineties and early 2000s, most of my overseas stays involved a bunk bed alongside 10 to 20 others in a youth hostel. Sure, a lot of that had to do with cost and budget. But mostly it had to do with what was available at the time.

International travelers generally had three options in most places: youth hostels, pensions (think basic guesthouse at mid-range prices), and full-service hotels geared towards business travelers. In more rural places, you could often camp too.

Fast-forward twenty years, and the number of lodging options is staggering. Affordable en suite guesthouse rooms far outnumber dorm rooms, and the number of Airbnb offerings have exploded across every continent except Antarctica. And couch surfing is still around as well, for those whom that sort of thing speaks to.

All that to say, there’s a lot of affordable options out there.

18 months ago, we stayed in a superb little guesthouse in Bukit Bintang called Anggun Boutique. For those who want to be centrally located in a historic area (and aren’t traveling with two little ones), I’d still highly recommend it.

This time around, we opted to stay in a slightly different kind of property…

Not Swiss-Garden (though I did see Airbnbs available there as well), but the Robertson Residences (the high-rise poking out just above the word “Garden”).

A two-bedroom flat on the 17th floor, with kitchen, washing machine, and shared amenities like a gym, playground, putting green, and a huge pool on the 6th floor — all for the same rate we paid for Anggun Boutique (US$45/night).

The catch? Well, honestly, there wasn’t really one, for us at least. Though several reviews mentioned the location as a downside.

It’s a mammoth development and takes a couple of minutes to navigate out of on foot. To access Jalan Alor Night Market and the rest of Bukit Bintang, you have to cross a busy 6-lane divided avenue.

Anggun Boutique, on the other hand, is in a quiet tree-lined neighborhood a block away from the night market.

We didn’t mind the location at all, given that it made it very easy to get picked up by a Grab (think Uber), and there was a crosswalk with traffic light across the busy road, which made getting to and from the building pretty easy.

As for the unit itself?

Our two-bedroom apartment for the week wasn’t palatial, but in terms of an urban flat in the center of the action, the amount of space seemed generous. There were two bedrooms off of the main living area, a master bedroom, and a small office with a bed that was perfect for Noe.

 

 

Kuala Lumpur began its push skyward back in the 1990s. Yet, some of the city’s largest development projects are currently underway. We got a small taste of this out our apartment window, with new construction completely enveloping an old shophouse row. I’d like to think the plan is to preserve this block, but we’ve spent enough time in East Asia to know better.

Noe’s room for the next five nights. He’s got quite the view as well.

 

After checking in, we were eager to revisit the first place we ate in KL on our last trip. We had tried for a top pick but it had since closed. It was pouring down rain, so we ducked into a nearby Iraqi cafe where Noe was treated to his first shawarma.

We were excited to return and introduce Riley to his first shawarma, but sadly that place had since closed as well. No worries, we just went to the Arab restaurant next door.

It was a little fancier than the old hole in the wall, but the prices weren’t too bad. The only downside is Riley was a bit off his game, still recovering from the lack of sleep the night before (and the big transition, I’d imagine). So, we took turns bouncing him around outside in the rain.

The tea and food were delicious though.

 

Back in Bukit Bintang

Bukit Bintang is a funky and old little neighborhood completely encircled by new construction. It’s an interesting mishmash of buildings spanning every decade of the 20th century, from turn-of-the-century Chinese shophouses to ornate Art Deco, austere Bauhaus to characterless 70s and 80s blocks.

The neighborhood is also one of the most diverse in the city, home to a vibrant Indian and Middle Eastern community, Chinese families that trace their roots back to the early days of KL, Malay of course, and people from across the globe who have made KL their home.

What also makes Bukit Bintang so interesting (and a great place to stay) is that the neighborhood packs more variety per square kilometer than any I can think of.

One moment, you’re in the heart of the gritty Arab/Indian section (Jalan Nagasari). A few blocks later, you’re on Changkat Bukit Bintang, a pub street that wouldn’t feel out of place in any North American city. Go a few blocks more and you’re on Jalan Alor, KL’s bustling and most famous food night market and old Chinese section. A block later? You’re strolling down Bukit Bintang Street, KL’s high street for high fashion. And a few blocks later? Back at the Robertson Residences 40-floor modern high-rise condominium in your own little world.

And that’s just Bukit Bintang! If I sound like I’m gushing, I am. We really do love this city. It’s exciting and bustling, it’s peaceful and livable, it’s got a ton of green space, it’s cosmopolitan, it’s old, it’s new, it’s organized and orderly (but not overboard like some U.S. and Northern European cities), it’s clean, cheap, easy to get around, you can buy just about anything, and the food is amazing.

What’s not to love?

After the rain let up, we took a stroll through Jalan Alor night market. You want amazing street food for cheap? There may be no better place on earth. And best of all (for us), it’s an awesome place to bring young kids. Loud and messy? So is everyone else!

Dear old dad may have dropped the ball with Bubble Blanket, but he managed to redeem himself (somewhat) with this beauty. Yep, that, friends, is a stroller.

We didn’t bring a stroller with us on our last visit to Kuala Lumpur, partly due to not knowing what the roads would be like, but mostly not wanting to bring it with us to Borneo.

We realized quickly that KL is in fact much more stroller friendly than most cities we’ve been to in Southeast Asia, and thought it might be a good idea to bring one next time.

But there are few things in this world that I despise more than packing baby crap on an airplane.

Then, one day back in Laos, I had an idea. What if we could rent a stroller?

It seemed like a long shot, but Lori looked into it anyways. And sure enough, she found a small business in KL that rents strollers by the day. They even deliver to your hotel/guesthouse!

So… we have a stroller for our time in KL! It’s mostly for pushing Riley around (rather than wearing him in the tropical heat), but even Noe’s little legs need a break from time to time.

There were some corners of town that were still quite challenging with the stroller. But all in all, it worked out to be a great decision.

With full bellies and a long stroll under our belts, we returned to the apartment with fingers crossed hoping tonight would be better than the last.

Noe took to his new digs immediately, and fell fast asleep.

After the kids went down, I snuck out to check out the party scene. And by party scene, I mean the baby wipes, water, and canned beer scene at the mini market on the ground level, of course. The outing was totally off-the-hook. And by off-the-hook, I mean I found the baby wipes on a hook and I was able to remove them from the hook so I could pay for them and return to the apartment to crack open a beer with Lori.

On the way back, I paused to take in the illuminated St. Anthony’s church across the street…and the 118-story Warisan Merdeka tower rising like an alien life form some 300 meters behind the century-old church.

Yep, one crazy place.

We had a handful of middle-of-the-night wake-ups from Noe, and Riley seemed to take full advantage of having his crib a few feet from the milk lady. But all in all, it was a pretty decent night as far as nights go these days.

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Shirley Northcraft
Shirley Northcraft

Keep those adventures coming!

JANICE M FULLERTON
JANICE M FULLERTON

Poor Noe—-been there, done that with a favorite stuffy—one day later, the boys were ready to go and we were dragging around like zombies. They cannot remember that that even happened, and yet to this day we cannot forget!! So glad the rest of your days seemed to go well so far!!