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Chow Kit and Hostel Cosmopolitan, the Real Kuala Lumpur.

By on Jan 13, 2011 in Malaysia | 0 comments

I always seem to find myself in Kuala Lumpur (13 times so far), the capital city of peninsula Malaysia. This is not a conscious decision on my behalf; it’s more by circumstance, in other words cheap flight connections. When I visited KL for the second time in 2007 I migrated towards the suburb of Chow Kit. At the time there were limited hostel options in the city and I had heard of one that had just opened offering ridiculously reduced prices. This would start the beginning of my friendship with the Hostel Cosmopolitan and Chow Kit. Hostel Cosmopolitan has a friendly home feel to it. It’s not a hostel that you party hard to the early hours of the morning, but a hostel that gives you an insight into Malaysian life and the multicultural city of Kuala Lumpur. Muhammad and his crew are always on hand to help out; they have great resources for your ongoing trips into Malaysia, excellent facilities and a pair of cats that think they own the place. No surprise this great hostel is now one of the best in KL as voted by fellow travelers Most people who travel to Kuala Lumpur head straight for China Town and rightly so. There are cheap tourist markets, cheap beer and the general bland backpacking atmosphere that you would find in most cities. However it is distinctly inauthentic and overtly touristy. As where China town has a night life built for tourists, Chow kit has a nightlife built for the locals. Yes in the past it had a notorious scene of debauchery (ask Muhammad to tell you a few stories about it), however today it had a grungy atmosphere set around a wet market by day and a steaming food market by night. You can get away with dinner for less than a dollar here; I’d liked to see you do that in China Town! Walking through the back streets of Chow Kit will give you a glimpse into the traditional Muslim lifestyle with call to prayer services, steaming local food stalls and daily life whirling around you. The characters in the streets are enthralling with a distinct mix of many cultures. No you won’t find alcohol here, however that’s the point. This is the real Kuala Lumpur not just a tourist hub. So next time you’re travelling to KL and want an authentic Malaysian experience, travel to Chow Kit and Hostel Cosmopolitan. Just follow the sky rail to Chow Kit station. Note: This little article represents my own personal views, no secret handshakes were...

Ho Chi Minh City – The Remnants of War

By on Jan 3, 2011 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. “Peter….arhhhhh….it hurts…..this isn’t good…..I think….oh hang on, maybe not…actually yep….I’m going to be sick!” And with that Niki shot out of bed and made a run to the bathroom of the hotel we were staying at in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. My horrible friend Giardia, which I managed to loose in Hoi An, had made an untimely return, this time attacking Niki.  Sadistically, Niki falling ill has become a bit of a tradition of ours whilst travelling. Since I first met my now wife, we haven’t had a single trip where she hasn’t got horribly ill from Giardia or some other mysterious stomach ailment. The poor thing has her heart set on visiting India one day, however I reckon her stomach might explode if we do. Whilst noises vibrated from the bathroom similar to the sounds Chewbacca makes in the movie Star Wars, I sat on the bed reading my guidebook with a sense of accomplishment. We had made it to our final destination, Ho Chi Minh City. Given our hectic itinerary, we had only allowed ourselves one day to spend here before we flew home to Perth the next day. With Niki feeling under the weather, I reluctantly shrank our Ho Chi Minh to-do list down to the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum and Ben Thanh Market. Rule No. 15 of being married – Never under any circumstances tell your wife as she is in the bathroom being sick “May the force be with you”. You’ll regret it later as she walks out and says very sternly whilst grabbing hold of anything she can throw, “I’ll give you the bloody force”. With a bathroom stop along the way and a few traffic moments that had Niki looking familiarly like a stunned deer in headlights, we had successfully walked to the Ben Thanh Market. As soon I walked in and got lost in the labyrinth of everything from clothing, fabrics, produce, tourist products and handicrafts, I knew it was a bad idea to bring Niki here. The market was great, but coupled with the intense Ho Chi Minh humidity and the energetic, some may even say fearless, market touts pulling us in every direction, the unwell Niki was not going to cope. Realising the danger, I turned back to see Niki engulfed by ten ladies who were keen to sell her a life time’s supply of souvenirs. Then in a fit of slow motion heroicism, only fit for the movies, Niki scrambled free of their clutches and passed me in a slow run heading for the closest exit and bathroom. As I stood there watching her run with my jaw dropped, whilst the ten ladies looked at awe at the one person who ever escaped their clutches, I simply turned to them and said “That’s my wife” and took off after her. Leaving the market behind us, we headed for the Reunification Palace. Built in the 1960’s it was once the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam, before being infamously photographed as the communist tanks rolled through the gates to signify the end of the war. The palace had been strangely left in a sort of  time warp of what it looked like on that  very day, with outdated maps, stuffed colonial animals, old photography gear, military aircraft and stately furnishings found throughout the palace and the grounds. Entry is 20,000d, just be aware that the ticket counters throughout most of Ho Chi Minh city close for lunch. After our interesting bit of time travel, we decided to grab a bite to eat and wait for the War Remnant Museum to open. After looking at a few restaurants, walking out of one due to the fact that they served snakes and something that resembled a porcupine, we found a great little cafe. It had to be good, it was full of Vietnamese locals. After 3 weeks of  South East Asian travel, their western food was great and Niki loved the fact that their bathrooms were modern and clean. Feeling well fed, we psyched ourselves up for the War Remnants Museum. I say psyched because from what I had been told, this museum was going to rip our souls apart, they weren’t wrong. The War Remnants museum is principally about the Vietnam/American war.  The grounds of the museum are dotted like a used car yard with American and Vietnamese weaponry. Everything from fighter jets and helicopters to rockets and bombs. Inside however, was a trip into the dark side of humanity. With exhibitions aimed at exploring the devastating impacts of Agent Orange, Napalm and the effects of war. The exhibits range from poignant photography of dismembered people to a real fetus showing the continual effects of chemical weapons on generations to come. It didn’t stop here though, the museum had also developed a realistic representation of a concentration camp and still months on I can still see the horrific images in my head. Niki had to walk out after the first exhibition with tears streaming down her face; she was uncomfortable with what was being shown and I could empathize with her. I on the other hand wanted to see it all, I thought it was the least I could do to remember the people who experienced the war and by the end, was emotionally drained and on the verge of tears...

Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh by Train

By on Jan 1, 2011 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. It had been one of those mornings as I sat in reflection on a dingy train bound to Ho Chi Minh City. Running out of money that morning when I had tried to check out of my hotel, and then spending 10 minutes frantically dashing around the various ATM’s  in Nha Trang. All whilst knowing I had less than 15 minutes until my train departed. Now as I looked down in my not so comfortable seat, I could see my fellow passenger literally sleeping under my feet on the floor, whilst her head lolled on her part of the seat. If this little hindrance wasn’t uncomfortable enough, my knees were now resting around my neck due to the large package placed in my leg space by sleeping beauty. I could have placed them in the aisle, however I run the risk of having them amputated by the megalomaniac driver of the food cart. To make matters worse, my wife had been placed in a different seat from me. As I looked across the carriage it was evident Niki was is a state of anaphylaxis shock. Tears were welling in her eyes, lips were uncontrollably trembling and a scary scowl that would make the devil seem like a good promotional face for L’Oreal. Originally I thought she was reacting to the fact that she wasn’t sitting next to me for the next eight hours, and who wouldn’t right? However looking closer at the situation unfolding, I thought this isn’t right. Then it clicked, everything fell into place and I understood why the nuclear like bomb was appearing behind her eyes. It wasn’t our separation, it was a pair of smelly overgrown feet with long yellow nails belonging to an old man behind her, whom had evidently taken the opportunity to shove them into the side of her stomach and  nudge her as he slept. It was like a matador teasing the bull and if it wasn’t so serious, I would have laughed. Because if you knew Niki, you would know her biggest pet hate is feet….let alone dirty feet. Rule No. 14 of being married – Suggesting to your wife to play “this little piggy went to market” with a strangers foot will get you the silent treatment. So in other words if you have nothing constructive to say to your wife, facebook it instead… Nic and I were in the closing days of our trip and making our way from Nha Trang to the legendary city of Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it is known today. Saigon has long enticed people by its almost wild west appeal, attracting people from all walks of life for its debauchery, craziness and exoticism. After our uncomfortable train ride, we disembarked into peak hour chaos of Saigon and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life – not even in Beijing, Bangkok or Rome! The traffic was gridlocked in a mass of cars with no lanes evident and no sense of direction. I had heard rumors about the traffic here, however thinking that I’d seen the worse in Hanoi, thought nothing could shock me…I was wrong. Bikes were zooming in every direction, cars where mounting sidewalks, taxis sat in the middle of intersections whilst other cars locked them in from the other direction. Buses were driving diagonally as they darted to pick up passengers and police officers were waving their hands like a conductor controlling an orchestra of bees. Gees if I had trouble getting Niki across the road in Hanoi, it was going to be bloody Mission Impossible here in Saigon. It was cities like this that make travel insurance worth it. Finally we arrived at our hotel, Madame Cuc’s Hotel 64, which we had booked a couple of days before. On arrival we were told that they didn’t have room available and we would be staying at a guest house down the street, however we would come back here to use the internet, breakfast and pay. Apparently this disgraceful practice is common in Saigon, so be prepared for it. Our room was small and had single beds, not as booked, and overlooked the busy D Bui Vien. I wouldn’t recommend this hotel, the service was a little sloppy, rooms very basic for the price and they tried to charge us double to get to the airport over what a taxi would. When we disagreed with the cost they all of sudden found a transfer that would take us for cheaper.  The story of Vietnam really. Grabbing a bite at a small food stall for dinner, we retreated to the bedroom to get some needed sleep. For tomorrow was our last full day, I was going to need every bit of my concentration to keep Niki alive and away from cars. As we fell asleep I heard Niki mumbling in her sleep “stinky feet, yuck”, I’m sure I was going to need to book her some serious therapy when we returned to...

Hue to Nha Trang By Train

By on Dec 28, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam.   The first three hours of our twelve hour train ride to Nha Trang was stunning as it snaked its way along the coast of the China Sea. It was also the quietest of the trip as Niki was horrified into silence by the demanding conditions of our carriage. I on the other hand thought the rough and ready approach the Vietnamese had was great and was more than happy to risk my life eating poorly handled chicken and holding on for dear life in a room that resembled something similar to a bathroom thirty years ago. Nic and I were heading for the sea side town of Nha Trang via Danang (jump off here for bus connections to Hoi An) which was a solid twelve hours by train from Hue to catch up with a good mate of ours who had spent the last three months working as a promotional rep. Or at least that is the story we are meant to tell the world, the real story involves espionage, foreign relations and pick pocketing hookers – that’s another story though. Rule No. 13 of being married – Never lie to your wife about the condition of a train to lure her onto it. She will find out that there is no such thing as tourist class,  limited food options and that the bathroom is simply a  hole in the floor – this making the next 12 hours on the train a little awkward. After passing along the coast, the train veered inland past many rural towns, small commercial hubs and remarkable landscapes. Images from the puppet show in Hanoi were coming to life as I saw many people working off the land. Every time we pulled into a town, our windows became the centre of attention as beggars tried to find a way to get by. It was hard and I felt arrogant, but I couldn’t support them. The look in the hungry children’s eyes was gut wrenching and as the conductor “shooed” them off, I thought there had to be a better way to help these people without just handing money out? Arriving into Nha Trang at about 8 .30pm, we headed to the second best hotel we stayed at in Vietnam, Ha Van Hotel. Excellent location, great service, the best breakfast and polished rooms with no cockroaches! Nha Trang had an instant feel of a tourist town similar to those the British loved to visit in Spain or Greece; full of pubs, British breakfast cafes, Italian restaurants and a slightly naughty night scene. Grabbing a bite at a local restaurant that I can’t remember the name of, so its food must not of been any good, I just happen to see my mate walking down the street chasing some women to whoo to his bar – Guava. For the sake of confidentially lets call my mate Hot Dog. My mate hails from the land of the his majesty the queen, but don’t hold that against him. Hot Dog was one of those guys that everyone lovs and was always up for a drink and a good time – I could see why he found himself in Nha Trang. After having a quick chat and arranging to meet up the next day, we headed back to the hotel for some well needed sleep. Waking up to our one and only full day in Nha Trang, we strolled around this relaxed town. Nha Trang is all about the diving , so physical attractions were on the low side. Realizing this, Niki and I decided to head down to the main beach. Unlike the beautiful beaches of Hoi An, Nha Trang’s were cluttered with rubbish, mass development, noisy speed boats and slightly polluted waters. Not to mention a great Hollywood like sign construction on an island in a distance. It had seemed all the major tourism players like the Sheraton and Novotel had come to town and were exploiting Nha Trang for its full potential. That night we grabbed a bite to eat at Lanterns, a local restaurant that supports an orphanage in the area. The food was good and atmosphere was predominantly American. Catching up with Hot Dog after dinner, we headed off to pub crawl the town. There are three main bars to hang out in Nha Trang. The first being the Red Apple Club, a backpacker haven with cheap beverages and a no mercy approach to drinking everyone under the table. The second residing on the beach is the Sailing Club, which is an institution in Nha Trang. It has a funky Asian vibe with slightly over polished décor; any local mafia wouldn’t look out of place here. The final and my personal favourite, which just happened to be the place Hot Dog was working, was Guava. A groovy lounge bar with live bands, good priced drinks and a wicked atmosphere. It’s easy to crawl between them following the vibe and the Sailing Club is open to the early hours of the morning. Nha Trang definitely has a grungy party town vibe to it, however it is a little more blatantly commercial than other parts of Vietnam. If you’re in for a laugh though, Nha Trang can provide and as Hot Dog so expertly put it – “when you stumbling home at night and a...

Hue, the Cultural Heart of Vietnam

By on Dec 3, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. Our second day of site seeing Hue involved jumping on an overcrowded boat and heading west to visit the various Royal Tombs. This boat was packed full of tourists and all it needed was a guy with a white flag saying “this way people” for the image to be complete. Needless to say I hated it! I have no problems with people travelling this way; I understand budgets and time constraints. However I’m not fan, I can’t even go the supermarket at home on a busy night. So as we slowly headed up stream, baking in the sun, surrounded by people running left then right across the boat to take photos, I pondered about life on the river. I was pondering about the children swimming on the banks, about the people living in river boats, to the hard workers dredging the bottom of the Perfume River to their families at home. Pondering perhaps that we are no different, we all work too hard and we all have families waiting for us. This was about the time we got kicked off to go see a Kung Fu Fight and requested to pay an exuberant fare for the privilege. With that I chucked my toys across the room, started kicking and screaming, then proclaimed to the world “I’m not playing anymore”. So whilst everyone else watched Jackie Chan take on Jet Lee, part of me regretting my tantrum, I sat outside and watched a local man fish in a drain pipe. Rule No. 12 of being married – If you’re going to throw your toys across the room, perhaps don’t throw them at your wife, she will just throw them back. By the time we arrived at our first real attraction, the Thien Mu Pagoda, the sun was burning its way into my soul and I was bathing in my own sweat. The Buddhist pagoda was beautiful and reached high to the heavens. As the tour guide was doing his spiel, I crept off to the back on the temple and quietly found a group of monks chanting into the fading morning. I sat quietly to the side, just listening and trying to understand what they were chanting. My peace was only broken by the squeal of delight behind me as my tour realised the enticing sound of the monks. It was a scene straight out of the discovery channel. The lions stalk their prey, before encircling it to prevent escape of the helpless antelope, then in the final dying moment of a scene forgotten, fifty cameras start clicking away causing blindness to all involved and the lion leaves well fed. On a side note, if you remember back to a protest where a Monk, Lâm Van Tuc, self-immolated himself for his beliefs in Saigon. At this pagoda there is shrine and the original car used in the protest. The boat part of our tour concluded with us jumping on a mini bus to visit four different tombs known to the area. Nic and I chose the Tombs of Tu Duc and Ming Mang to visit. Reminding me of my travels in China, the tombs offered the chance for travellers to gaze at a world of riches, opulence and massive egos. Could you imagine a prime mister or president today saying I want the country to build a grave the size of small city to house myself and all my belongings? Tu Doc was easily my favourite, with a small pagoda built just for the emperor to write his poems in and overlooked a small pond fall of floating lily pads and swimming Koi. Ming Mang was arguably grander, with complex after complex housing various statues and inscriptions. Just like the rest of Vietnam, explanations are limited. Nic and I jumped back on our mini bus, beginning our long cramped journey back to the hotel. We stopped on route at a small tourist trap town with Niki having the chance to get lost in thousands upon thousands of brightly coloured incense sticks. The incense was laid in bunches that made Canon printer adverts look dull. After my fellow tourists’ ooowwwed and arrrrhheddd at the colours ( secretly so did I), purchased half a rainforest worth, we resumed our trip back to the hotel. After finding another cockroach that night in the hotel, this time the size of a small rhinoceros, I suggested to Niki it was time we moved on. Hue thrives on culture, is full of history and awash with tragic memories.  With this tantalising concoction mixed with the general Vietnamese desire for chaos, you would expect Hue to be an eclectic mix of everything South East Asia should be…but it’s not. For everything Hue provides, it is lost in it’s over organised tours, its unbalanced mix of contrasting characters and Hue’s inability to express itself confidently.  In saying all that, it’s well worth a stop if you are in Central Vietnam, just don’t expect Hoi An…which might be a good...

The Contrasts of Hue

By on Nov 21, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. We were lost…again! I swear it’s not my fault this time, however I could see in Niki’s face that she didn’t have the patience for it today, not after our last episode only a couple of days ago. Getting lost is something I usually don’t do and when I do do it, I don’t do it very well! See we arrived in Hue that morning after taking a sleeper bus (think Harry Potter style) to the cultural heart of Vietnam. Home to imperial cities, the former demilitarized zone and many opulent tombs. Unlucky on my behalf, the hotel (Bing Minh Sunrise 1) we were looking for had closed down. In fact it had been pulled down and rebuilt into a concrete car park. I liked what the owners had done with the place, rather simple yet minimalistic. What muddied the situation even more was a pushy tout who latched onto us saying the hotel we were looking for had closed and we should stay with him. I have to say though, when is this ever actually the case? Vietnam is the only country I’ve ever visited where hotels have actually disappeared, closed or been demolished. On any other day my not so friendly tout would just be pulling the wool over my eyes.   With the heat bearing down and our stress levels going up, we got a lot a little too stern with our tout. With this he then promptly zoomed off on his moped and shouted something in Vietnamese which I could only roughly translate into “may you develop back and nose hair like an ugly yeti, whilst your bed is filled with a plague of cockroaches”. This was about the same time we found our car park and now needed a new place to stay. Rule No. 11 of being married – Learn from your past mistakes, getting your wife lost twice in one week is never a good idea. We ended up checking into the not so smart hotel named the Thai Binh Hotel 2 and regretted the curse our tout had put upon us. I’m not a fan of hurling abuse at hotels, however I’m going to give it go: Over priced ($40pn), big cockroaches, bad service, bland breakfast, gross dinner and it shouldn’t be in my guide book! Hurts me to say it, however it was easily the worse hotel I stayed at in Vietnam. Still to this day I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about the size of those cockroaches! Our first day in Hue was spent visiting the impressive Citadel on the north side of the Perfume river. Constructed in 1904, the citadel houses the imperial enclosure and the decaying remnants of the Forbidden Purple city. It will easily take half a day just to walk the enclosure and is well worth the visit; don’t forget heaps of water and a hat. The site is slowly being rebuilt after it was bombed by the Americans during the war and there isn’t a lot of information available on what you’re looking at, so if you can grab a guidebook or a guide, you’ll get a more rewarding interpretative experience. By the way, watch out for the toilets, we saw a BFS – a Big Fire truck of a Snake. Walking through the citadel is an intriguing experience and one of contrasts. You have the opportunity to experience ancient oriental architecture long lost in the pages of history, yet it’s strangely disengaging as you pass hawkers deformed from the atrocities of war selling dog tags and war “memorabilia” of fallen soldiers. It got even weirder when we ate at the Lac Thien Restaurant which is run by a deaf family and is popular with tourists.  It wasn’t weird due to the establishment or the excellent food, but due to the messages that had been written all over the wall by passing Contiki groups about varying topics – ranging from political statements to how good someone was in bed; it sadly reminded me of a dog marking its territory in the park. I felt awkward as an Australian to be reading some of the comments about Tasmanians and Queenslanders, yet here I was in Hue reading stuff that wouldn’t look out of place in a pub back home. Heading back to the hotel and to the waiting cockroaches, I didn’t really know what to make of Hue so far and felt a little perplexed by it all. I suppose every destination doesn’t necessarily have to be fun and entertaining to be worth a visit, sometimes it should be reflective and engaging, after all that’s what travelling is about. Perhaps tomorrow will shed some light on the...