Category Archives: Malaysia

What an adventure (SE Asia)

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1 idea, 1 baby, 1 husband and wife, 2 backpacks, 2 daypacks, 1 buggy, 6 months, 25 weeks, 176 days, 175 nights, 6 countries, 55 destinations, 70 temporary homes, 67 guest houses, 2 friends houses, 1 tree house, 525 meals, 12 planes, 66 taxis, 11 cars, 22 buses, 17 coaches, 14 ferries, 7 MRT journeys, 6 4x4s, 23 local minibuses, 6 speedboats, 8 tourist buses, 2 rib boats, 3 x cycle rickshaws, 1 tourist boat, 4 trains, 1 horse and cart, 3 motor rickshaws, 14 sky trains, 5 underground trains, 1 canoe, 1 small wooden boat, 1 jeep, 2 tug boats, 6 long-tail boats, 38 tuk tuks, 10 saangthaew , 1 elephant, first 2 baby steps, 9 new teeth, 2 baby haircuts, 19 new words, 1 happy toddler, 1 new job, 1 new life…

…a backpack, a buggy, a baby 

1 BIG adventure.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Heathrow Airport aged 11 months, day 4 of our trip in Tioman, a toddling chap on China beach and 18 months old at the end of our journey.

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Our new home (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

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Arriving back into Kuala Lumpur was an entirely different experience from our previous visit, as this time we knew that Kuala Lumpur was to become our home.  It’s hard not to view it differently and over analyse things that we previously wouldn’t have paid too much attention to.

How busy are the roads? How easy is it to travel on the sky train and manage the stairs with a baby and a buggy on my own? How expensive are groceries and where are the best value places to eat close to where we’ll be based?

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Kuala Lumpur - our new home

The comforting thing about our new future in Kuala Lumpur is that we’ve already made friends with an Australian couple with young children. Admittedly we’d only met them once at this point, a chance meeting in a café in the Cameron Highlands back in October, but we’d arranged to meet them again in a breakfast café in Bangsar where they live and where we’re also going to be living.  Having a couple of friendly faces already living in the area makes the move seem a lot less daunting.

So, it’s all change.

Our flights back to the UK leave on February 3rd and then we’re moving our life over to Asia.

The risk to pack up and find work further afield has paid off.

 

A little rant (Langkawi, Malaysia)

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We’d heard mixed reviews about Langkawi and were unsure whether to make the trip there, but on researching travel options into Thailand we decided that it would be a natural break in the journey and would a sensible stop on our route to Ko Lanta.

Being a typical holiday resort the accommodation costs are typically higher than the mainland and after reading contradictory reviews on Trip Advisor we decided to find accommodation on arrival.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Swimming with Daddy

After finding a shady base at a beach café for ‘the boy’ and I, my other half went off to hunt down a room. We’ve stayed in many different places over the last 10 weeks. Hostels costing £7 a night containing nothing but a bed, basic beach huts with no hot water and guesthouses with communal toilets and showers. All different, but with one thing in common – they’re all clean.  We often opt for the budget options as I’ve never been a fan of mid range establishments. I find they offer the worst value and often lack care and attention, particularly when it comes to cleanliness.

Unfortunately in Langkawi the hostels tend to cater to the younger partying crowd so didn’t seem like the ideal option for us late thirty something, early to bed, early risers.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

An afternoon at the aquarium

After only half an hour the other half hit jackpot finding a modern chalet close to the beach and with mod cons – a TV, fridge and air con (mod cons on this trip anyway!). Housekeeping were in the process of cleaning it so we were told to come back in an hour. It all felt very painless.

An hour later we check in.  It all looked very nice on first glance, in fact a step up on our ‘normal’ accommodation, that was until my other half noticed that the bed cover looked dirty and pulled it back to reveal that the bed sheets hadn’t been changed. Now, I’ve experienced this before when living in India, bed sheets that look clean, but don’t smell fresh, but these were different. These were covered in hairs, sand and smelt of the previous holidaymaker’s body odour.  Now I’m no expert on the hospitality trade, but surely changing the bed sheets is a basic requirement and if they can’t manage this simple necessity, then what hope is there that ANYTHING has been cleaned properly?

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Sunset cuddles

Unfortunately we’d had to secure the room with a deposit, so after some stern complaining and some fresh bed sheets (which had to pass my sniff test before being used) we had to stay the night. The next morning I was out of the door at 8am to search for somewhere who had a clean sheet policy. I found somewhere tucked off the main road, basic but spotless and far cheaper.

If you’re ever in Langkawi and you appreciate clean sheets then never stay here.

http://www.adinamotel.com/

Rant over! And breathe…

Top tip of the day:
I would highly recommend doing thorough research on the beaches you plan to stay at. Cenang beach is marketed as a family friendly beach. However, we found this not to be the case. The beach had no demarcated safe areas for swimming and therefore the sea was a chaotic mix of swimmers, speedboats, banana boat thrill rides and jet skis. It was an accident waiting to happen. It also meant that later in the day the beach became a thoroughfare for vehicles collecting their boats – not ideal with children or babies toddling around.

A little breakthrough in Georgetown (Georgetown, Malaysia)

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On first glance Georgetown doesn’t look that special, another Chinese influenced town with lots of local roadside cafes, busy streets and little bit rough around the edges. However, after a few days we really warmed to it. It’s small enough to explore on foot and has a relaxed feel about it with some pretty little streets housing quirky cafes, art galleries and unusual guesthouses.

Georgetown was also the place where I made a breakthrough. The place where I was able to propose a trip to the shopping mall and get a positive response from my other half. In the U.K. such a proposition would be dismissed without hesitation. “Why would I want to spend an afternoon in a shopping centre?” he would say. “It’s my idea of hell”.

Backpacking around asia with a baby

'The boy' gets yet more attention in the local park

In a country with 35-degree intense heat, a running baby and dirty streets, shopping malls have a different appeal. They’re clean, spacious, fully air conditioned, have nice seating areas, food courts with high chairs, oh and plenty of shops.

When the temperature’s soaring, shopping malls have now become a haven away from the sun. ‘The boy’ has a clean environment to roam around and mummy gets some time to window shop (unfortunately there’s not much room in the rucksack for extra purchases).

I never thought I’d see the day when my other half would suggest a trip to the mall but I think it may actually become a reality soon, very soon…

Top tip of the day:
Unlike shopping mall food halls in the U.K. the ones in Asia have a good variety of healthy options and at reasonable prices. It’s a good option on a very hot day as we find that our baby eats very little when in the hot and humid roadside cafes.

A gap in the market (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

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Having visited KL back in 2009 when we were living in Mumbai, we were intrigued to see if our initial love of the place had changed. It hadn’t.

KL has the best of East meets West. Modern shopping malls with a good choice of shops, local markets and bazaars, green areas & parks, efficient public transport, great social areas for eating and drinking and the most amazing choice of food to suit any budget.

KL was to be our base for 4 nights and I wanted to make the most of being back in a big city.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Kuala Lumpur

Kuala lumpur street

First thing to tick off the list was to try and buy ‘the boy’ some new shoes.  Before leaving for Asia I’d taken ‘the boy’ to Clarks to be measured and proudly bought him his first pair of shoes. Unfortunately, he was more interested in pulling them off and as he was still at the crawling stage when we left the UK I packed them in the bottom of my rucksack to reveal again once the legs were fully in action.

That day arrived, the shoes came out, but they didn’t fit. In fact they were tiny in comparison to his feet. I couldn’t tell you how much he weighs now, but I can tell you that his feet have grown about ½ inch since leaving the UK ten weeks ago! Unfortunately Asia isn’t the greatest place for buying good quality children’s shoes and given the choice of making him wear a pair of cheap plastic sandals from a local street store or roam bare foot, I chose the latter.

After 4 weeks of ‘the boy’ looking like a street urchin and having to avoid any burnt sole incidents on the hot pavements (almost impossible in 30 degree heat!) we can finally buy him some shoes.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur street and the new shoes...

‘The boy’ and I head to one of KL’s premium shopping malls. It has a floor dedicated to baby/toddler shops so I figure that this should be an easy task. I was wrong. First things first I needed to get the width and length of his feet measured, a simple but necessary procedure for small developing feet. However, judging by the looks I got when I asked each store if they had something to measure them with, I soon realised that t his was a very strange request. Instead, shoes were sourced from the back of the store based on his age. Now, maybe there is method in this madness, but I can’t see it. Take some of ‘the boy’s’ playmates from Wales. Although average in size, he was one of the smallest in his gang due to some super tall baby friends who had equally large feet. Same age, yes. Same size feet, no.

After scouting around every store I gave up and reverted to a simple trial and error method. Get as many pairs of shoes out at once, let ‘the boy’ try them on, toddle around for a few minutes and I’ll try and work out which once fit best by using my eyes.

It took a while, but ‘the boy’ is now a proud owner of a pair of red sandals.

KL’s great, but I think I’ve spotted a gap in the market.

Top tip of the day:
If you’re planning to go travelling for a few month plus, ask a reliable store at home to recommend shoes that you can take with you in a size bigger. There’s certainly more choice at home and you’re more likely to get a better shoe with width and length fittings.

*************************************UPDATE – March 26th 2012**************************************

We’re now living in Kuala Lumpur and I have found a Clarks shoe shop that has the facilities to give your child a proper fitting. The shop is located on the first floor of Bangsar Village shopping mall – one, in Bangsar (there are 2 malls next to each other, one and two, with a link bridge between them). It’s a couple of miles outside the city centre, but only costs about £3 to get to in a taxi.

Who pimped your ride? (Melaka, Malaysia)

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If Bandung is known as the Paris of Asia (for reference, it was nothing like it!), then I’m going to award Melaka with the title of ‘the Amsterdam of Asia’, but in this case there are some similarities.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Malaka

The old fort - Malaka, Malaysia

Melaka was where colonial forces first made contact with Malaysia and the British, Dutch and Portuguese influences are evident in the historic forts, churches and towers. The key similarity to Amsterdam is the winding river that splits the city centre. Numerous boats carrying tourists chug slowly up and down the water, day and night, meandering past the waterfront bars and cafes.

It has a relaxed vibe about it and the sort of place you can wander around at ease, even with a buggy.  The laid-back vibe continues into the evening when the night markets set up for business and the many food stalls come to life.

We were lucky to find a superb hostel right in the centre of the old town. It had huge communal areas, perfect for ‘the boy’ to run around, a room full of toys and a T.V. that was scheduled to show the France v. Wales rugby game. Not top of my list, of course, but ticked a few boxes for someone I know! At £10 a night including breakfast it was a great find.

http://www.melakaguesthouse.com/

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Malaka

The tricycle rickshaws in Melaka are very understated

The thing I loved most about this quaint place was its unique mode of transport. Tricycle rickshaws are common in Asia, but not like these ones. These bikes had been pimped. They’re covered from top to bottom in brightly coloured fabric flowers, tinsel, coloured ribbons, bright lights and if you’re lucky, a huge speaker that blasts out tunes from the 80s! They’re brilliant and ‘the boy’ enjoyed his ride almost as much as me.

One more overpriced mode of transport to add to ‘the boy’s’ growing list!

Top tip of the day:
A small dark coloured travel umbrella is perfect for giving shade on boat trips and when using the sling. We didn’t bring one with us but we were able to buy one out here.

No words needed… (Kota Belud, Borneo, Malaysia)

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I’m going to keep this entry short and let the picture tell the story.

After bumping into the same group of three English girls who were following a similar route to us and hearing about their 2 night stay at a secluded beach resort called Manana, our plans to go back to Kota Kinabalu were scrapped in favour of this idyllic spot (another benefit of not booking ahead).

After a delayed journey brought on by our aborted take off (a little scary) we arrived in Kota Kinabalu from Sandakan, took the 90 minute taxi journey to the coast and paddled out to a small rib that took us the rest of the way to our destination – a small but beautiful beach.

Three days of relaxation (as much as you can relax with a baby) followed.

Enough said….

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Beautifully secluded beach shared with 2 other guests

Top tip of the day:
It may sound obvious, but if you do want to schedule some relaxation time at a beach location, do your research first. Ideally a baby friendly beach needs to have plenty of shade so choose one with large overhanging trees. We’ve found that if we put ‘the boy’ on the sand in the shade he will play happily for hours giving you the chance to lie/sit next to your baby and have a bit of a break.