A Travellerspoint blog

Four Countries in Five Days

We decided it was time to finally move onto our beloved Thailand from India and we might as well stop in Malaysia on our way. We knew that there was a recently opened Legoland in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and Audrey and I decided to surprise the kids. We told them we there were some really nice temples in Malaysia and we were going to be stopping by for a couple days to blitz a couple temples. Here was our rather ambitious itinerary:

Day 1: Take a local bus for many hours to Kochi (Audrey's birthday present)
Day 2: Wonderla (see http://mcnouye.travellerspoint.com/143/)
Day 3: Get up at 5 am to fly from Kochi to Johar Bahru (JB)
Day 4 and 5: Legoland
Day 6: Singapore
Day 7: Get up at 5 am to fly to Thailand

All sounds totally reasonable with 3 kids, right?

Things went exactly as planned for the first few days. Audrey spent her birthday getting jostled and bounced around for about 4 hours on an Indian bus (during which time she added her contribution to Ammas Ashram http://mcnouye.travellerspoint.com/142/). Through sheer luck the bus ended up dropping us off right at the door of our hotel in a city of two million people. Trust me when I say that no amount of planning in India could have worked out so perfectly.

The next day we spent a fun and interesting time in Wonderla, got to bed early and up at 5 am for a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia then a second short domestic flight to Johor Bahru to surprise the kids at legoland.

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Legoland, a bit of first world fun.

We arrived later in the evening, had a quick meal and went to bed. One of the first things that struck us about Malaysia was how incredibly well developed it was. There were roads where people actually followed the lines, nice new cars, very friendly people and a great hotel. After spending two months in India and Sri Lanka our bar was set fairly low and we were really amazed at how nice the cities are. It is comforting step onto an elevator and not fear a power outage.

The next morning we were a little slow getting going with the 2.5 hr time change and travelling the day before but got to an almost empty amusement park just after lunch. We exhausted ourselves in the water park, went around the roller coasters multiple times without getting off and generally had a fun packed day. On day two we repeated the experience but Audrey was nursing a migraine and I was limping while kids were still going strong. We came back to our hotel, gobbled down some food and collapsed in bed once again. On to Singapore the next day.

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Thanks mom and dad for an awesome trip to Legoland.

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How many times can we go around without getting off (or getting sick)?

Now in fairness, Singapore was a complete last minute addition to the plan. Audrey and I had had a half day in Singapore on a layover during our honeymoon in which we flew through customs and had a lovely little bus ride through the city seeing a few sights. We had three days in JB this time and seeing as we could see Singapore from our hotel room and we were told that we could get there in ten minutes we figured what the heck, let's go there for a day.

The day started out at about noon when we walked to the bus station, passports in hand to find the bus to Singapore. Seeing as it was lunch time we grabbed a sleeve of Pringles and a bottle of water to keep the kids going for the time being (we were going to be in Singapore in ten minutes, right?) After an hour of walking and waiting in line we had cleared Malaysia immigration and we ready to board the bus. When asked by the bus driver where we wanted to buy tickets to my response was "Singapore." He laughed, thinking I was joking and asked, "yes, but where in Singapore?"

"Ummm..... Queen Street", I replied. It was the label on the bus and I thought it sounded good.

Ten minutes later we were in Singapore...or more precisely, we were on Singapore soil but we had to get off the bus to clear immigration customs and immigration. After waiting in line again we were cleared for entry we again in line for our bus. We talked our way onto the bus as there was standing room only after we assured the conductor we could handle standing for our little (ten minute?) jaunt over to Singapore.

Two hours later we arrived with hungry and exhausted kids at our destination: Queen street, Singapore.

As it turns out, asking to go to "Singapore" is a little like taking a bus to "Toronto." You end up getting dropped off somewhere in a city with no internet, no guide books, no local currency and hungry kids at 3 pm. We saw a Subway restaurant and dragged the complaining kids there to get some calories into us all. With everyone fed we figured out which way it was to the harbor front and started making our way through the streets and malls to the subway station. At 5 o'clock we had some money and were ready to get the train to the harbour when Audrey pointed out that we had a 3 hr trip back to JB and needed to be up in less than 12 hrs to be on a plane to Thailand. After apologizing to the kids we turned around and walked back with our tail between our legs to Queen street bus terminal and got on the bus back to Malaysia.

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Thanks mom and dad for the really crappy trip to Singapore.

The next day we were up early, again, this time for two plane flights, a two hr bus ride and a two and a half hour ferry to Koh Phagnan in Thailand. The five of us, all exhausted, collapsed in our lumpy beds and slept like babies on this beautiful island. I think we will be staying here and catching up on homeschooling for a couple weeks. No more 4 countries in 5 days for us!

Posted by McNouye 09:09 Comments (2)

Rules and Guidlines

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In Canada, rules are pretty clear; either something is a rule that most people follow or it isn't and you are fine. We all break rules now and then (unless you're my aunt Donna) but we know we are stepping across a line; you just might get a j-walking ticket if you cross the street illegall or that tailwind pushes you a little over the speed limit. When you look around India and Sri Lanka, there are things that are rules that are rules and rules that are more flexible. Even the rules that are rules tend to be a bit flexible.

One of the first things you notice as soon as you hit the road, is that the lane markings on the road are really just guidelines. In the western world, if you are in a lane it is yours and not to be tampered with. When you go to pass someone, it is your job to make sure you have enough room in front to safely pass  and get back into your lane. Here in India, lanes are more guidelines or suggestions as to where cars might drive. When you need to pass, you honk and change lanes. The car you are passing pulls over and any oncoming traffic also slides over to make room for you. Generally it all seems to work out, cars make room for each other when they can.

We have also noticed that when we order beer at restaurants it shows up as "pop" on the bill which confused us; we had to ask the first time what the $4 "pop" charge was for. It turns out that there are very few establishments that actually have a liquor license and that despite alcohol being freely available at all the restaurants they are not actually supposed to be serving. It was explained to us that in a perverse round about way this helps everyone. The unlicensed restaurants are making money, the bars that are
licensed wholesale to those that are not and therefore make money and the police are happy with their payoffs that grease the wheels of corruption. It's a very different world view from mine to say that a system setup to breed corruption is actually in some way "good". If you want to add to the list of those that are happy you could also say that the people against alcohol consumption are pleased that, on paper at least, the laws are very restrictive.

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An advertisement for Kingfisher water. You didn't think it was a beer ad, did you?

Saying that India has no rules or that they are all flexible would, of course, be an overstatement. I have heard stories of drivers being brutally beaten up for causing accidents.  Overstay your visa at your peril and we need to fill out extensive forms for all 5 of us at each hotel we check into. I  still find it amazing how often other things that are brought forward as rules are really just guidelines.

Posted by McNouye 02:05 Archived in India Tagged india alcohol corruption family_travel Comments (0)

Wonderla- An Indian Water Park

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What do you get when you cross a water park with India? I have to say, it is an interesting combination.

There are all the first world things you would expect from a well advertised attraction in a big city: water slides, rides, two wave pools, a fuzzy animal mascot, and a dwarf in costume greeting you at the door. It cost us $40 for all of us for admission and as there were no lines we were happy to have not sprung for the express pass. The food was also economical and tasty; the five of us ate fried rice for about $8 at lunch.

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Signs you don't see at home.

The big differences are what the people do and wear. First, there is strict sex segregation in the pools and many of the activities. The wave pools have a 1m buffer area between the gents and "the women and kids" kids sections. Despite being a weekday, the gents area of the wave pool was packed with of rowdy early 20s men throwing each other around, getting whistled at constantly by the lifeguards. The ladies section was much smaller and sparsely populated with school girls. "Rain Disco"  (water pouring from the ceiling and a low budget light show set to thumping Indian music) was similarly sex segregated. The men's side was stuffed with over 100 Indian men dancing and gyrating wildly; the women's had exactly three women (two of which were the only other westerners in the park). A necessary eight foot chain link fence separated the two sides and in mid afternoon several security guards were on hand making sure everyone was behaving properly. I can only imagine what it would be like if you added alcohol to the mix.
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Taro with a few rowdy men.

As far as attire goes, well, it's India and conservative is the word. You might think conservative at a water park means no banana hammocks for the men and a one piece for women. You would be wrong. Audrey brought a swim shirt and some yoga shorts to wear in the pool over her bikini. Had she actually changed into this she would have been woefully underdressed. The girls (there were few women swimming) were all fully clothed often in saris and pants. There was a large group of teenage girls there all wearing their full school uniforms going on the slides and bobbing in the wave pool. Even the men were more or less completely covered and most wore their clothes and one guy even had dress pants, a dress shirt and leather belt on as he walked away from a water slide.

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Make sure there is no skin showing!

Overall, those of us that went swimming did have a lovely day. And I have to say, I was happy to see the flight attendants sporting shirt skirts on the way to Malaysia; now Audrey will be at least able to go in the pool!

Posted by McNouye 09:37 Archived in India Comments (1)

The Kerala Backwaters

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The southern Indian state of Kerala is well known for its maze of canals through rice fields along the coast. The waterways are hundreds of kilometers long through the fertile soil and make a scenic backdrop for tourists to flock to.

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A beautiful sunset in the backwaters.

The most popular thing by far is house boating from a place called Aleppy. A thousand or so house boats are based here and most do one night trips around the canals and back home. The day we paid $160 for an three bedroom houseboat that was like a little floating bamboo covered palace. There were three bedrooms (we paid the two bedroom price), three bathrooms, a kitchen, a sitting area and a large upper deck. The whole thing was finished surprisingly well considering the bamboo outside and was adorned with stainless steel railings, tiles in the bathroom, A/C at night and a TV upstairs. It came with a crew of three to cook and drive the boat.

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A typical house boat

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We boarded at noon, had a delicious Keralan lunch of fried fish, rice and sambar then took the afternoon to lounge on the upper deck, do some homeschooling, drink some beer and take in the scenic canals. Dinner was another delicious meal then we went to bed. For the first time on the trip Audrey and I actually got our very own bedroom at least until we realized that the A/C was either on or off, (ie freezing or boiling hot) and we had to split up and manage the switches in each of the rooms. So much for romance.

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As close to a quiet moment as it gets.

The second part if our backwater experience was at a home stay 10km out of Aleppy. We are staying along the rice paddies in a little cottage just beside the house where the family lives. It is smoking hot and humid here during the day but cools off nicely at night. The family is an Indian family with two teenage daughters and they have spent seven years in London. It was very nice to walk the village meeting the local families and talk with someone who speaks excellent English about India. We had a lovely couple of days here and ate some of our best Indian meals. A couple of nights in Cochin to go to an Indian water park and we are off to Malaysia for a few days.

Posted by McNouye 05:58 Archived in India Tagged kerala family_travel aleppy Comments (5)

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