Kuala Lumpur is such an interesting city. Home to a combination of different ethnic groups including Muslim Malay, Buddhist Chinese, Hindu Indian and multiple others, it offers visitors a host of different cuisines, aromas, atmospheres, and cultures. It all seems to work in this busy metropolis. Even though we were obviously different from the locals, it didn’t feel like we were stuck out. It made a nice change from a lot of places we travel to and actually made it feel more like home than we would have imagined.
Subang Jaya, where we were staying, is one of the many suburbs of the city. It is in the adjacent state of Selangor which surrounds Kuala Lumpur (KL). KL though it used to be a part of Selangor is now a separate federal territory with its distinct local government. The community we were in was developed on the site of an old rubber plantation and it was a major part of the revitalization and urbanization of the Klang Valley in the latter half of the 20th century.
The town is divided into sections and each section of the district is given a number, so for example, we were staying in SS19 a residential area and the major commercial areas in town are SS12, 13, 15, 16, 17. The not-so-creatively named sections have even less creatively named street numbers like SS14/6. To top that off sometimes you get letter denominators too, so you could be on SS14/6 “a” through “x”. But wait, if that’s not enough there doesn’t seem to be an official way to enter an address. So “No. 20 SS14/6a, Subang Jaya” will sometimes be “20 Jalan SS14/6a, SS 14, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor” and there is no rhyme or reason to it that I could figure out. Just trying to find the address of something or give it to a cab driver could be an adventure in itself. How do you designate apartment numbers on different floors? I have no clue, someone please educate me because the best I came up with was ask around until someone pointed me in the right direction. Despite this, we did manage to get to a lot of places without too much struggle.
One of our favorite places was the nearby food court, Asia Café, in SS15. We visited this bustling covered market several times, wandering down row after row of food stalls offering all sorts of cuisines from Indian curries to Chinese stir fry and, of course, a multitude of local dishes, with delicious aromas attacking our nostrils from every angle.
Excellent food could also be found in the Little India section of town. Great for vegetarians, we ate at a little restaurant called Chat Masala which didn’t look like much from the outside but was bustling inside with a huge food selection. We ate for pennies and everything looked so good we forgot how much we ordered. More dishes just kept arriving even when we were getting ready to leave. Having saved so much we went over to the nearest Indian tailor and haggled for a few new colorful kurtas, now we just need something to wear them to.
We managed to see most of the highlights of the city in two days. On our first free day, we started off exploring Kuala Lumpur City Centre where the Petronas Twin Towers are located and struggled with the rest trying to figure out how to frame the best selfie of them with the light slowly dying. The park next to the towers is a well manicured and busy retreat right in the middle of it all and the bridge is definitely the best spot to try and get that selfie. After that, we made our way to the rowdy and raucous Bukit Bintang which is filled with restaurants, bars, clubs, and more foot reflexology/massage spas then I have ever seen anywhere, and we’ve lived in Vegas! Most of the younger crowd can be found here late at night.
Another day was spent exploring the rest of downtown. After so much time in malls we didn’t spend too long browsing the market streets in the colonial district or Petaling Street in Chinatown. They seemed to be selling a lot of things we really didn’t need anyway so no great loss there. Next, we made our way to the famous KL Tower. Though impressive, we decided against going up, because we’ve been up a lot of towers, and instead explored the KL Forest Eco Park that surrounds the tower. The free canopy walk is really worth it. You can start it at the top near the tower parking lot loop, or at the bottom by going through the Taman Eko Rimba KL Information Center.
One aspect of KL we could never have envisioned is the exaggerated number of large shopping malls. They seem to appear on every other intersection of major arterial roads and you can only drive or cab it to them as there are no sidewalks or crossings to use. When I say exaggerated I mean precisely that. Considering how many malls there are, they are huge, some with 5, 8 or, in one case, 10 floors. Even the famous Petronas Towers sit atop a mall. Malaysians love their malls: eating, bowling, singing karaoke, gaming, exercising, shopping of course, oh and watching movies.
The number of movies theaters in KL is astounding. One of the malls we went to actually had two, run by different companies! Movie theaters are another one of those things that feel the same but just slightly different in Malaysia. First, the price of movies is much cheaper than in The States. Also, you can’t really find just regular buttered popcorn, it’s mostly caramel corn, and that one unfortunate time, chicken corn. We decided against tasting that flavor. Still, I can see why so many people go; the movie theaters are all new with high-quality screens and sound, and comfortable seating. My favorite being the Beanieplex (yes, a beanbag chair filled cinema). Not to mention they would blast the air conditioning which made it the perfect retreat from the hot-humid weather. I don’t even think people went to watch the movies half the time. If there is a movie you are very excited to see don’t go see it in Malaysia. Every movie we went to people would talk through the whole thing. I think most just go to have a nice dark cool place to relax with friends.
With all of the malls and all of the stores it was a surprise how we struggled to find a new pair of sneakers. You see, Frank The Labrador in England had taken a liking to Nicolo’s regular pair on our last house sit. That and our deciding to walk with him through muddy fields meant they were binned the day we left. We were happy to find another pair hidden away that he hadn’t worn for a long time, so we brought those along instead. Six and a half thousand air miles later he remembered that he had abandoned them before because they hurt like hell. (Note for travelers: Avoid hoarding tendencies, toss things out you never want to use again.) So off to mall #1, Sunway Pyramid, we went in search of a comfortable pair. “Size what? No, sir, We only go up to size 11.” Then mall #2, Midvalley, “Yes, we have two styles in size 12 , black dress shoes, and no wide fitting.” And finally third time lucky at mall #3, Berjaya Times Square. Just one pair.
If shopping isn’t your thing, and it really isn’t ours, at the very least you can use the malls to get some exercise and burn off all the food you inevitably will end up eating. Some of our favorites for walking and sightseeing were 1Utama which is the largest mall in Malaysia, and the Empire Shopping Gallery where we had our first meal. Just don’t stop at every tasty looking restaurant as you walk or the whole thing will be for naught.
On this trip we saw so many stores, restaurants, clubs, and movie theatres but next time we want to see what natural wonders KL has to offer. Where should we go?
The daytime heat was unbearable. We would psych ourselves up for a walk only to regret it 2 minutes later and climb into an Uber covered in sweat. After about two days of trying we had to give up on our grand plans of walking around exploring the city. Not that any of this could have been done on foot even if it hadn’t been scorching. Kuala Lumpur is sprawling, confusing, and definitely not made for pedestrians. Which makes sense because no one walks, which makes sense because it is one million degrees. Okay, so we didn’t do much research on this part but that would not dampen our spirits. No, we would leave the dampening to mother nature...
We had just landed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and were wrapping up our first meal ever in Malaysia in a Mexican restaurant in a mall of all places. After dinner, our host jumped on her motorbike to head to the house just up the road. Good thing there were two of us or I fear we might have ended up on the back of it. Instead, we hopped in a cab to join her and meet our new temporary adoptees, Julian Le Strange and Carlos Broccoli. First impressions: what interesting names, and what absolute sweeties. Both rescued, these two were distinctly different in look but had similar traits. They were immediately friendly, not shy, and active from the start. Where one went the other followed. Though they might have come from very different places they were most definitely brothers now. They were not afraid to be vocal when necessary and made good guard dogs. Even if that meant barking at us when we returned from the city at night causing a domino effect through the neighborhood, oops.
Due to a change in our host’s plans, we actually had a couple nights where she would be home while we were there. This was a pleasant surprise of course and gave us a couple days to explore without having to worry that the boys were alone. We had a number of fun adventures in Kuala Lumpur and its suburbs during this time.
We had been warned that the boys had met two “girlfriends” a few days earlier, a couple of semi-strays that seemed to live right outside of the gates of the house, and they were always there to greet us each morning and accompany us on the walk. They made quite the foursome and would confuse passers-by who occasionally would query why only two of the dogs were not on leashes in the middle of an urban setting. A smile and a shrug were really the only answer.
One of our early mornings started just like the others. It was still before sunrise and our little guys and their friends were all ready to go out. I left Blair asleep and we scooted out into the dark. We got about one-quarter of the way through our walk when the winds changed. And as day broke we noticed the dark clouds in the distance. Thunderstorm. There was no time to call a car, even if they would take dogs, because by the time they got there it would be too late. We raced home as fast as their dog sized legs could take them. The storm held off as we navigated the labyrinth of concentric hexagons that was our neighborhood of SS19. We just turned onto our street when a wave of rain hit. We were soaked instantly. Blair was waiting for us at the door with towels ready and an apologetic expression. Not that there was much to be done. He had tried to send me a warning message but I was already focused on getting the dogs back at that point and wouldn’t have pulled my phone out afraid it would get wet.
But that day wasn’t all bad. Many dogs don’t like storms and Julian, in particular, was no exception. That was the day we truly bonded. He followed underfoot as the storm raged outside, even hiding in the clothes pile as we were doing laundry. This tiny little creature leaped onto the bed where I was reading and nestled himself right next to me seeking comfort. When I woke up from a nap to post-storm calm outside, he was still there, curled up, eyes closed, little snout on the pillow next to me.
In our one week we had been through the full scale of Malaysia weather. Hot and humid, wet and windy, and even a short period called the Haze Season, which is exactly what it sounds like and does not feel so great on the throat and sinuses. Luckily the storms washed that away so we could enjoy the little bits of time we could stand being outside.
It was sad to say goodbye to our little protectors. We regretted having only a week in Malaysia, it was not enough. Next time, we will plan it so that we can explore outside of the city and really immerse ourselves in much more of the country and its fascinating history and blend of cultures. For now, though, it’s back to Britain for a bit of a cool down.
With just one month to make all the plans, getting to Malaysia was not going to be the easiest job. We had to use most of our best travel skills to make it happen. During this house sitting adventure of ours we have really been experimenting with ways to keep the traveling budget under control, and since flights make up the majority of that budget we needed a good plan for this long haul. This is when the fun and frustration of airline alliances typically kicks in.
We always fly United Airlines within the States, and normally internationally. So our first place to check for flights is their website, but our search there ended quickly. Coming from the UK, the only way to fly on United would be to go backward to the States and then on to Malaysia. We are gluttons for travel punishment but even that seemed excessive. I have done that once to Australia and it was a killer. Occasionally on international flights we end up on another airline in the Star Alliance network. Our goal being to choose the airline with the best price for our flight while still contributing to our mileage accrual and status qualifications. That's key. If you are not careful in checking to see how each airline in an alliance interacts with your airline of choice you can be left with an expensive ticket and nothing in return. So we got online and used a couple of tools to do a quick search of the best flights from London to Kuala Lumpur. On one website, Momondo, there is actually an option to filter by the different global alliances so we could make sure to keep it in house. We had all the potential flights lined up but there was still a problem. The prices were pretty outrageous! I mean, we were cutting it close what with the trip being so soon, but the costs were out of control. It was time to step back, rethink, and figure out a new plan.
Any normal, sane person would have just sucked it up and jumped on a flight from London Heathrow which was only two hours away from where we would be staying. But since occasionally we are neither of those things (normal or sane) we decided to think bigger. We figured we had just enough time if we moved quickly to make it from the place we would be house sitting to one of the airports in continental Europe. So, through quite a bit of research, we found flights out of Brussels on Turkish Airlines, and determined it would actually be £300 cheaper to go to Belgium even including the cost of the drive. One of the big differences in price was avoiding that pesky and expensive UK Air Passenger Duty which is especially punishing on long haul flights. It’s actually not the first time we’ve done this. I’ve dropped Blair off in Paris, Brussels, and even Amsterdam before to save significant money on return flights to the US. So after a call to United and a call to Turkish to confirm, step one of our trip was in place. Yes, it was a little complicated, and we would now have a lot of plans to put in place. But we were proud that with a little perseverance, some flexibility, and a lot of research we made the system work for us. The Malaysia trip was becoming more real by the second.
Did I say we are pretty adamant about finding good deals on flights? It is almost up there with how far we will go out of our way to not pay for parking. Blair can attest to how many times I’ve made him walk an extra mile because a few pounds for parking seemed too steep for just a couple hours. It sometimes seems ridiculous but when you are traveling so much it really does begin to add up. Same reason we almost never pay for airport parking.
I can’t remember the last time I parked at an airport, and we definitely weren’t going to on this trip where every dollar counted. Instead of parking the car at Brussels Airport, we arranged to stay outside the city in a place where we knew we could street park the car while we were gone. We spent the night in a small town outside of Brussels called Merchtem. It lies northwest of Brussels about 25 km from the airport and has the typical charm of a nice sized European town. What we hadn’t counted on when we arranged to stay there was that Merchtem was hosting its 10-day long annual street festival and fair. Each year the center of the town is closed off to traffic and, inspired by hot summer weather this particular August, the entire town came out to party. Beer, Belgian waffles, fries with mayo, musical bands performing in the square, dancing in the streets until 4 am; you name it, it was going on. We left the revelers to do their thing and stumbled home exhausted because we had a bus to catch the next morning. For a few euros we were able to take the regional bus right to the front door of the airport, knowing our car would kindly be looked after by the person we had been staying with.
I mentioned were are both pretty tall. Since both of us stand just about six and a half feet, it can be tough to fit into regular sized economy airline seats. In this case, tough equals impossible if you want to be able to walk when the flight is done. Because we fly so much normally we are pretty much always able to arrange for exit row seats, but that is only on our regular airline. When you are dealing with other airlines even in the same alliance, it's like wandering through the wilderness, expect the unexpected. We thought it would be best to arrive early and see if we could get exit row seats assigned. Early being as soon as the gate opened. Apparently, in Brussels, and unlike the US, that doesn’t mean 4 hours before the flight, but that’s fine. After an hour long wait for the desk to open we were very thankful to be checked-in with great exit row seating on both flights. That early bird thing rings true in this case.
We’d never flown Turkish Airlines before, so didn’t know what to expect. We are such frequent flyers on the same airline (have to get those miles and preserve that status!) that we get nervous whenever we have to fly with anyone else. Luckily, Turkish Airlines turned out to be a really pleasant experience and great choice. Nice modern planes, good food, more than decent on-demand video entertainment options, and all of this in coach. Most impressive, though, is its lounge in Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport. It makes you want to arrange for a long layover. We had never experienced anything quite like it. Split across two floors, and the size of many large hotels’ lobbies, you can help yourself to practically anything you want. A gin and tonic? Pour one for yourself. Hot pressed panini oozing with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes? Just ask the chef to make you a couple. Fresh, strong, local coffee with Turkish Delight and biscotti as a snack on the side? The barista is there to keep you continuously caffeinated.
Back in the air, it occurred to us that we had just flown out of Brussels, with a connection in Istanbul, on our way to Malaysia. Considering the recent history of all of these places we said a quick silent prayer in hopes of making it all the way without a hitch. We relaxed a bit as we enjoyed all the food, wine, and movies we could desire. Thanks to the wonderful Turkish Airlines service we landed excited and invigorated the following morning in a new part of the world.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport, locally referred to as just KLIA, is very far from the city center. You feels like you are flying straight into a tropical jungle as you land because of the surrounding palm fields. With the sun setting by the time we landed, the air had that distinct humid and sticky feel. It had been a while since we’d been to a place like this. It felt familiar yet different.
On this occasion, we would be looking after two dogs for an expat teacher who was taking some time off to vacation. So we jumped into an Uber and headed to a restaurant where we had agreed to meet her straight from work. It was at this point that we made our first exciting Malaysian discovery. Taxis are cheap. It must have taken 45 minutes to get to our destination and the fare wasn’t even $20 with tolls. This would become increasingly beneficial as the week progressed. Once we arrived at the restaurant we made another discovery, this time a little less exciting. The high cost of alcohol, yes, even beer. Oh well. They say alcohol and heat don’t mix anyhow.
We settled into, of all places, a Mexican restaurant, and waited for our host to arrive. After such a smooth journey we were pretty sure it was going to be a good week...
Photo of Merchtem, Belgium by Luc T. flickr.com
Photo of Turkish Airlines A330 © 2015 Eric Salard via Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Turksih Airlines CIP Lounge by Jun Seita flickr.com
With a few days to spare until we needed to be in Gloucestershire for our Cotswolds stay, we had no problem making this diversion. We were excited to look after this Segugio hunting hound they had rescued in Italy a few years earlier. He is a great dog: friendly, engaging, and generally quiet. That is until he sniffs a leash and the scent of a walk. At that very second the curtain goes up and his outdoor performance begins. Have you ever accidentally stepped on a dog’s paw? You know that piercing yelp they make? Usually, that awful sound stops as soon as you lift off the pressure. Now imagine going on a 60 minute walk through town with that same sound going on the whole time while the hound darts from side to side, up and down grass banks, howling as loud as possible, and hunting for who knows what. That’s him. Now I am exaggerating a little but he is definitely not an early Sunday morning dog unless you hate the neighbors. When passers-by smile at you and mutter to each other “Oh, it’s that dog again”, or when the old lady goes “Tut tut” under her breath while rolling her eyes in Victorian-era disbelief, you just have to keep walking by, eyes forward and humming to yourself in an oblivious state of mind. Aside from that, he is absolutely adorable.
After handing him off to his next house sitter we had just a few hours to make the trip to Northleach. As we drove through small country lanes and came into the Market Square that was to be home for the next eleven days, the natural beauty of this part of England became evident. We arrived at the front door of a beautiful old stone house that had been renovated but kept all its charm with different staircases, little nooks and crannies and an Aga! This was classic countryside England at its best. It was all there: the little local post office, the village shop, the two pubs, even the takeaway restaurant. People said good morning or good afternoon to you as you walked down the street. And, for most of the days that we were there, the sun was even shining.
Stunning setting, lovely house, fun pets, it was an incredible house sit. No there wasn't the excitement of some of the other places but being on the road constantly you sometimes forget to sit back and bring your the energy level down for a while. Always racing around to see things and do things becomes really tiring. Sometimes you need a place where you can just relax, binge watch the Olympics, and take leisurely strolls through the countryside. No attractions, no events, no stress, a place that just feels like home for a little while.
Like all good things though our downtime in Northleach came to an end. But our timing could not have been more perfect for a period of relaxation because our next trip would be the most exotic and intense so far. We were headed to Asia.
Photo of South of the Border © 2004 Sullynyflhi via Wikimedia Commons
Now, for those of you who have visited Glasgow (or are from there) you may be surprised that I even remember that stay. You see, Glaswegians are the friendliest of people and always up for a good time. A night out with them means each move from place to place involves another pint of beer or shot of whisky, sometimes both. The Horseshoe Bar’s karaoke night will never be the same after Blair made his debut, and, if Terry is performing his card tricks at the Blue Dog, it’s definitely worth a visit for a drink and some live music. I’m sure the night would have gone on until the sun came up, the only things that saved us were declaring ourselves lightweights at 3:00 am and sampling one of the local delicacies, deep fried pizza, on the way "home". And so started our Scottish adventure. Off to Edinburgh we go!
On this occasion, we were sitting for a family in Leith, the historic waterside docks area of Edinburgh within walking distance of everything (yes, we like to walk, which is a blessing given all the doggies we look after). What we hadn’t realised when we agreed to the sit a few weeks earlier was that the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival was on at the same time and actually started on the day we arrived. What a bonus! Anyone who has been in Edinburgh during August will know what I mean. The city is buzzing with shows, people, just life in general. This welcome twist truly exemplifies the joys of house sitting. While you have serious responsibilities where pets are involved in a house sit - and they take absolute priority - there are always new discoveries and fantastic experiences to be found, and Edinburgh shared these with us in abundance over that long weekend.
Putting the always unpredictable Scottish weather to one side, Edinburgh is a fantastic city to visit, and if you haven’t been you should go. With both dog and Festival walking including going back and forth to Leith from the Festival events to check on Emu, Midge, and Sparrow, we have never covered so many miles in so few days. Or so many stairs for that matter. Getting to many of the Festival events required climbing up the hill on the top of which beautiful Edinburgh Castle is perched. Then when we got home we would go up and down the stairs of this three floored townhouse searching for the two cats, one of whom in particular loved to play hide and seek when not sleeping on top of me while reading a book. The other would often to be found gracefully “resting” in the adopted feline alcove. The house had so many fun nooks and crannies for cats to hide it was like exploring an Escher painting.
There was just one problem with this house sit. It was too short. If our gracious host family ever decides to invite us back and are reading this, two requests please:
The Roaming Blog
From Europe to Asia. From cities to villages. From mansions to cottages. Follow us on our journey as we celebrate a new type of travel - House Sitting. Learn how to start you house sitting career, tips for making the most of your travel, and the tricks for being the best house sitter you can be.
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