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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

March 2010 – New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Australia and back to NZ. Part 1

Busy month.  When we returned from the South Island, we buzzed around getting as much maintenance done as possible in the few days between that trip and our upcoming trip to Andy and Melissa's wedding in Sri Lanka.  Nothing major – just the usual "getting ready to go offshore" kind of stuff.  Before we knew it March 9th had arrived.  We were flying to Sri Lanka via Melbourne, Australia (just for a plane change), and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where we planned to spend 4 days, using the Ritz Carlton gift certificates that some of our friends gave to us upon Frank's retirement.
21 hours after leaving Auckland a flight attendant in her most perky voice welcomed us to Kuala Lumpur, telling us the local time, and casually stating that illegal drugs are not permitted in Malaysia and that the crime for carrying them is punishable by death.  Yes, well we will bear that in mind.
As we cleared into KL, we felt our adrenalin begin to spark & sputter.  The airport alone is a city alive with people moving about in every direction but in no direction.  The terminal is "open air", and packed with cafés and coffee shops.  Of course, Ronald McDonalds' smiling face and waving hand greeted us right away.  We caught the bus into the city a one hour drive for $6 (US).  We liked this place already!
Arriving at the Ritz Carlton, the young man at the front desk must have taken pity on us as he peered at our disheveled and exhausted selves because he said, "I'm going to upgrade your room".  Splendid!  We were taken to a beautiful suite on the Concierge level.  Just as we were about to kick our shoes off, there was a tentative knock at the door.  Frank opened it to a very tall, stately young man who introduced himself to us as Loh, our Butler, presenting us a welcome drink and snacks and asking if there was anything we required.  We weren't sure what to do with a butler, although we felt certain we could sort this out.
The next day we slept until 11:00AM as our body clocks adjusted to the various time zones we had morphed through. Frank signed us up for a 5-hour city tour, and then we walked over to the adjoining Starwood Mall for a bite of lunch.  The vast mall was nearly empty.  It was also very upscale.  Rodeo Drive upscale.  10 stories high. Each floor was dedicated to a specific product.  One floor was nothing but shoes and handbags. Another just watches, another sold only menswear, and so on.  The top floor was nothing but salons and spas.  The bottom floor was filled with high-end restaurants of very ethnic food imaginable. We chose to lunch at a Lebanese restaurant.
Our tour was scheduled to depart from our hotel at 1:00 PM; hence we ate and ran. Other than two adorable young ladies named Citra and Juanita from Indonesia, we had the van and the driver, James to ourselves.  James is a native of Chinese decent and as he drove us about he explained to us that Malaysia represents a melding of the many Asian cultures, as is indicated in the local food, the various religions and the local dress.  As he drove he gave us a very impressive narrative of the history of this country. He took us to the Palace where we were not permitted admittance but could take pictures of the guards who flanked the ornate gates and of the palace that was set back in the distance.  
Outside the Palace
We went to the twin towers but had already decided not to enter because visitors are only allowed up as far as the bridge between the two, and we would have to get in line for tickets at 6:00 AM.  Not for us.  The towers are magnificent, and we were impressed to know that each tower was built by a different country.  I won't spend this entire entry going into their fascinating history so I defer to Google for that.

From the towers we moved along to the Chinese Buddhist Temple whose entry is guarded by statues representing the animals of the Chinese calendar.  I was reminded of placemats in my favorite Chinese restaurant in Houston.  The largest and most prominent of the creatures is the massive and beautifully colored dragon.  We walked through the garden posing by the animal that represented each of our birth years.  Frank's is the boar, and mine is the rooster.  We then took our shoes off and entered the Temple.  We each took turns with the fortune sticks and washing ourselves in the holy water at the fountain. We spent a good bit of time there.
Barb, Citra, Juanita, Frank

Frank - Year of the Pig/Boar

Barb - Year of the Rooster/Cock

  Next stop was the Royal Selangor pewter factory.  We took a tour through the museum and learned the history of Malaysia's tin mining and the process of making pewter.  We were shown how pewter is made and in turn how items are made from pewter.  We were even given the opportunity to do a little bit of pounding and shaping some products.  Amazingly, this factory makes all of its products by hand.  On the way out we were shown the largest beer mug in the world, made of pewter.  It has made it into the Guinness Book.

We drove through China town, Little India, Little Indonesia, and so on.  James pointed out that the area by our hotel houses more than ten shopping malls within a one-mile radius.  Many of them are 10–12 stories high.  OMG!  We stopped at a silk factory that creates batik fabrics and after being given a demonstration of the art were given a chance to do a bit of shopping.  We drove over to the incredibly well done and very large War Memorial, spanning all of the wars in which Malaysia or her people took part. We ended the day at Beryl's Chocolate factory – dangerous!  We knew that whatever we purchased here would have to be eaten quickly so it wouldn't melt in the sweltering heat of KL, so we did our dead level best!  Returning to the hotel, Frank and I stashed our goods and took off to explore these magnificent malls.  In fact that is what we did the following day as well.  We got into full sensory overload. 
We ended one day by booking high tea at our hotel, which of itself was a delight.  Afterward in our room, while relaxing after that particularly long day of walking, and getting some rest before dinner we were paid a visit from Loh.  He was just checking to make sure we were enjoying ourselves and seemed to just want to chat. He asked us if we were planning to go out for dinner and whether or not we need any recommendations or reservations.  How sweet!  We eventually went out to a very good Chinese restaurant, and when we returned to the room, I noticed a gentle floral scent had pervaded our room, and it seemed that the room was aglow.  We leaned in to discover that the entire suite was alight with little votives!  Frank turned on the lights and walked into the bedroom, announcing that the bedroom and sitting area were not only lit up with candles but were also covered in rose petals and that the bed was decorated with towel sculptures. Same in the bathroom, and a hot aromatherapy bath had been drawn!  There was a note on the bedside from Loh, telling us what a pleasure it has been having us with them, and that he had had something special done for us.  What a sweetie!

Our final day in KL was dedicated to a 4-hour spa treatment at the Ritz.  It began by two very small women ushering us into our private retreat, which included a very large outdoor courtyard that contained a little pool and large open shower. They served us special tea and then instructed us to disrobe and lay down (on a cloud no less).  We started with a full body treatment – a scrub, exfoliation, face and hair treatment.  His was the men's version and mine for ladies of course.  After being exfoliated and smeared with wonderful oils and lotions we each received a specialized massage.  Mine was phenomenal, yet Frank's must have been even better because before long he was snoring like a chainsaw!  The women were trying very hard not to giggle but I couldn't hold back.  When finished, Frank's masseuse had to prod him awake.  We were then rubbed with another scrub and then told to step into to our private outdoor shower.  I felt like Gumby, legs all rubbery as I forced myself out there.  Following our cleansing, we were directed into the little pool where a luxuriant bath of milk, ginger, rose and other essentials was waiting and in it floated various flower petals and slices of fruits.  While soaking we were served yet another delicious tea.  Our spa experience ended with an aromatherapy steam.  Each of us was seated into a personal steam compartment and zipped in up to our necks.  We steeped out impurities for 20 minutes until we nearly passed out.  What an incredible way to spend a rainy day!  The best part is that we both did all this for under $400 USD!
We really had a wonderful visit in KL.  We ate excellent food, shopped but didn't buy too much because we still had a couple more countries to visit, and saw as much of this very large city as possible.  The worst part was leaving the hotel at 3:30 AM on the 14th ,to get to the airport for our early morning flight to Sri Lanka.

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